Why you are served stilts before beer at the Schweizerhaus

Why you are served stilts before beer at the Schweizerhaus
and other scientific explanations of cultural phenomena

Author: Claus D. Volko

Every year, Professor Bernd Binder, head of the Institute of Vascular Biology and Thrombosis Research at the University of Vienna, gives the main lecture from Vegetative Physiology in the summer semester. Although this lecture is regularly scheduled for the 4th semester of medical school, due to time constraints many students do not get around to attending it until the 6th semester - if at all. This is a pity, because this lecture has a lot to offer. It is true that a good knowledge of anatomy, histology and biochemistry is required to be able to follow Professor Binder's explanations. But for that you get a rich reward; you learn many an interesting context. What is particularly exciting: to learn to understand the physiological background of various elements of our culture. I would like to reproduce some of these fascinating explanations in this article.

First the schnitzel, then the cake

In our latitudes, a good lunch usually consists of three courses: First comes the soup, then the main course, and finally the dessert. As a rule, the main course consists mainly of meat - be it chicken, pork, beef or fish. Meat is de facto nothing more than muscle, and muscle is composed mainly of protein. Even if you eat a strict vegetarian diet, you usually eat protein with your main meal; think of delicious spinach with a fried egg, for example.The second main component of these meals is fat. Desserts, on the other hand - cakes, cookies, cookies, tarts and the like - are low in proteins and fats, but rich in sugars of various kinds (carbohydrates). Why one should always eat the food rich in proteins first and only then the food rich in sugars can be explained on a physiological basis:

Proteins and their components, amino acids, stimulate the release of the hormone gastrin in the G-cells of the stomach, which stimulates digestive activity by producing hydrochloric acid. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, inhibit gastrin secretion, thus "turning off" digestion again. A high blood sugar level causes the D-cells to release the hormone somatostatin, which has an inhibitory effect on the G-cells.

So it makes perfect sense to eat the schnitzel first and only then the cake. If you did it in reverse order, the function of the gastrointestinal tract would get quite confused.

Why you are served stilts before beer at the Schweizerhaus

A high-fat diet leads to the release of the hormone cholecystokinin (also known as pancreocymin), which is produced in the I-cells of the mucosa of the small intestine. One of the many effects of this substance is the slackening of the "antral pump", a piece of musculature located at the end of the stomach (the "antrum pylori"), which is responsible for passing the stomach contents into the duodenum. This greatly reduces the speed at which substances pass through the antrum pylori. This means that if the stomach contents are rich in fats, they remain in this place for a longer period of time and only reach the duodenum after some time, as soon as the antrum pump is functional again.

A stilt is a caraway roast, i.e. extremely high-fat food. If you drink beer after consuming such food, the result is that the alcohol remains in the stomach for a longer time. However, alcohol is absorbed slowly in the stomach, which means that the symptoms of "alcohol poisoning" are delayed. One can therefore "tolerate" more alcohol and drink more than with a non-fat diet. However, fat has another advantage or disadvantage. The same hormone causes the muscle that closes the stomach upwards to the esophagus (lower "esophageal sphincter") to slacken. This results in the entire contents of the stomach (since not emptied) pouring outward (vomiting in a gush, the remnants of which are sometimes encountered outside inns or wine taverns). In this way, space is made for new intake.

According to Professor Binder, this Heurigen rite acquired historical significance when Leopold Figl and Julius Raab succeeded in this way in virtually "drinking the Soviet negotiators, led by Foreign Minister Molotov, under the table." We therefore owe the State Treaty in part to the good Austrian custom of consuming high-fat food before drinking alcohol, or drinking a glass of olive oil or whipped cream.

"Beer on wine, let it go"

What distinguishes a wine drinker from a beer drinker? The wine drinker is a connoisseur; he drinks in small portions and takes his time. The beer drinker, on the other hand, lets himself "get drunk." A real beer consumer must therefore have a special ability: He must be able to make the upper sphincter of the esophagus (the upper "esophageal sphincter") voluntarily relax.This is perhaps a genetically determined trait that is common to all Bavarians - hence Bavaria is the land of beer and Munich is the place where the Oktoberfest is held.

