Everyone knows that a glass of red wine per day can offer some significant health benefits, but did you know that beer is at least as good for the body as fermented grape juice? In fact, some new studies indicate that it might be even better for you (in moderation, of course). If you’re a confirmed craft beer lover, you probably do love to tout the heart-health benefits of your favorite brew, but new research is showing a far broader range of advantages than was previously suspected.
First, a word of caution – yes, beer offers health benefits. However, the repercussions of overconsumption far outweigh those benefits. Drink in moderation, or not only will you negate any of the benefits you hoped to see, but you might just suffer some serious ramifications. Be responsible.
Go for the Dark Stuff
Lovers of Guinness have long known a secret that pale-beer drinkers haven’t suspected. Namely, darker beer is better for you. It’s better for you in a lot of ways, apparently. A recent article on Fox announced that darker beers offer the following advantages over their paler counterparts:
- Significantly higher antioxidant content
- Higher iron content
- Significantly higher amounts of soluble fiber
- Many darker beers actually have fewer calories than so-called “lite” beers (this isn’t true across the board)
Hops are an important additive to beer, and have been for centuries. Hops are antibacterial, helping to preserve beer’s freshness, and they also lend that necessary bitterness to offset the sweetness of malt. However, hops also have some important health benefits transmitted to drinkers through the medium of beer. Hoppy beers offer higher polyphenol counts, which help to reduce bad cholesterol in the body. They can also help fight viruses and boost the immune system. Ongoing studies also show that polyphenols play an important role in fighting many forms of cancer.
Beer’s heart health benefits have been touted for several years now, but ongoing research is yielding some surprising conclusions. For instance, a study conducted at Harokopio University in Greece found that drinking beer has an immediate effect on blood vessels and arteries. According to the study, men had less aortic stiffness and better endothelial function after consuming beer.
Other studies have been conducted on the heart healthy benefits of beer (and other alcohol). These found that drinking a pint of beer per day could cut an individual’s risk of heart attack by up to 40%. It can also increase the levels of good cholesterol in the body (in addition to decreasing bad cholesterol).
Finally, beer contains a wealth of B vitamins. These are most famous for the roles they play in improving energy levels and immune system function, but they’re also important for heart health. B vitamins, specifically B6 and B12, help reduce the amino acid homocysteine, which is thought to be responsible for arterial damage and blood clot formation.
Most of us are familiar with the input=output of beer drinking. What goes in must come out, after all. Beer’s high water content is responsible for this. A study out of Finland found that men who drank beer were 40% less likely to develop kidney stones. Regularly flushing the kidneys helps prevent calcium deposits from building up (the formation of kidney stones).
An interesting side note, another study pointed out that the same high water content responsible for flushing your kidneys of excess calcium is also good for the body’s hydration levels. In fact, drinking a beer might be better than consuming plain water when you’re hot and sweaty, such as after working outdoors or following a workout. It can also help rebuild muscle damaged during strenuous activity.
As we age, our bones naturally lose density. In its severest form, this is called osteoporosis (suffered mainly by women, but men also develop osteoporosis as they age). Beer contains high levels of silica, which according to EatRight.org aren’t found in that many foods or beverages. Silica is an important element in building strong bones and protecting your skeleton from the ravages of osteoporosis.
Too much beer leaves you with reduced mental faculties, just ask any college frat member. However, moderate consumption of beer seems to offer protection from devastating mental diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Now that we’ve heard the good news, it’s time for the bad news. Mostly, it’s important that you don’t fall into the “some is good so more must be better” mentality. That doesn’t work in the world of medicine and it doesn’t fly in the world of beer drinking, either. Too much of a good thing is still too much, and overconsumption of beer can lead to quite a few problems.
Hangovers are probably the most common negative side effect of drinking beer – no one likes to wake up feeling like they’ve had an oil tanker parked overnight in their mouth, and the pounding head and shakes aren’t any fun either. Of course, there’s also the fact that because beer packs in almost more energy than any other beverage on the planet ounce for ounce, drinking too much forces your body to turn that potential energy into fat (and you were trying to lose that spare tire, weren’t you?).
Drinking too much also negates many of the positives beer can offer. For instance, it might help keep your kidneys functioning well, but it’ll do a number on your liver (and, no, you can’t live without a liver). Cirrhosis is a deadly disease, and it stems directly from drinking too much (amongst other things). Finally, too much beer turns those heart benefits into dangers. High levels of alcohol over time will actually damage your heart and arteries rather than helping prevent disease.
Do yourself a favor – enjoy the world of beer in moderation. Feel free to explore the many unique flavor combinations and brew types made possible by the craft beer explosion, but do so with common sense.