Surprising health advantage of beer

Feb 17, 2015 by Stephane

Belgian beer, and indeed all beers and alcohol generally have a bad reputation when it comes to health. Recent media reports have suggested that moderate consumption of red wine is good for one's health and now there are reports suggesting the same for beer.

"Xanthohumol" is a substance which is found in female hop plants (Humulus Lupulus), one of the main ingredients of beer. It is a type of flavonoid which has long been suspected of having several health advantages. Flavonoids are often found in plants where they provide the colour to the plant. They have recently been studied more and more, whether it's in hops, berries, chocolate or grapes (wine).

Researchers in China recently discovered that this substance found in beer may help to protect against and slow the progress of diseases like Alzeheimers and Parkinsons. This finding was recently published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food chemistry by the Jianguo Fang and colleagues. The substance may have anti oxidative effects, which means it could counter the effects of oxidation of nerve cells.

This type of oxidation in the brain contributes to the development of neurodegenerative diseases and dementia. Xanthohumol therefore has neuroprotective properties and it could mean that regularly drinking our Belgian beers could have a beneficial effect on the brain. Beers with a lot of hops ("hoppy beer" and a lot of craft beers) would offer the highest doses of this beneficial substance. Traditionally, hops have been used for several centuries in China to cure various ailments. 

Other research carried out in the US and published in Behavioral Brain Research also points in the direction that this substance found in beer has positive effects on cognitive functioning. This researched showed that mice, when given high doses, had better ability to adapt to changes in their environment. 

Xanthohumol also seems to have anti cancer properties, specifically against leukaemia and liver cancer. Furthermore, research has shown that men who drink a lot of beer have a lower chance of getting prostate cancer. It seems to block chemical reactions that can lead to the development of this type of cancer. This advantage is specifically linked to beer and wine. Liquor seems to have the opposite effect and lead to more cases of prostate cancer, so quite the whiskey and keep drinking beer!

Beer also seems to have a protective effect on your kidneys. Men who drink a moderate amount of beer have less of a chance of developing painful kidney stones (up to 40% less for regular beer drinkers!). This may just be due to more regular trips to the bathroom. Beer, and especially dark beer, has high levels of fibre, which is good for digestion. For every 30cl glass there can be up to 1g of soluble fibre which makes for better trips to the toilet.

There are other more obvious advantages - a couple of beers can help with work related stress experienced after a long day. Finally, beer also contains nicotinic acid and another substance called lactoflavin. Both are rumoured to help with insomnia.

So there you have it - in case you need a few more reasons to enjoy a cold Belgian beer, apart from the fact that it just tastes damn good, you can remind yourself of what you just read.

Santé!