Drinking a beer a day can improve your health and longevity, study finds
[July 14, 2023: Katie Cottingham, American Chemical Society]
Men who drank either one alcoholic or non-alcoholic lager daily had a more diverse set of gut microbes. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)
For eons, wine has been lauded for its potential health benefits when consumed judiciously. Now, beer is also being spotlighted for its potential gut health benefits, with non-alcoholic varieties gaining significant traction amongst consumers. But are these non-alcoholic beers as salubrious as their alcoholic counterparts? A recent pilot study brings illuminating insights to the table.
Inside the human body, particularly in the gastrointestinal tracts, trillions of microorganisms reside, playing a pivotal role in our overall well-being. Previous studies have robustly emphasized the benefits of a diverse gut microbiome, positing that the more varieties of bacteria present, the lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Beer, whether we realize it or not, contains an array of compounds, notably polyphenols, as well as a multitude of microorganisms courtesy of its fermentation process. It stands to reason, then, that beer could have a tangible effect on our gut microbe variety.
"A previously published 'cross-over' study showed that when both men and women consumed non-alcoholic lager beer for 30 days, their gut microbiome diversity increased. Many of those same people were also in a second group that drank an alcoholic version of the beer, and it didn’t have the same effect," the article reveals.
Given this intriguing backdrop and the dearth of clinical trials on the subject, researchers led by Ana Faria took the onus upon themselves to delve deeper, opting for a different research model - a parallel, randomized trial design.
In an elaborate double-blind setup, 19 healthy men became part of an intriguing experiment. They were randomly segregated into two distinct groups. Over a span of four weeks, each man in one group drank 11 fluid ounces of alcoholic lager, while the other group imbibed an equivalent amount of non-alcoholic lager with their evening meal.
Contrary to what some might hypothesize, the results at the end of the study showed no changes in participants' weight, body mass index, or vital serum markers indicative of heart health and metabolism. However, the study did uncover that both groups exhibited enhanced bacterial diversity in their gut microbiome. This was coupled with higher levels of fecal alkaline phosphatase, hinting at improved intestinal health.
World consumption of beer by country. (CREDIT: Expensivity)
While these findings might be perceived as counterintuitive or contradictory to the earlier mentioned cross-over study, the researchers argue that variations in trial designs, coupled with the differing community environments of participants, could account for the discrepancies.
Nonetheless, the implications from this pilot study are profound. "Consuming one bottle of beer, irrespective of its alcohol content, may potentially bolster the gut microbiome and overall intestinal health in men," the researchers noted. However, they wisely appended a cautionary note, stating that, considering the safest level of alcohol consumption is none, opting for non-alcoholic beer might be a more health-conscious choice.
Weighing the Benefits: Expert Opinion
Delving into the cardiologist’s perspective on the matter, the essence of their message resounds in a cautionary tone: "If you don’t drink alcohol, you are not missing out, it’s not recommended that you start. Alcohol’s spectrum of negative effects encompasses risks such as cancer, liver disease, pancreatitis, and even extends to accidents, violence, and suicide."
Yes, beer, particularly non-alcoholic variants, might carry with it certain benefits for gut health, but in the grand tapestry of health, moderation and holistic well-being are paramount. More traditional avenues to fortify one's heart health—like regular exercise, a balanced diet, and relinquishing smoking—still hold their uncontested ground.
As the expert notes, while an occasional sip might not be detrimental, moderation is the key. It's imperative, they stress, to have open conversations with healthcare providers, especially since certain conditions or medications might not play well with alcohol, leading to potentially harmful repercussions.
In a digital age rife with health myths and dubious claims, this study stands out, not just for its findings but also for the meticulous way it underscores the age-old wisdom of moderation. Whether it's beer, wine, or any other indulgence, the real benefit might just lie in our ability to balance pleasure with prudence.
If you drink alcohol, limit yourself to no more than:
two drinks a day most days, to a weekly maximum of 10 for women.*
three drinks a day most days, to a weekly maximum of 15 for men.
“A drink” means
341 mL / 12 oz (1 bottle) of regular strength beer (5% alcohol).
142 mL / 5 oz wine (12% alcohol).
43 mL / 1 1/2 oz spirits (40% alcohol).
The authors acknowledge funding from the Programa Operacional Competitividade e Internacionalização – COMPETE2020, Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT), the Center for Health and Technology and Services Research (CINTESIS) and the Comprehensive Health Research Center (CHRC).
For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.
Note: Materials provided above by American Chemical Society. Content may be edited for style and length.
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