The slow gastric emptying caused by the fat and the low alcohol absorption in the stomach have advantages for the Heurigen host, but can cause problems. As a carbonated beverage, beer causes increased blood flow to the stomach, which aids digestion (one of the reasons why people in our latitudes like to drink beer with sumptuous meals); however, it also causes alcohol absorption to increase in the stomach itself. Therefore, if one drinks beer after a high-fat meal with which one has enjoyed wine (higher alcohol content), the resulting increased gastric blood flow causes the alcoholic effect of the wine to unfold at an unusually rapid pace, which is certainly not a pleasant experience. Therefore: "Beer on wine, let it be. Wine on beer - that's my advice."

Why too much sex can be detrimental to long-term memory

During orgasm, a hormone of the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland, oxytocin, is released in both sexes. This is the counterpart of another hormone of the posterior pituitary gland, adiuretin (also called arginine vasopressin): Namely, while adiuretin exerts positive effects on long-term memory, oxytocin is detrimental to it. This has been proven at least for some "critters". Assuming that it would also apply to humans, the consequence would be: Every time a human would have sex, the memory (of it) would be impaired.

It should also be noted that women are exposed to high levels of oxytocin during childbearing; for in women this hormone is released not only at the climax of sexual intercourse, but also at the end of pregnancy, during childbirth and in the period thereafter (the lactation period). This is because oxytocin is responsible for the contractions of the uterine muscles - i.e. labor pains - on the one hand, and for the expulsion of breast milk during breastfeeding on the other. It is suspected that there may very well be a meaningful reason why these three functions (contractions, milk expulsion, and memory deterioration) are coupled:

Since births are usually associated with great pain, the memory of the painful birth would mean that a woman would probably avoid becoming pregnant again after her first child. However, as the long-term memory fades, so do the memories of the pain suffered, and so the "females" commit the same "mistake" again - which is quite reasonable from a population biologay point of view.

Admittedly, this mechanism is more important in the animal kingdom than in modern humans, since we know quite well about our ability to reproduce and the hardships involved, and in the civilized world it is the case that women become pregnant at their own request because they want to have children. But it is quite interesting to see how evolutionary genetic material lives on in humans.

Why sport is particularly important from the age of 45

One of the most important hormones for body growth is somatotropin, also known as "growth hormone". Among other things, it causes the release of "insulin-like growth factor I" (IGF-1), which in turn acts on the striated muscle cells and stimulates the cells that form bone and cartilage, the so-called osteoblasts and chondroblasts. IGF-1 is transported in the blood bound to a binding protein, which increases its "effectiveness". The synthesis of this "IGF-binding protein" is promoted by the male sex hormone testosterone (which is also present in females, although to a lesser extent); this is the reason why there is a considerable growth spurt at puberty. In pygmies, this mechanism is absent; there is no increase in IGF-BP during puberty, and therefore members of this population remain small in stature throughout their lives.

70% of somatotropin is released during sleep. This is due to the fact that somatotropin release is linked to sleep triggering mechanisms (the pineal gland hormone, melatonin, which is responsible for controlling the day-night rhythm, is one of these mechanisms). One could therefore almost speculate that children who sleep a lot usually also grow up particularly tall (grandmother: "Sleep before midnight is particularly healthy, so go to bed").

However, this mechanism of sleep-induced release of somotatropin decreases from around the age of 45. "Never mind," you may think to yourself now, "why would I want to grow at age 45?" However, it should not be forgotten that somatotropin not only promotes growth by stimulating osteoblasts, but above all protects against bone loss (osteoporosis). Furthermore, growth hormone is the most important hormone for the breakdown of fatty tissue. After the age of 45, therefore, not only can osteoporosis occur, but also a change in body stature with the "fat belly" typical of old age. Therefore, a normally high somatotropin level is also beneficial at a more mature age. But how?

There are other ways to stimulate the release of growth hormone. One of these is physical exercise. Physical exercise not only releases endorphins, to which one can become "addicted", but also growth hormone, which then prevents not only osteoporosis, but also the "fat belly".

Conclusion: It is important to do sports, but it only makes sense to prevent obesity from the age of 45 onwards. Before that, you could also do this by getting plenty of sleep, couldn't you?

Claus D. Volko

Many thanks to Professor Binder for the highly interesting and instructive lecture and for proofreading this article.


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