On Beer and Health

“Thirstily he set it to his lips, and as its cool refreshment began to soothe his throat, he thanked Heaven that in a world of much evil there was still so good a thing as ale.”

― Rafael Sabatini

Back on November 14th I posted a piece called “Caffeinate Me”. I listed the top 10 beverages consumed in the world, and shared the health benefits of coffee, the #1 most consumed. I followed that with a piece two days later on #2, tea (“If Not Coffee, Then Tea?”) and its health benefits. Then, on December 19th, “Caffeinate Me – A Follow-up” shared why scientists believe the hankering for coffee by many is probably built into their DNA.

As I noted in the first piece, orange juice is #3. I think its beneficial properties are fairly self-evident and don’t need further examination, except, perhaps how it is healthfully enhanced by a hearty dash of Champagne or other sparkling white wine (wine is the #6 most consumed beverage) or a shot of vodka (#7). Maybe some day I’ll get around to writing about them. But I’ll be skipping #5, Coca Cola – it’s my favorite cola, makes a great mixer for just about any alcohol, but has no health-redeeming properties I know of. Nor will I write anything about #8, energy drinks (they just don’t interest me), or #9, soups, (which like orange juice, are obviously healthy – and unlike OJ, I can’t imagine fortifying with any kind of alcohol), or #10, breast milk (I gave that up a long time ago).

In this post I’ll share the health benefits of another favorite beverage of mine, beer, the 4th most popular beverage in the world. (Some beers are more healthier than others, the darker they are may be better, and I won’t subject my wallet or taste buds to pilsners and the like, especially those made for sale in the US, and never – ever – anything with “Lite” attached to it. As I said in my January 9th post, “I’ll have another pint, please!”, I prefer ales, specifically Stouts, more specifically Irish Stouts.)

First off, the usual disclaimers and cautions: I have no financial interests in said beverages (other than the amount of money I spend in purchasing and consuming); always consume in moderation; I am not an M.D., so consult with yours if you have any medical issues or questions. The information below has been gleaned from many sources. Now, let’s move on and see why beer is a healthy quaff.

• Anti-Cancer Properties: A flavonoid compound called Xanthohumol is found in the hops commonly used in brewing beer. It has been seen to play a major role in the prevention of cancer, including prostate cancer. It is also a good source of polyphenols, found in the grains used for fermentation. Beer has been proven effective in fighting cancer, just like red wine.

• Reduced Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases: Beer contains vitamin B6, which protects against heart diseases by preventing the build-up of a compound called homocysteine. Homocysteine can make one prone to cell damage and inflammation in the artery walls, which is a risk factor in coronary artery disease. B6 has a thinning effect on the blood and prevents the formation of clots, which cause blocks in the coronary arteries. Moderate beer consumption also reduces the risk of inflammation, the root cause of atherosclerosis, which is cholesterol and plaque building up on the blood vessels and artery walls.

• Increased Bone Density: Moderate intake is shown to increase bone density, preventing the risk of fractures and osteoporosis.

• Diabetes: Studies have linked moderate beer consumption to a lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes.

• Prevention of Anemia: Beer is a good source of vitamin B12 and folic acid, a deficiency of which may lead to anemia. Vitamin B12 is also essential for maintaining normal growth, good memory and concentration.

• Hypertension: Regular beer drinkers have been found to have lower blood pressure, compared to people that consume similar amounts of wine or other spirits.

• Anti-Aging Properties: Beer increases the potency and impact of vitamin E, which is a major antioxidant in the body. It is an important part of the maintenance of healthy skin, while also slowing down the aging process.

• Gallstones: Regular consumption of moderate amounts of beer affects the cholesterol levels and decreases bile concentration, leading to a reduced risk of developing gallstones.

• Prevention of Dementia and Coronary Disease: Beer consumption also boosts the level of “good cholesterol” by 10-20%, thus reducing the risk of dementia and cardiovascular diseases.

• Aids Digestive System: Beer is shown to possess a number of digestive properties, which include the stimulation of gastrin, gastric acid, cholecystokinin and pancreatic enzymes.

• Kidney Stones and Osteoporosis: Beer has been found to be high in potassium and low in sodium. It is a rich source of magnesium, which results in a reduced risk of kidney stones. The silicon present in it is also readily absorbed by the body, further explaining the protective effect of beer against osteoporosis.

• Stress Buster: Like other alcohols, beer is shown to reduce stress, and facilitates sleep.

• Diuretic: Beer acts as a diuretic, and significantly increases urination. This facilitates the increased removal of toxins and waste materials from the body.

• Cleansing of Gastrointestinal Tract: Beer is a good source of soluble fibers that promote general health. This includes being good for the heart, as well as helping to clean out the digestive tracts.

So, is there anything negative about beer consumption? Only a couple of cautions:

• As with any alcohol, the daily recommended maximun is one to one and a half ounces (one shot) a day for women and twice that for men. Generally speaking, there is approximately one ounce of alcohol in a 12 ounce beer, about an ounce and a half in a pint. Drinking more (according to your sex) can negate any and all beneficial effects. In fact, it can make you more susceptible to those problems listed above.

• Moderate levels of consumption also ensure that the calorie intake from it does not result in the “beer belly” so common on heavy beer imbibers.

• Excessive consumption of beer, like any alcohol, can lead to addiction.

So, unless you don’t have a taste for it, or some other reason not to partake, enjoy a pint or two and know you’re doing your body good.

Not to mention your spirits.

Sláinte!

– Bill

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