With St. Patrick’s Day approaching, many Americans look for a little Irish cheer in a pint or two. As Benjamin Franklin said, “God made beer because he loves us and wants us to be happy.”
(That’s a load of blarney, by the way. Ben Franklin never said that. But it certainly sounds like there’s wisdom in that adage, doesn’t it?)
Beer is good for you. Why else would so many cultures drink to health and long life when they toast? Salud! À vôtre santé! Na zdrowie! L’chaim! Prost! Sláinte!
If you need further evidence, here are 7 more reasons why beer is good for your health:
1. Low to moderate beer drinking can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) as much as 33%. Up to one beer per day (12 oz) for women and up to two beers for men provide a protective effect against CVD. “Such a protective effect is comparable to that reported for moderate wine consumption but is not shared by spirits,” wrote an international panel of experts.
2. Beer reduces the risk for diabetes. When compared to teetotaling, drinking up to two beers (about 24 g alcohol) per day is associated with an average 30% lower relative risk for type 2 diabetes. The protective effect appears to be greater in women (40%) than in men (13%).
“The biological mechanism is uncertain,” researchers wrote, “but there are several factors that may explain the relationship, including increases in insulin sensitivity after moderate alcohol consumption, changes in levels of alcohol metabolites, increases in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol concentrations, or via the anti-inflammatory effect of alcohol.”
3. Light to moderate drinking may protect against stroke. Adults who have 1 or 2 drinks per day have a relatively lower risk of ischemic stroke than those who don’t drink. “A plausible explanation of a reduced risk of ischemic stroke with moderate alcohol consumption is that alcohol increases HDL-cholesterol levels and decreases platelet aggregation and fibrinolytic activity,” researchers speculated.
4. Drinking may prevent kidney stones. A meta-analysis showed that people who had about 1 standard drink (12 g alcohol) per day had a 20% lower relative risk of developing kidney stones. Plus, each 10-g increase of alcohol per day was associated with an additional risk reduction of 20% (ie, 20% + 20% = 24%).
5. A compound in hops has been shown to reduce cancer, particularly breast cancer. The cones of the hop plant are added to beer to give it a touch of bitterness to balance the sweet malt flavor. Xanthohumol, a natural compound found in hops, may inhibit cell growth and induce apoptosis in leukemia and numerous types of cancer, including breast, prostate, and colon cancers.
A recent study showed that xanthohumol has antiproliferative, antimetastatic, and proapoptotic effects in breast cancer cells. “Xanthohumol may be a promising chemopreventive candidate for breast cancer treatment via inhibition of the Notch signaling pathway,” researchers concluded.
6. Xanthohumol may also reduce metabolic syndrome. In a mouse model of metabolic syndrome, experiments showed that hop-derived xanthohumol decreased body weight gain and lowered levels of fasting plasma glucose, triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol.
Unfortunately, drinking a pint or two a day won’t provide enough xanthohumol to reverse metabolic syndrome (or cure breast cancer). Not even close.
“Given the concentrations of xanthohumol found in beer (around 0.2 mg/L), it is unlikely that xanthohumol taken in the form of beer will provide beneficial effects in metabolic syndrome,” the authors wrote.
A person would have to drink 3,500 pints of beer per day to obtain the equivalent high dose tested in this study, the researchers calculated.
7. Raise a glass, raise your spirits. Drinking beer makes you feel good. “To a greater degree than either abstainers or heavy drinkers, moderate drinkers have been found to experience a sense of psychological, physical, and social well-being; elevated mood; reduced stress (under some circumstances); reduced psychopathology, particularly depression; enhanced sociability and social participation; and higher incomes and less work absence or disability,” concluded mental health/addiction researchers.
They also concluded, in short, that drinking for pleasure in the convivial company of others is good for mental health and is linked to longer life, while drinking alone to drown one’s sorrows is mentally unhealthy and can increase mortality.
That said, experts don’t advise those who abstain to take up moderate drinking just for health benefits. Conversely, heavy, excessive, and binge drinking not only eliminates but counteracts the benefits of moderate imbibing. Heavy drinking is linked to weight gain and decreased life expectancy, as well as increased risk for stroke, cancer, liver disease, dementia, heart disease, and many other serious conditions.
But don’t throw the beer out with the bathwater just yet. A drink or two now and then can be good for your health and your spirits.