The taste of foods and beverages we consume influence the induction and effectiveness of digestive processes and, in this way, their absorption by the organism. The physiological link between the bitterness of the eaten products and the intensity of digestion is well-known.
Bitter substances stimulate the release of digestive enzymes throughout the whole gastrointestinal tract. The mechanism of this process is due to the effect of the bitter taste on the taste receptors in the mucous membranes of tongue, pharynx and the back of the esophageal wall. Thus, the blood vessels of the stomach mucosa dilate through neurohumoral mechanism and stimulate its peristalsis.
Digestion begins in the mouth cavity by stimulation of the salivary glands. Saliva is released and it participates in degradation and absorption of sugars. Then, the digestive glands along the other parts of the digestive system are activated and pepsin, hydrochloric acid and other enzymes are released in the stomach, trypsin etc. in the pancreas. The additional mechanism of action of the bile produced in the liver is engaged as well. The mentioned enzymes are necessary for further degradation of sugars, proteins and fats, taken with food.
The consumption of bitter digestifs in order to alleviate the digestive functions of the gastrointestinal tract is a popular practice in the food culture of the Europeans.
This category of alcohols is consumed in a different manner among the different cultures. In some countries, mostly on the Balkans, these drinks are taken before meal, as it is believed the bitterness of most of them stimulates in advance the stomach juices and makes digestion fast and efficient. In France and most of the Western countries, the digestif is taken after meal because they think it’s good for the stomach to initiate alone the digestive processes and then to be helped from this specific “cure”. Anyway, digestifs are beverages with high alcohol content, which I cannot omit as an important remark as a doctor.
Alcoholic disorders, upon liver on the first place, but also upon the pancreas, heart, brain are increasingly common and serious problem. Europeans are distinguished with the highest level of alcohol consumption in the World – 11l pure alcohol an adult per year. One of every 15 adults in Europe suffers from serious disease due to alcohol consumption, making it the third cause for early death and morbidity after smoking and arterial hypertension, according to WHO.
As a part of the whole range of the common protocol for serving drinks: aperitif – main drink – digestifs, it comes at the end that the alcoholic percent which could be consumed is not low at all.
I offer to substitute alcohol with alternative and real useful variants of natural “digestifs”. These are: dill, cumin, anise, mint, thyme, coriander, ginger root, coffee, artichoke, dandelion root, chicory root, the peel of bitter orange, mustard seed, black radish. My advice is: first, to avoid overloading the digestive system with copious amounts of food because although it impairs proper food digestion, it is one of the first causes of obesity. I recommend the use of natural products, containing natural bitter raw materials or small amounts of food or drinks made from them to boost digestion. Thus, the digestive processes can be stimulated in a natural way. And to obtain “curative” effect upon digestion, a concentrated alcohol, as the different types of digestifs are, should be consumed in very small, symbolic “therapeutic” doses.