The Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal is a wonderful source of slightly silly science stories, as sensible researchers around the world cut loose. In this edition, there's a great paper from researchers in Switzerland and Germany, the traditional home of fondue – a tasty treat mostly made up of a bucket of melted cheese. But while fondue is a tasty treat, eating such a large amount of melted cheese can cause indigestion, or dyspepsia. Traditionally, fondue is eaten along with hot tea, which is thought to help prevent indigestion. But other people favour alcohol, in the form or wine or even schnapps.
The scientists wanted to find out which drink went best with fondue and caused least indigestion. So they persuaded 20 volunteers to eat fondue, and gave them either white wine, or black tea, followed by either water or schnapps. And because this was a scientific experiment, they also added a small amount of a harmless tracer chemical.
By measuring the amount of tracer in the volunteers' breath, the scientists could work out how fast the fondue was emptying from their stomach. They also measured the amount of alcohol on their breath, and asked the volunteers to rate their feelings of indigestion, bloating and nausea during the experiment.
The team found that alcohol slowed the rate of stomach emptying, compared to tea, and that adding schnapps also slowed it down. The combination of wine and schnapps also made people feel much fuller for longer – a phenomenon referred to by the researchers as a “cheese baby”. But the type of drink made no difference to indigestion.
The scientists also think their findings may extend to the consumption of alcohol with other types of rich meals, such as the traditional Christmas dinner. I'm sure that the Naked Scientists team will be conducting our own rigorous experiments in this area over the coming weeks.