Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Amazing Benefits of Beer

One regular reader has written to ask about the benefits of beer? Yes, beer! And since she has brought it to my attention, let's talk about how great beer is for us.

Earlier this year, scientists suggest beer after a workout is the way to go for a healthy body. It's true, The Washington Times reported that researchers at Granada University in Spain have found that beer can help the body re-hydrate better after a workout than water or even Gatorade.

Professor Manuel Garzon also claimed the carbonation in beer helps to quench the thirst and that its carbohydrate content can help replace lost calories.

The study involved a group of students who were asked to work out until their body temperature reached 104 degrees. Researchers then gave beer to half of the students and water to the other half. Professor Garzon announced the results at a press conference in Granada, saying the hydration effect in those who drank beer was "slightly better."

A cardiologist with the Real Madrid football team, Dr. Juan Antonio Corbalan, told the paper he has recommended barley drinks to professional sportsmen after exhausting activities for a very long time. This study is just one more in a long line of research touting the benefits of your favorite brew.

Yes, your beer of choice may be healthier than you think. Most folks already know that that red wine can help protect against heart disease and a few more maladies, but most don't know that recent research shows that beer can also be good for what ails you.

It's true, from reducing risk for broken bones to helping warding off diabetes, and even helping to stave off mental decline -- beer can increase longevity. Here are 10 healthy reasons to cheer about your next beer:

Stronger Bones

Yes, beer is good for strong bones. In fact, beer contains high levels of silicon which is linked to bone health. In a 2009 study at Tufts University and other centers, older men and women who swigged one or two drinks daily had higher bone density, with the greatest benefits found in those who favored beer or wine.

For the best bone-building benefits, reach for pale ale, since a 2010 study of 100 types of beer from around the word identified these brews as richest in silicon. Light lagers and non-alcoholic beers contained the least.

A Stronger Heart

A 2011 analysis of 16 earlier studies involving more than 200,000 people, conducted by researchers at Italy’s Fondazion di Ricerca e Cura, found a 31% reduced risk of heart disease in those who drank about a pint of beer daily.

More than 100 studies also show that moderate drinking trims risk of heart attacks and dying from cardiovascular disease by 25 to 40 percent, this from a Harvard report. A beer or two a day can help raise levels of HDL, the “good” cholesterol that helps keep arteries from getting clogged.

Healthier Kidneys

Of course, a study in Finland was of great interest to me since I have fought kidney problems for more than 30 years. The study in Finland singled out beer among other alcoholic drinks, finding that each bottle of beer men drank daily lowered their risk of developing kidney stones by 40 percent. It’s possible that the hops in beer help curb leeching of calcium from bones. The theory is that the less lose of calcium means that that calcium won't end up in the kidneys as stones. Another theory as to beer being good for kidneys come from the idea of hydration. Beer’s high water content helps keep kidneys working since dehydration increases kidney stone risk.

To go along with the Finland study, according to an article in the Winter 2011 issue of ADA Times, beer may reduce your risk of developing kidney stones. Researchers found that beer lowered the risk of kidney stones in men compared to other alcoholic beverages, possibly due to its high water content and diuretic effect. Compounds in hops may also slow the release of calcium from bone that is implicated in kidney stones

So yes, beer has been shown to help slow the development of stones. But, as I can attest to, when passing a stone - my doctor says, beer is not a good idea.

Boosting Brain Health

A beer a day may help keep Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia at bay, researchers say. A beer of two a day may help you remember that a 2005 study tracking the health of 11,000 older women showed that moderate drinkers - those who consumed about one to two drinks a day - lowered their risk of mental decline by as much as 20%. This is compared to non-drinkers.

And in addition, older women who drank a drink a day scored as about the same level as women 18 months “younger” on average on tests of mental skills than the non-drinkers.

Reduced Cancer Risk

In an extensive Portuguese study, it was found that marinating steak in beer eliminates almost 70% of the carcinogens, called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) produced when the meat is pan-fried. Researchers theorize that beer’s sugars help block HCAs from forming.

Scientists also have found that beer and wine contain about the same levels of antioxidants, but the antioxidants are different because the flavonoids found in hops and grapes are different.

Boosting Vitamin Levels

In Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms, which takes place in 1929, Catherine’s doctor recommends she drink beer while pregnant. Well, believe it or not, it is a fact that Doctors back then did that. They recommended beer to patients.

Beer has been known as a source of B vitamins like niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, vitamins B6 and B12, and folate. Now scientists agree that beer can help guard against birth defects of the brain and spine. In fact, a single bottle of beer (12 oz.) provides up to 12.5 percent of the recommended requirement of vitamin B6, which is known to be generally helpful on a cellular level and also heart-healthy.

