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Is Beer Healthy?

Let’s Check Whether Beer Is Good for You

Is Beer Healthy?

With the dramatic influx of craft breweries across the globe it is no wonder that craft beer and brewing is becoming increasingly popular and mainstream. Alongside the popularity of high-quality hops and malts is the increased interest in health and fitness as well. Both of these industries have seen substantial growth over the past couple of decades with both movements seeing some commonality among their following as running clubs and bike groups mark their weekly meet ups with visits to their local brewery. But is there any link between beer consumption and a healthy lifestyle? More broadly, is beer healthy?

Beer brewing and consumption has its roots as far back as 7000 BCE in China where the first evidence of beer brewing took place. This alcoholic trend made its way through time where the process itself began to resemble a more modernized brewing process around 3500 BCE in ancient Mesopotamia. From there, beer began to expand across the globe, making its way to ancient Egypt where the concept of medicinal use of beer began to flourish. Ancient Egyptians used beer as a medicine to treat stomach ailments, coughs and constipation. Over the years, archaeologists have discovered over 100 medicinal recipes from ancient Egypt that utilized beer as an ingredient.

In ancient Nubia, people were using beer as an antibiotic to treat everything from gum disease to infected wounds. Fast-forward to the Middle Ages and Renaissance era and beer was often perceived as a nutritional necessity. Furthermore, it was sometimes used as a medicine to treat pain and various types of illnesses.

Today, much research has been accrued over the past century that has found many promising health benefits provided by moderate beer consumption – as well as various negative effects derived from heavy consumption. Some of the promising effects of moderate beer consumption include a stronger, healthier heart, improved cognitive function, lower bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and higher good (HDL) cholesterol levels, lower risk of dementia and more. Negative effects of heavy beer consumption include increased risk of death, alcohol dependency, liver disease, depression, weight gain and cancer.

Beer contains some nutritional elements including protein, niacin, riboflavin, magnesium, silicon and phosphorus, which are essential for your body. It also, of course, contains plenty of calories and carbohydrates to help fuel your body and, when consumed in moderation, little to no sugar.

A common negative effect caused by drinking beer can be referred to as “the beer gut,” but it is not a beer’s calories or carbs that cause weight gain, but rather the alcohol within the beer. Alcohol disrupts the body’s hormonal state, which decreases fat breakdown and ultimately leads to a higher body fat percentage. 

person eating food with beer next to plate
Beer contains some nutritional elements including protein, niacin, riboflavin, magnesium, silicon and phosphorus, which are essential for your body.

When it comes to heart health, moderate beer consumption should top the list on one’s diet according to various studies. One study conducted on 36 adults over the course of 12 weeks found that moderate beer intake (one beer a day for women and two beers a day for men) improved antioxidant properties of good (HDL) cholesterol while also improving the body’s ability to remove bad (LDL) cholesterol. Another large review stated that low to moderate beer intake could lower heart disease risk to a similar extent as drinking wine – which is widely lauded as an antioxidant and healthy beverage (once again in moderation).

Moderate beer consumption has also been revealed to be beneficial in lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes. Several studies conducted over the years found that light to moderate alcohol intake appears to reduce insulin resistance, which is a risk factor for diabetes. Other studies have found that light to moderate alcohol intake may improve blood sugar control. A large study in over 70,500 participants associated moderate alcohol intake with a 43% and 58% lower risk of diabetes for men and women, respectively.

Another common misconception about beer is that it leads to brain damage. However, although heavy drinking can cause mental decline, light to moderate beer consumption actually improves memory and overall cognitive function. One study conducted by Loyola University out of Chicago found that moderate beer consumers are 23% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia than those who don’t drink. Another study found that beer consumption actually helps improve your trivia nights with participants solving puzzle games faster than non-drinkers. They also found that participants were 30% more likely to find unexpected solutions than those who didn’t drink.

Beer consumption has also been shown to improve bone density because of the presence of silicon, an essential bone-forming mineral found in your pint. A review published in the International Journal of Endocrinology found that moderate beer consumption increased bone density in men and could be potentially beneficial in reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis.

There are also many health benefits that are derived from hops, which is good news for hoppy beer lovers (and beer lovers in general). Hops have been shown to help reduce inflammation, be antibacterial, increase HDL (good) cholesterol and decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol, and have anti-cancer properties.

person pouring beer from a great height
Beer consumption has also been shown to improve bone density because of the presence of silicon, an essential bone-forming mineral found in your pint.

Another health benefit found within beer is that of Polyphenols – a category of compounds that are naturally found in plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, herbs and dark chocolate. Polyphenols act as antioxidants by neutralizing harmful free radicals that would otherwise damage your cells and increase your risk of illnesses like cancer, diabetes and heart disease. They are also anti-inflammatory and great stress reducers.   

The various health benefits that one can derive from sipping on their favorite brew extinguish themselves when one steps outside the bounds of moderation and into the realm of heavy drinking. One study conducted in Scandinavia found that people who regularly drank heavily decreased their life expectancy by 24-28 years in comparison with that of the general population. Heavy drinking can also lead to heart failure, cancer, obesity and more.

Not only does heavy drinking tend to wane the health benefits found in beer, but alcohol consumption can hinder performance in athletes as well. Beer can inhibit muscle growth, slow down recovery, slow down reaction times and dehydrate your body. Not only is this bad news for athletes, but it is also bad news for anyone trying to make gains in the gym as well. Several studies have revealed that regular alcohol consumption was linked to decreased levels of testosterone in men and increased testosterone levels in women. So, if you want to make gains in the gym then keep your drinking to a minimum.

One positive note in regards to beer and exercise is that there have been studies that found a correlation between drinkers and motivation to hit the gym. One study surveyed 40,000 American adults and found that compared to abstainers, moderate drinkers were twice as likely to be physically active. Moreover, as the intensity of activity increased, so did the strength of association with alcohol consumption. So, if you are seeking a motivational tactic to hit the gym, you can try sipping on your favorite brew a little more – but always in moderation, of course.

In order to derive the most health benefits from beer, remember to always drink your pint in moderation. If beer isn’t your go-to drink, wine and liquor possess many of the same benefits as beer, so don’t hesitate to sip on your favorite wine or cocktail (mind the calories and sugar, however) in moderation. Also make sure to incorporate exercise and a proper diet to derive the most benefits from your alcoholic beverage.

All this brings us back to our main question: Is beer healthy? The answer: Yes, when consumed in moderation. When imbibed in excess, the answer is a resounding no.

person drinking beer silhouetted by the setting sun


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