Can sugar make alcohol drinking less dangerous?

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sugar alcohol

Recent research suggests that some women restrict food before and while drinking, quite possibly to compensate for alcohol-related calories.

This can result in a combined state of fasting/alcohol intake, which can lead to higher breath alcohol concentrations (BrACs).

Artificially sweetened alcohol mixers are also a commonly reported weight-control strategy.

To determine whether artificial sweeteners accelerate alcohol responses or sugar dampens its effect (or a combination of both), this study investigated the effects of consuming alcohol with mixers containing no sweetener, sugar, or artificial sweetener on BrACs in a group of young women.

Researchers had 26 women, approximately 25 years of age, complete four trials, each separated by at least two days.

The trials involved consuming a small amount of alcohol (vodka) mixed with water, aspartame, or two different doses of sugar (15 g or 50 g).

After drinking, participants’ BrACs were sampled over a 3½-hour period. During this time, their cognitive performance, self-reported estimations of BrAC, ratings of intoxication, and willingness to drive a motor vehicle were recorded.

Results showed that consuming alcohol with sugar-containing mixers yielded lower peak BrAC than mixers containing an artificial sweetener or no sweetener.

Greater reductions were observed with the higher dose of sugar (37% lower with 50 g compared to 8% lower with 15 g of sugar).

The authors speculated that adding sugar to alcoholic beverages may significantly decrease the rate of gastric emptying (nutrients passing from the stomach to the upper intestine, the main site of alcohol absorption).

This effect would facilitate alcohol metabolism, so that less alcohol would enter the blood circulation. A reduction in BrAC may help reduce the risk of alcohol-related harm.

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Citation: Smith C, et al. (2016). The Influence of Mixers Containing Artificial Sweetener or Different Doses of Carbohydrate on Breath Alcohol Responses in Females. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. DOI: 10.1111/acer.13264.
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