America’s favorite brew offers significant health benefits

Five reasons to toast the end of summer with a cold one

Nothing’s more American than drinking a beer at the ballpark. But this tasty beverage had an important impact on our country’s independence long before the New York Nine defeated the Knickerbockers in 1864 in the first official baseball game played in the U.S.

In fact, much of the brainstorming for the Declaration of Independence occurred in a tavern in Philadelphia, lubricated by tankards of beer.

And while our forefathers didn’t have access to today’s copious research on the health benefits of beer, they may have instinctually known it helps boost brain power—ultimately fueling the creativity needed to birth a nation.

Of course, studies show that beer also offers protection against Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and dementia, improves cardiovascular health, fights cancer, boosts the health of your gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome, and helps improves sleep.

Plus, it’s a key component in women’s health. New research shows a brew or two can boost bone health in postmenopausal women and may even be a viable alternative to conventional hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

So how can one simple beverage have so many health benefits?

Well, it has to do with beer’s composition…

Natural components pack a powerful punch

Beer is a simple—and natural—beverage. It consists of water, yeast, barley malt, and hops. Its main nutrients are carbohydrates (which provide fuel and energy), amino acids (which make protein in the body), minerals (mainly calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium), and B vitamins.

The water in beer is important for hydration (as I also discuss on page 4), which our bodies and brains need to carry out every basic function. The yeast interacts with the barley malt to create the alcohol and bubbles. And the barley malt is a key source of the vitamins and minerals found in beer.

Hops grow as a vine, and have a bitter flavor (which they impart to beer). They also have powerful antioxidant effects—mainly due to plant compounds called polyphenols.

In fact, one new study reports that a type of polyphenol in beer, known as prenylated flavonoids, has estrogenic, anti-cancer, neuropreventive, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties.1

But that’s not all. Together or separately, each ingredient in beer offers the following important health benefits…

Keeps your brain and liver hopping. I’ve written before about how the antioxidants in hops help protect against Alzheimer’s and dementia. Now, two recent studies show how a hops flavonoid called xanthohumol not only gives beer its distinctive amber color, but specifically supports the brain and helps protect the liver.

Researchers found that xanthohumol neutralized damaging, oxidant chemical compounds in brain cells. It also helped “turn on” genes in the cells that shield them against oxidative stress-related diseases such as cancer, dementia, and chronic inflammation.2

Plus, in a recent mouse study, another group of researchers found that xanthohumol and its counterpart tetrahydroxanthohumol helped keep weight and blood sugar levels in check—ultimately reducing fat build-up in the liver. 3

Keeps your heart steady. Beer’s antioxidants also help protect the heart. There’s plenty of research showing that moderate beer consumption can help lower your risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases.

In fact, a new review of six studies and five research papers found that one beer a day for women and one to two beers a day for men decreased incidences of cardiovascular disease—and even lowered overall mortality risk.4

And two other new studies show how beer may do this…

In the first study, researchers conducted lab analyses and discovered that the flavonoids in beer interact with key parts of the metabolic proteins in our bodies, helping to regulate them.5

One of those proteins is C-reactive protein (CRP). Based on this study, the researchers believe moderate beer consumption can help protect against coronary artery disease and other cardiovascular issues. (This finding makes a lot of sense, as high levels of CRP are a key measure of the inflammation that’s a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.)

In the other study, nine men in their 20s (a prime beer-drinking age, as I remember from my grad school days) drank either alcohol-free beers or beers with alcohol.6 The researchers then measured arterial stiffnessstiffness—a key factor in blood pressure (and, of course, high blood pressure is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease).

The group that drank the non-alcoholic beers had no differences in their arterial stiffness. But the group that drank between about 2 to 7 ounces of beer with alcohol had substantial reductions in their arterial stiffness, just 30 to 60 minutes afterward.

Keeps your gut happy. Anyone who’s ever consumed a few too many beers knows all too well how beer affects the GI system. But moderate consumption of beer can actually benefit your GI microbiome, according to a new study.7

Researchers divided 78 healthy adults into two groups: people who drank little or no beer, and people who drank 6 to 20 ounces of beer daily. The researchers then analyzed the gut microbiota composition of all the participants.

They discovered that the beer drinkers had higher levels of two key probiotics (good bacteria) compared with the non-beer drinkers. The beer drinkers also had more butyric acid in their GI microbiome—which some research links to improved gut health.

Keeps your head on the pillow. There’s debate about whether a few drinks before bed can help you sleep better. But, as I discuss on page 6, one thing we know for sure is how important melatonin (the “sleep hormone”) is for healthy sleep. And it turns out that fermented beverages like beer (and wine) contain melatonin.

In fact, a new study reports that beer naturally has enough melatonin that people who drink it can “reach significant plasma concentrations of melatonin”— which can have beneficial effects on their sleep.8 The researchers also note that the melatonin in beer has anti-cancer, neuroprotective, and immunomodulatory actions.

Keeps your bones strong. A new review found that postmenopausal women who drank at least one brew a day had significantly higher bone mineral density than non-beer drinkers.9 The review also cited a study that found that older men and women who drank beer had the lowest risk of hip fractures.

