Beer is the number one alcoholic drink worldwide and the third most popular drink just under water and tea. It is common for social gatherings, restaurants, sporting events, even one round of television commercials can offer various beer choices. The great thing about beer is because of its commonality, there are hundreds of varieties and options for you to choose. You can opt for a lighter beer, a stronger one, a fruity one, a spicy one, and all the variants in between. However, this is not even the best thing that I love about beer. As much diversity comes from making beer itself, there are just as many health benefits of drinking beer.
Nutrition of Beer
Beer is an alcoholic beverage typically made from a brew of water, grain, and hops which is then fermented with yeast. Usually made with malted barley, some brewers also use wheat, maize, or rice. Unique beers may also add fruits, herbs, and spices. While beer is known for its calorie content and blamed for the so-called “beer belly,” beer actually has nutritional value that is healthy for you. To begin with, beer contains protein and vitamin B, even more than wine. It also has antioxidants matching the amount of wine through the specific content differs because of the different ingredients used to produce the drinks (Source).
Beer also contains xanthohumol and related prenylflavonoids. Xanthohumol has recently been in studies as a cancer chemopreventive agent. The prenylflavonoids have shown promise in prevention or treatment of menopausal symptoms, including ‘hot flashes’ and osteoporosis (Source). These few benefits are just the beginning of what drinking beer can do.
Protect Your Heart
Out of all the research around beer, you will find that lowering your risk of heart attack is the number one research-supported health benefit of drinking beer. One study showed that past, light, moderate, and heavy drinkers experienced slower decreased in good cholesterol known as HDL. The majority of studies find that light-to-moderate drink is inversely related to the risk of heart disease. That means you are helping keep your heart healthy by drinking one beer a day or about 330 mL, an amount considered a moderate consumption. Drinking that much beer can lower your “bad cholesterol and increase your “good” cholesterol (Source). While the studies have been over multiple alcohols and one review even claims that the beneficial effects are due more to the ethanol content than the components of each type of drink, the results of a study done in China found slower HDL cholesterol decreases were greater in beer.
Gallstones are a rather common occurrence, happening in about one of three women and one in six men. Gallstones, form in the gallbladder, are tiny hardened deposits of bile and cholesterol. There are several causes of gallstones, including obesity, pregnancy, and some medications. However, in a study published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, research suggested that alcohol may reduce the cholesterol in the digestive fluids which gallstones form from (Source).
Conducted with men and women aged 40 through 74 years old, the participants were studied for 14 years for signs of gallstones. What they discovered was that for every unit of alcohol consumed per week, the risk of gallstones decreased by 3%. That’s pretty incredible! Unfortunately, they didn’t specify the alcohol used, but given the large sample and the length of time, I am sure there were plenty of beer drinkers among the lot. I wonder if they knew how healthy it was for them!
Control Type II Diabetes
For those who have type II diabetes, you may be happy to hear that drinking a glass of beer every day could help you to keep in under control. For those who don’t, you might be happier to hear that a glass of beer daily can lower your risk for diabetes by 53% (Source). The most common cause of type II diabetes is a pancreas that does not make insulin properly. Beer can fight this, lowering fasting glucose and reducing insulin resistance (Source). One of the studies did find that the protective effect of the beer was more prominent among individuals who were following a strict Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats such as olive oil, and white meat such as fish. Unfortunately, the same health benefits of beer were not found for type I diabetes.
We all know that milk is promoted for its calcium to build strong bones, but did you know that beer also strengthens bones? Silicon may sound suspiciously like a dangerous chemical, but it is actually extremely important for your bones. Silicon is needed for bone formation and for bone health. If your daily consumption of silicon is high, then you will have higher bone mineral density. So where does beer fit into this? Beer actually contains silicon and is claimed to be one of the richest sources of dietary silicon. One study measured the amount of silicon in beer which varied from 6.4 to 56.6 mg per liter. Considering you only need 5-10 mg a day, a glass of beer should contain enough. If you're looking to optimize your intake, beers derived from barley will tend to contain more silicon than a wheat-based beer (Source).
Another beer health benefit that may come as a surprise is health benefits for your eyes. A study published in the book Comprehensive Handbook of Alcohol Related Pathology found that consuming moderate amounts of alcohol, including beer, lowers risks of eye diseases. Having less than 3 drinks a day will help you to avoid cataracts and other eye diseases caused by aging. The reasoning behind this actually has to deal with the oxidation process of aging. As the body ages, it receives more oxidative damage. Antioxidants protect the body from this damage. Beer not only contains antioxidants but also has been shown to increase antioxidant activity in the plasma of a cell, protecting you from the damages of aging and aging eyes (Source).
Mental Health Benefits
While excessive drinking can cause problems with mental health, studies have shown improvements in stress, mood, lowering of depression, and lowering risks of neurodegenerative diseases can be found through frequent moderate beer consumption. Most of us don’t need a scientific study to know that low to moderate beer consumption can make us feel happier, affectionate, and care-free. However, beer can also reduce stress, tension, and depression. It can also benefit other brain functions like short-term memory and problem-solving abilities (Source). Another study, looking further into the antioxidant capabilities of beer, found research supporting alcohol in the prevention of dementia and benefit oxidative stress. One further study supports these findings by also pointing to beer’s prevention of neurodegenerative diseases.
Everything in Moderation
Of course, whatever the health benefits, too much of anything is a bad thing. It is important to keep moderation as a key idea when drinking beer. While there is no universally accepted standard, one to two drinks of 12 fluid ounces seems to be the most common amount. Usually women are recommended to consume less than men because of the typical difference of body-mass index between men and women. If you are going by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, then a moderate amount of beer would be two glasses for men and one glass for women of 12 fluid ounces of beer daily. The important thing to keep in mind is balancing your drinking in a way that uses the health benefits with none of the risks (Source).
Beer is full of great health benefits, especially for protecting your heart. It is full of antioxidants which protect you against the damages of aging while also providing you with protein and vitamins. While heavy drinking and binge drinking aren’t recommended and have been found to have the opposite effects of these health benefits, light to moderate drinking, either frequently or daily, can help with type II diabetes, stress, mental health, prevent gallstones, and build strong bones. Now, go enjoy your beer benefits by toasting with a glass of your favorite brand!