Straws have been in the news a lot lately because of the dangers plastic ones pose to the environment, with cities like Seattle and companies, including Starbucks, going so far as to ban them. But there’s another reason you might want to ditch the little tubes: They’re not good for your health.
Here are some of the concerns.
Gas and bloating: Sipping from a straw introduces air into the digestive tract that can cause uncomfortable digestive symptoms, such as gas and bloating. Some people with these symptoms have experienced significant improvements by ditching straws, as well as cutting back on two other habits that introduce air into the digestive tract: Drinking carbonated beverages and chewing gum.
Cavities: Drinking sugary or acidic beverages through a straw can increase the likelihood of cavities. Straws send a concentrated stream of liquid toward a small area of the teeth, which can erode enamel. On the other hand, straws also can be used to lower the risk of cavities if they’re positioned behind the teeth, at the back of the throat, although this approach isn’t realistic or comfortable for most people.
Chemicals: Most single-use plastic straws are made from polypropylene, a type of plastic commonly made from petroleum. Polypropylene is thought to be food-safe in amounts approved by the Food and Drug Administration. But there is evidence that chemicals from polypropylene can leach into liquids and might release compounds that could affect estrogen levels, especially when exposed to heat, acidic beverages or UV light.
Wrinkles: Regular use of straws can lead to the same pucker wrinkles that smokers get around their mouths.
Excess sugar consumption: It’s been argued that sipping liquids such as soft drinks through a straw could contribute to excess sugar intake. The thought is that straws cause you to gulp down a greater volume of liquid more quickly than drinking from a glass or cup. Plus, people aren’t very accurate about estimating how much liquid they’re taking in. Critics of this theory argue that blaming a straw for excess sugar consumption is like blaming a fork for weight gain — it’s less the delivery mechanism and more what’s at the other end of it that’s to blame.
Intoxication risk: The idea that drinking alcohol through a straw leads to faster intoxication is another theory that’s repeated often. But it’s never been proved and has taken on the aura of an urban myth.
A caveat: Despite health risks, straws are very helpful for people with disabilities. And even though plastic straws have been tied to pollution issues, paper straws aren’t firm enough for some of these individuals. Offering plastic straws by request, as is done in some places, would permit only those who really need them to have access.
For people who want to continue using straws, there are plenty of more eco-friendly options available. Materials as diverse as bamboo, silicone, glass, stainless steel and even long tubes of pasta can serve as straws. Make sure your reusable straw hasn’t been chemically treated and can be easily cleaned. Also keep in mind that more-rigid straws increase the risk of injury to the mouth and shouldn’t be used by children.