Good for what ales you
Moderate beer consumption boosts antioxidant activity, Ontario university study shows
By Mike Fuhrmann / The Canadian Press
TORONTO - There's good news for beer drinkers: turns out the stuff is good for you - in moderation, according to a new study.
The study, done at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., indicates that the polyphenols in beer - substances derived from barley - boost antioxidant activity in the blood.
"Antioxidant activity . . . helps prevent the oxidation of blood plasma by toxic free radicals that trigger many aging diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and cataracts," according to a news release on the study.
And you thought beer just tasted good.
Biochemist John Trevithick, one of the lead researchers, said beer has the same benefits as red wine, a finding that surprised him.
"We think that even though wine's got 20 times more polyphenols than beer, they're not absorbed as well" for reasons unknown, he said Tuesday.
The study found that one bottle of beer led to a beneficial increase in antioxidants but three bottles had the opposite effect, making the blood "pro-oxidant" and increasing the risks of many aging diseases.
The research was sponsored by beermakers Guinness and Labatt "unconditionally," Trevithick said. "They said whatever you find you're free to publish. So we're finding this deleterious effect from three drinks, and they haven't said anything about it at all."
The study will be published in December in the journal Nonlinearity in Biology, Toxicology and Medicine.
The researchers compared the effects of red wine, beer, stout (Guinness) and non-alcoholic stout, studying antioxidant levels in the blood of subjects at various intervals after consuming the drinks.
Previous research has found that moderate consumption of alcohol can be good for you because it increases levels of HDL, or good cholesterol.
But Trevithick's study focused on the effect of polyphenols, natural plant substances also found in grapes.
"Polyphenols . . . have this antioxidant property which is similar to vitamin C or vitamin E in that they scavenge free radicals," he said.
And since it seems to be the polyphenols and not the alcohol that does the good work, drinking light beer or even de-alcoholized beer also has health benefits, Trevithick said.
But again, moderation is the key. Drinking three bottles of de-alcoholized beer makes the blood "pro-oxidant" just like three bottles of regular beer - another surprising finding, he said.
"It could be that too much of the polyphenols may not be good for you," Trevithick said.
He said light and non-alcoholic beer have lower levels of polyphenols than regular beer but would still offer most of the same benefits.
Robert Murray, a professor in the department of community health science at the University of Manitoba, said several studies have found a health protective effect from using alcohol.
"It's actually hard to demonstrate differences between wine and beer and liquor," Murray said. "They tend to operate in a similar way."
However, he said determining the biochemical reaction of drinking a bottle of beer is a far cry from assessing long-term health consequences.
"It's a long inferential leap from what they're demonstrating to disease outcomes," Murray said.
"It's understood now that moderate drinking is a protective thing. The converse of that is not heavy drinking - it's binge drinking. So that people's health can be enhanced by fairly significant levels of steady drinking, but people who take their eight pints of beer and drink them, instead of one a day, all on a Saturday night are at risk for health damages."
Another expert on beer drinking, bartender Simon Hanlon at popular McSorley's tavern in mid-town Toronto, was not surprised by news of health benefits of beer.
"We knew it all along," he said over the sound of clinking glasses.
"Beer is the nectar of the gods, as you know. It's not news."