A chronic and frustrating, but not deadly, disease like IBS is a perfect one for experimentation. However, I’d never considered alcohol as anything but a trigger. And that wasn’t really borne out of experiences, but a cultural bias against it. It was just unhealthy, right?
But in reality alcohol has a long history as a remedy for stomach problems. Particularly the in the form of potable and non-potable bitters and various digestifs. I highlighted a non-potable bitter, Underberg, in one of my recent pieces at Chicagoist. It’s one that’s marketed specially as a remedy for stomach problems. And I’ve found it and others like it to be surprisingly effective. My life in the past would have been very different if I had known I could cure what ailed me with a really good drink rather than cutting out all manner of foods. Though there is no reason to drink a ton of alcohol to get the benefit– often I’ll just drink a few drops of something like Angostura in some soda water.
I’m not going to say it’s a cure-all, especially when the disease can be so diverse and half these bitters don’t even tell you their ingredients, so it’s not going to be prescribed anytime soon. But it has worked really well for me. I might write a bit more on the science of this stuff in the future, but what I can tell you is the gastrointestinal tract is lined with taste buds primed to detect bitter. And various other animals of all sorts are known to consume some of plants in these drinks (or related to them, in the case of primates in Africa) when they are sick.
A major mechanism of action for bitter tastants stems from the activity of the T2R receptors. As we saw earlier, these receptors (present all over the body, but especially in the gut, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder) induce physiological changes that lead to greater secretions from the gut, reduced movement and closing of the valves between gut compartments, and less caloric consumption. T2R receptors mediate the connection between the bitter herbs and our bodies…We should worry less about “bad” foods, toxicity, and fear-based reactions to what we eat and more about providing the essential ingredients for optimal gut function. These are easily found in bitters.
- Guido Masé, The Wild Medicine Solution
So far my favorites are the aforementioned Underberg, which is also very dry compared to most bitters since it doesn't contain added sugar, and then of course Angostura and Peychaud's. Plus I've been making some of my own from the book Bitters. I'm a big fan of many Italian amari, though a lot of them are a tad too sweet for my taste.