The analysis notes that much of beer’s bone benefits are attributable to the polyphenols it contains, along with bone-boosting minerals like silicon. The researchers also cite studies showing that the hops in beer contain phytoestrogens that help prevent bone loss.

It’s well known that estrogen has significant effects on bone metabolism. That’s why postmenopausal women are more susceptible to osteoporosis (after the loss of estrogens). And the review cited animal and lab studies showing that the phytoestrogens in beer can reduce bone loss by regulating the activities of osteoblast and osteoclast bone cells.

Plus, as I mentioned earlier, it notes that due to its phytoestrogens, beer has been suggested as an alternative to conventional HRT. Imagine the benefits of going through menopause without dangerous drugs—and with the pleasures of beer!

How much should you drink?

All of the studies I’ve referenced above have one thing in common: They rely on moderate beer consumption.

That breaks down to one or two beers a day, which also happens to be the perfect amount for nine innings of baseball. Or for a lively (and seditious) meeting at a tavern among our nation’s forefathers, or their philosophical descendants.

After all, as Benjamin Franklin put it: “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

You can find such aphorisms in Franklin’s popular handbook of home remedies, “Poor Richard’s Almanac.” In French, poor Richard was translated as “Bonhomme Richard.” (The name John Paul Jones, a U.S. naval commander, took for his flagship.) That name translates back to English more like the “jolly good fellow” of old England.

And considering how much Ben Franklin and his associates enjoyed beer, we can certainly extrapolate that the amber brew had a hand in making Richard jolly… not to mention, “healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

SIDEBAR: The social (and societal) aspects of beer

Beer drinking goes beyond just having fun with friends or family at a ballgame. Anthropologists (like my friend and colleague, Dr. Solomon Katz) propose that drinking moderately actually helped humans create modern civilizations.

In fact, one study concluded that at the dawn of human history, “brewing of beer was an important aspect of feasting and society” in the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean “cradle of civilization.”10

How? Well, in ancient times, foragers occasionally ran across naturally fermented fruits and grains…and they sampled these delicacies. Naturally, they enjoyed the experience.

Of course, fermented fruit has been around since Adam and Eve. But humans only started to grow grain—a main component of beer—about 10,000 years ago. This required people to settle down in one place to plant and harvest it, which led to the development of complex societies and communities.

Early civilizations used cultivated grains to make bread—the “staff of life”—and to provide more calories to growing populations. But anthropologists have also found evidence that humans grew grains specifically to ferment them and make beer….even before they grew them to make bread. Plus, archaeologists have concluded that the corn originally grown in the Americas was much better suited for brewing beer than for making bread, too.10

Anthropologists believe these early civilizations used beer to quell angst, overcome shyness, and speak their minds. As a result, they became more expansive, collaborative, and creative—which helped their societies grow and flourish.

Closer to home, beer once served as a substitute for water. In early American cities, it was extremely difficult to find clean, safe drinking water, so people routinely added alcohol (which killed the bacteria) to it. Or they skipped the water altogether and went straight to antiseptic beer, wine, and hard liquors.

Many communities and families even brewed their own beers. In fact, brewmasters held important societal roles in early American cities like Boston, where Samuel Adams was a leading figure.

In addition to beer, cider also became popular in early America. In fact, most of the apple orchards planted in the 1700s and early 1800s provided the makings of hard cider—perhaps allowing a new interpretation of Johnny Appleseed’s persistently positive outlook during his legendary travels across the new land.

And now, apple ciders are popular again. That’s why, next month, I’ll tell you more about the health benefits of apples…and apple ciders.

Sources:

1“Flavonoids as Phytoestrogenic Components of Hops and Beer.” Molecules. 2020 Sep 14;25(18):4201.

2“Xanthohumol, a Polyphenol Chalcone Present in Hops, Activating Nrf2 Enzymes To Confer Protection against Oxidative Damage in PC12 Cells.” J. Agric. Food Chem., 2015, 63 (5), pp 1521–1531.

3“Hop-derived compounds may prove effective against liver disease.” Nutra-ingredients, 6/22/21. (nutraingredients.com/article/2021/06/17/hop-derived-compounds-may-prove-effective-against-liver-disease)

4”Moderate Consumption of Beer and Its Effects on Cardiovascular and Metabolic Health: An Updated Review of Recent Scientific Evidence.” Nutrients. 2021 Mar 9;13(3):879.

5“Unraveling the Antioxidant, Binding and Health-Protecting Properties of Phenolic Compounds of Beers with Main Human Serum Proteins: In Vitro and In Silico Approaches.”  Molecules. 2020 Oct 27;25(21):4962.

6“Dose of Alcohol From Beer Required for Acute Reduction in Arterial Stiffness.” Front Physiol. 2020 Aug 28;11:1033.

7“Association of Moderate Beer Consumption with the Gut Microbiota and SCFA of Healthy Adults.” Molecules. 2020 Oct 17;25(20):4772.

8“Melatonin in Wine and Beer: Beneficial Effects.” Molecules. 2021 Jan 11;26(2):343.


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