A Dutch study, performed at the TNO Nutrition and Food Research Institute, found that beer-drinking participants had 30% higher levels of vitamin B6 levels in their blood than their non-drinking counterparts, and twice as much as wine drinkers. Fact is, that cold one is a source of B vitamins such as folate, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and vitamins B6 and B12.

One 12-ounce beer supplies 3 percent of the B12 and 12.5 percent of the vitamin B6 you need in a day. These two nutrients keep your heart healthy by lowering levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that may damage your arteries and encourage blood clots to form.

Guarding Against Stroke

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that moderate amounts of alcohol, including beer, help prevent blood clots that block blood flow to the heart, neck and brain—the clots that cause ischemic stroke, the most common type.

Experts believe alcohol improves heart health by making blood less sticky so it's less likely to clot by increasing levels of "good" HDL cholesterol while lowering unhealthy LDL cholesterol.

Reduced Risk for Diabetes

A 2011 Harvard study of about 38,000 middle-aged men found that when those who only drank occasionally raised their alcohol intake to one to two beers or other drinks daily, their risk of developing type 2 diabetes dropped by 25 percent.

The researchers found no benefit to drinking more than two drinks. The researchers found that alcohol increases insulin sensitivity, thus helping protect against diabetes.

Lower Blood Pressure

Wine is fine for your heart, but beer may be even better according to Harvard University. You have to love those Harvard boozers!

Another Harvard study of 70,000 women ages 25 to 40 found that moderate beer drinkers were less likely to develop high blood pressure - which of course is a major risk factor for heart attack - than women who sipped wine or spirits. So yes, that picture of a woman drinking a beer depicts someone doing more for her body than one showing some gal sipping wine or a Margarita!

Longer Life

In a 2005 review of 50 studies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that moderate drinkers live longer. The USDA also estimates that moderate drinking prevents about 26,000 deaths a year, due to lower rates of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. These benefits appear to apply in other countries as well, with an earlier study reporting that, "if European beer drinkers stopped imbibing, there would be a decrease in life expectancy of two years—and much unhappiness."

"A cold beer is the perfect way to relax at the end of the day, it tastes great and, in moderation, it can even be good for you," says Ethan A. Bergman, PhD, RD, CD, FADA, past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. So yes, while milk is good for stronger bones and healthier teeth, the key to tapping into beer’s benefits is moderation. And believe it or not, the recommendation is just one 12-ounce beer per day for women and two for men.

Like everything else, no matter if it's chocolate or red wine, moderation is the key. For that reason, there is a word of caution that should be mentioned here:

Downing more than a moderate amount of beer has been linked to increased risk for problems - especially if you fall down stairs or attempt to ride a bull because you suddenly think you can.

So what does beer have to do with cowboys, the Old West, American History, or other subjects we cover on this blog?

Well, beer has everything to do with the Old West, Americans settling and civilizing the West, and living to reap the desserts of their hard work. The water in many areas was so bad that pioneers did what their ancestors did and brewed beer. 

Brewing local beer was an age-old healthy alternative to drinking water and possibly getting sick or dying. No, using beer as an alternative was nothing new. Fact is, Americans have had a tradition of brewing beer and using it as a healthy substitute since the pilgrims stepped off the Mayflower.

In the Old West, there were certain challenges. Since the shelf life of beer is short and the cost of transporting at the time was prohibitive, American settlers built local breweries. Old West saloons charged 10 cents for a glass of beer. That would be equal to $1.75 for a glass of beer today.

In warmer climates, beer was served a little warm - usually at 55 to 65 degrees. Though the beer had a head, it wasn't sudsy as beer is today. There was also another drawback, as one had to drink up in a hurry before it got too warm or go flat. So like the English tradition of drinking warm beer, American became accustomed to the European tradition of beer served at room temperature.

Some parts of the West had cold beer due to cold winters. The reason? Well, until ice plants began cropping up in Western towns around 1870s, folks cut ice from frozen rivers in the winter and stored it underground during the summer.

In the 1880s, Adolphus Busch introduced artificial refrigeration and pasteurization to the U.S. brewing process, launching Budweiser as a national brand. Before then, most folks in the Old West didn’t expect their beer to be cold unless it was winter.

Beer was not bottled widely until pasteurization came in 1873. So though up to then it was mostly kept in wooden kegs, beer is partly responsible for helped keep Americans healthy in the Old West.

Have a Happy New Year!

Tom Correa