Humans have been using straws for thousands of years. The straw dates back to at least 3000 B.C., when Sumerians drank beer through tubes made of gold. In the 1800s, people used stalks of rye as straws. The paper straw was introduced in 1888, but by the 1970s, plastic straws became popular.
Today, straws are widely used. About 170 million to 490 million plastic straws are used in the United States each day. Straws offer an easy, sanitary way to drink beverages. They also help people with disabilities safely consume liquids.
However, drinking through a straw may have more drawbacks than benefits. The practice can lead to negative health and environmental effects over time.
Drinking with a straw has potential advantages. The practice:
When you drink straight from a cup, you have to tip it toward your face. This increases the risk of spills. Using a straw makes it easier to sip the drink without tilting it too far. The practice is especially helpful if your beverage has ice.
Drinking through a straw may be ideal when consuming a canned beverage. It’s more sanitary than directly putting your mouth on the can.
Harmful bacteria can survive on the lids of aluminum cans. The bacteria can contaminate the cans during storage, transportation, or handling at the store.
Drinking with a straw is also more hygienic at restaurants. It prevents you from putting your mouth on glasses, which can harbor bacteria if they’re improperly washed or handled.
Helps people with disabilities
Drinking from a cup might be difficult for people with:
- motor disorders
- strength disorders
- swallowing disorders
By using a straw, people with these conditions drink beverages with ease.
Prevents staining of front teeth
Drinks like soda, tea, and coffee can discolor your teeth.
Using a straw can decrease the contact between these drinks and your front teeth. To reap this benefit, place the straw past your front teeth.
Although drinking with a straw has some benefits, it also has potential downsides. This includes the following drawbacks:
Causes smoker’s lips
The act of using a straw requires you to pucker your lips. Over time, this can lead to lip wrinkles, also known as smoker’s lips.
The term “smoker’s lips” refers to wrinkles around the mouth due to prolonged cigarette smoking. It can also happen due to repeated use of a straw, which involves a similar lip movement.
Causes bloating and excess gas
When you place a straw in a drink, it captures some air. The air travels to your digestive tract, causing increased gas and bloating.
For this reason, avoiding straws is often recommended for reducing excess gas.
Stains your back teeth
Although straws might help reduce staining of your front teeth, it won’t prevent staining altogether.
The drink will still touch other teeth, leading to discoloration in these areas. Additionally, your front teeth can still stain if you place the straw in front of your teeth.
Many people think drinking alcohol with a straw will get you drunk faster.
One theory is that the straw acts like a vacuum and reduces oxygen, which increases intoxication. Another theory is that alcohol vapor gets trapped in the straw and is absorbed through your lungs.
These explanations are purely hypothetical. There’s no scientific evidence to support the notion that a straw changes your body’s alcohol absorption.
But using a straw can make you drink more alcohol without realizing it. That’s because it’s more convenient to drink with a straw.
As a result, you might get drunk faster due to the increased intake of alcohol. The straw, however, has no effect on your rate of alcohol absorption.
Companies now make recyclable paper straws to help reduce plastic waste. You can also buy reusable straws made of metal, glass, silicone, or bamboo.
Disposable plastic straws are still the most common type, though. They can also indirectly cause health problems by negatively affecting the environment.
Their production creates air pollution
Plastic products, like straws, are made with a variety of potentially toxic chemicals.
The plastic production process releases these chemicals into the air. These substances are known as hazardous air pollutants (HAPs).
HAPs are associated with harmful health effects, including cancer and reproductive issues. HAPs also accumulate in the air, but they’re difficult to detect. The chemicals are colorless and odorless.
They can’t be recycled
Plastic straws are usually made with No. 5 plastic, a type of recyclable material.
However, straws can’t be recycled due to their size. When they enter a recycling sorting machine, they fall through the gaps on the conveyer belt. The straws are tossed in the trash instead.
They pollute the ocean and endanger marine life
Straws and other plastic products can end up in the ocean. This happens for several reasons, including littering by humans and overflowing landfills.
In the ocean, plastic breaks down into smaller pieces called microplastics. If animals like turtles, seagulls, and fish eat these microplastics, they can develop serious health issues.
Additionally, some marine animals are eaten by humans. It’s possible for people to unknowingly consume animals that have ingested microplastics.
If you have a motor or swallowing disorder, straws can help you safely drink beverages. Otherwise, if you only use straws for convenience, it may be healthier to ditch them. Drinking through a straw can contribute to lip wrinkles, bloating, cavities, and teeth staining.
If you must drink through a straw, consider using a reusable straw to reduce plastic waste. The production and disposal of plastic straws contribute to environmental pollution.