Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

March 1, 2007

The Culture of Beer:

Do Yourself A Favor And Have A Beer, Dammit

More and more scientific studies are saying that drinking quality craft brews has a plethora of health benefits.
by Baby-Boy Jackson

Baby-Boy Jackson is just here for the beer.
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While most readers of this site don’t need another reason to drink beer, here is one that even a mother could love: drinking beer is healthy.

Scientists have found that beer can help reduce the risk of heart disease, can promote bone density, and may even provide B vitamins. So, in addition to making people prettier, more charming, and funnier—at least to themselves—beer has real health benefits.

But before going too far in singing the praises of beer consumption, the scientists who study it say beer benefits only come with moderation. In other words, drinking about two 12 ounce beers a day for men, and one for women, said Dr. Maureen L. Storey, the director of the Center for Food, Nutrition, and Agriculture Policy at the University of Maryland.

“We are talking about a 12 ounce serving of beer. None of the big 22 ounce servings or glasses. It is absolutely important and key that we are talking about a 12 ounce beer,” Storey said.

Also, there is no saving it up for one night of the week. It is not healthy to drink 14 beers on a Saturday and then claim that averages out to only two beers a day.

Storey said drinking for enjoyment of the beer is the best way to get the health benefits from it.

“You shouldn’t be drinking alone. Enjoy it with friends and family and good food,” Storey said.

That said, enjoying your beer will bring you more benefits than just a good tasting beverage. Beer has some of the same heart protective effects as wine and other alcohol. It reduces the risk of heart disease by increasing good cholesterol and preventing blood clots in arteries.

But there is something special about beer, said Dr. Katherine Tucker, Professor and Senior Scientist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.

Evidence from the Framingham Osteoporosis Study shows that one to two beers a day has been found to help bone density in men and women. One reason is the estrogenic effect of alcohol, meaning that it promotes the action of the hormone estrogen in men and women. It also has silicon, which contributes to bone density.

“We think that is because beer is a major source of silicon, which is a mineral that is abundant in the natural environment, but with the processing of food we have less and less of,” Tucker said.

Tucker said that silicon is most easily used by the body when it comes in liquid form, which is another plus for beer. She said the strongest results for beer helping bone density were seen in men. Since most of the women in the study drank wine, the effect was harder to determine for them.

The other benefits of beer aren’t as well studied, but Tucker said that because grains are used to make beer, there are B vitamins in it, which the body needs when people drink alcohol. Alcohol destroys B vitamins in the body. Also, there is evidence that dark beers have antioxidants, which may help protect against a variety of ailments such as high cholesterol and some forms of cancer.

Along with the benefits, it seems that beer’s negative effects have been somewhat overstated through the years. In particular, it seems that alcohol in moderate amounts does not kill brain cells in healthy adults, and drinking beer does not lead to beer bellies on its own.

Research done by Roberta J. Pentney, a professor at the University of Buffalo, who recently retired from active research, found that alcohol does not kill brain cells in the cerebellum. It can damage the brain’s ability to send messages between the cells, so this is not an excuse to start binge drinking. But, the brain can repair itself, and people who drink responsibly don’t need to worry about waking up one morning to find that they have killed so many cells that they are now stupid.

When it comes to beer bellies, Tucker said that the beer itself is not likely to blame. She said people tend to drink beer when they are partying, which doesn’t lend itself to eating right.

“The people who are heavy beer drinkers tend to have poor diets,” Tucker said.

But all the good news doesn’t mean that people can give up other good habits.

“Beer has some beneficial effects, but you need to watch your fat intake and eat your fruits and vegetables still,” Tucker said.

Ultimately, for those who eat right, exercise, and get their rest, beer can be part of making sure that they stay healthy.

“I think the point is that … it is not empty calories,” Storey said.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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