Wine as a digestive aid: comparative antimicrobial effects of bismuth salicylate and red and white wine

BMJ. 1995 Dec 23-30;311(7021):1657-60. doi: 10.1136/bmj.311.7021.1657.


Objective: To test whether red and white wines are as potent as bismuth salicylate against the bacteria responsible for traveller's diarrhoea to try to explain wine's legendary reputation as a digestive aid.

Design: Red and white wine, bismuth salicylate, two solutions containing ethanol (diluted absolute ethanol and tequila), and sterilised water were tested against suspensions of salmonella, shigella, and Escherichia coli to determine relative antibacterial activity. Suspensions of 10(7) colony forming units of shigella, salmonella, and E coli were added to the test solutions and plated on standard nutrient agar at 0, 10, 20, 30, 60, and 120 minutes and 24 hours. Dilutions of wine and bismuth salicylate were then tested with E coli as the test bacterium, and the experiment repeated.

Main outcome measures: Exposure times necessary for eradication of organisms for the different solutions; decreases in colony counts at the different exposure times for dilutions of wine and bismuth salicylates.

Results: Undiluted wine and bismuth salicylate were both effective in reducing the number of viable organisms (by 10(5)-10(6) colony forming units) after 20-30 minutes. Dilutions of wine were much more effective in decreasing colony counts than were similar dilutions of bismuth salicylate.

Conclusion: The antibacterial property of wine is largely responsible for wine's reputation as a digestive aid.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Diarrhea / prevention & control
  • Digestion / drug effects
  • Escherichia coli / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Salicylates / pharmacology*
  • Salicylic Acid
  • Salmonella / drug effects*
  • Shigella / drug effects*
  • Travel
  • Wine*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Salicylates
  • Salicylic Acid