A toast to the health benefits of beer


Special to the Sun-Gazette

There has been a lot of coverage in the media about the health benefits of moderate wine consumption, defined as one to two, four-ounce glasses a day.

Red wine has been specifically applauded with its polyphenols, which have the ability to lower the risk of stroke, heart attack, colon cancer, cataracts and even slow the decline of brain function.

But what if you don’t like wine and prefer beer?

Artisan brewing is becoming very popular. Have you seen the “Brew Masters” show on The Discovery Channel?

Now there is new research showing beer has unique nutritional properties that offer health benefits.

As many studies have suggested, in general, moderate alcohol consumption (one drink a day for women and two for men) may be good for your health.

Drinkers tend to live longer than nondrinkers, and the occasional drink has been associated with better heart health, lower stroke risk and even boosting bone density in women.

Natural ingredients: Beer is made from plants like barley and hops, and naturally these plants have their own health benefits. Some benefits for beer are that it is fat free, one-third of its calories typically come from starch and about 4 percent of the total calories come from protein.

Wine has no protein. Malt levels, hops and beer darkness can also produce added benefits as well. The more malt in the brew the more B vitamins and more hops the more phytochemicals. Darker beers actually have more soluble fiber in them.

Bone health: According to a February 2010 study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, beer is a rich source of silicon, which increases bone density and may help fight osteoporosis.

“Beers containing high levels of malted barley and hops are richest in silicon,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Charles Bamforth in a statement. Also a July 2012 study published by Oregon State University researchers affirmed that moderate drinking may be especially beneficial for bone health in postmenopausal women. Compounds in hops may slow the release of calcium from bones and help fight bone density deterioration.

Iron: According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Valladolid in Spain, dark beers contain more iron than light beers. Iron is an essential part of a healthy diet because it helps distribute oxygen throughout the body. Better oxygen distribution leads to better health.

Cardiovascular health: Moderate beer drinking is associated with a 25 to 45 percent lower risk of heart disease, heart attack and heart-related death. Numerous studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption boosts levels of “good” High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is known to help prevent cardiovascular disease.

It’s also linked with a lower risk of stroke.

Brain health: According to a review of previous research by researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, moderate drinkers are 23 percent less likely to develop memory problems, Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia.

Researchers believe that alcohol may have anti-inflammatory properties (inflammation is thought to play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, along with other conditions like heart disease and stroke), or that it may improve blood flow in the brain, thus boosting brain metabolism.

Another theory is that small amounts of alcohol can make brain cells more fit by slightly stressing them; that makes them better able to handle the greater stress that can cause dementia.

Kidney stones: Beer specifically has been shown to lower the risk of kidney stones in men when compared to other alcoholic beverages.

This is due possibly to the high water content and diuretic effect of the beer and the same calcium saving hops we mentioned early that relates to bone health.

So to all you beer purists, cheers!

Drink up (in moderation), be merry and have a healthy new year.

Browning is a registered dietitian and coordinator of outreach programs at Susquehanna Health.