Health Effects of Beer

Updated on March 16, 2016
nifwlseirff profile image

Kymberly has managed many chronic illnesses for 25+ years, including sciatica, costochondritis, fibromyalgia, PTSD, endometriosis, and more.

Beer , served in a glass
Beer , served in a glass | Source

Beer is the third most popular drink in the world, ranking only behind water and tea, and is the alcoholic beverage of choice for most drinkers.

The industry ranges from an average person and their home-brew kit, through to huge multinational corporations. In 2006, beer production companies earned more than $294 billion USD.

The Chinese are the world's biggest beer drinkers, 45 billion liters were downed in 2010, outranking American, Japanese and German beer drinkers - all countries with a strong beer-loving reputation.

What is beer?

A German would say: it is a mixture of malted barley, hops, yeast and water with no other additives allowed, except maybe sugar. In fact, you can only use the word 'beer' in Germany to describe such an alcoholic drink - it is mandated by law!1

However, beer may mean any alcoholic drink made from the following ingredients:

  • water
  • a starch source, such as malted or non-malted grains
  • yeast for fermentation
  • plant-based flavoring agents such as hops, wormwood, ginger, berries, etc.

It may also contain sugar, or additives to remove the cloudiness of the liquid (clarifying agents).

The alcohol content is usually between 4-6%. However, it can be raised above 40% using freeze distillation methods.

Source

Beer and health

But what about the health effects?

Over-consumption of anything has negative effects. Until recently, the negative image of drinking too much had a lot of exposure, with its associated beer bellies, increased aggression, and pounding hangovers.

Recent research is showing there are some positives to drinking beer in moderation, suggesting that 1 standard drink, 3-4 times per week may have health benefits.

Positive health effects

A low-level intake of beer, 1-2 standard drinks (350ml / 12 oz) ,has been shown in a wide range of studies to have positive effect on health.

Nutrients in a 350ml can of average beer

Nutrient
Amount
% Daily Value
Calories
153
8%
Carbohydrates
13g
4%
Vitamin B6
0.2mg
8%
Folate
21.4mcg
9%
Niacin
1.8mg
5%
Riboflavin
0.1mg
5%
Magnesium
21.4mg
5%
Phosphorous
49.8mg
5%

The vitamin B and antioxidants in beer contribute to a healthy balanced diet.2

Other nutrients may be present, depending on the ingredients used in and the method of brewing.

Because of the antioxidant properties of alcohol, beer can protect against the following illnesses:

  • heart disease and heart attacks3
  • strokes4
  • gallstones5
  • kidney stones6

Drinking a small amount regularly, contributes to better bone density, preventing or delaying osteoporosis.7

It is also associated with a reduced risk of rheumatoid arthritis and can improve the immune system of healthy people.8,9

Source

It may initially help with the fear of social situations, by relaxing tension and slowing the brain's processing of panic signals.

Reducing cholesterol

A moderate intake has been shown to reduce the bad cholesterol that thickens arteries, and also reduces cholesterol in the liver (possibly due to the ethanol content).

The bitter components raise the good HDL cholesterol, responsible for cleaning the bloodstream of the bad cholesterol. 17,18

Folk medicine

A popular folk remedy against insomnia is to drink a warm beer before sleeping, to relax and slow the nervous system.

Hops can be found in some herbal tea blends combating insomnia.

Negative health effects

The negative health effects are almost entirely due to chronic excessive drinking.

Drinking too much, too often, will cause the diseases that drinking a little beer seems to prevent!

Beer in language

view quiz statistics

Liver damage

Drinking more than four standard drinks in one day (350ml / 12 oz of beer), will trigger inflammation in the liver.

Long term heavy drinkers have a high risk developing liver disease: fatty liver (steatosis), alcoholic hepatitis, and eventually cirrhosis.10

The good news is that much of the early damage can be repaired by complete abstinence from alcohol.

How beer affects the brain

Even a small amount will slow down signal processing from the nervous system. Short term visual memory, depth perception and learning capabilities are all impaired with a few drinks.11

A moderate intake was shown to decrease verbal ability in elderly subjects.12

Adolescent drinkers can more easily damage their brain function and learning capabilities, because their brains are still developing. Alcohol upsets their hormonal balance, and stops the healthy development of organs, including their reproductive system.13

Over time, drinking heavily damages short and long term memory functions. Drinkers are unable to recall their intentions and plans, and have trouble learning.

Heavy drinkers are also more likely to suffer from insomnia and depression. The risk of strokes is increased, and eventually, alcohol withdrawal seizures and tremors may develop.

Unfortunately, this damage is not reversible.

Tyrannosaurus rex Sue, Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Tyrannosaurus rex Sue, Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois, U.S. | Source

Elsewhere in the body

Heavy drinkers are at risk of developing a number of forms of cancer, especially liver and colorectal cancers.14 In fact, various cancer bodies around the world have categorized alcohol as a known carcinogen.

Excessive alcohol intake has been linked to the following illnesses:

  • skin disorders including hives, psoriasis and rosacea.
  • gout, leading to arthritis.
  • stomach inflammation
  • osteoporosis
  • diabetes and pancreatitis

Perhaps T-rex Sue, who had severe gout and joint pain, ingested too much alcohol?

Health myths debunked

There are many baseless health claims both for and against beer drinking.

Long neck beer bottle, now empty!
Long neck beer bottle, now empty! | Source

Beer alone is not what causes a beer belly. Eating and drinking too many calories is the primary cause of larger bellies.

It will also not help you lose weight! Even though alcohol increases the rate at which you burn calories, it makes you hungry.15

It is certainly not a meal in a bottle as it is lacking most of the healthy nutrients that make up a balanced meal, even though it has a high calorie count.

While red wine can help prevent common colds, beer has no effect.16 Although alcohol of any type doesn't shorten the infection time, it may help you relax and manage the symptoms more easily.

Does it cause brain damage?

Perhaps it could if you hit someone over the head with a full bottle!

Mythbusters proved in their Bottle Bash episode, a full long-neck beer bottle, used as a weapon, can result in severe concussion, brain trauma and skull fractures. Not to mention the glass cutting into the scalp! Ow!

Beer myth impact

Which beer myth are you most upset isn't true?

See results

Beer and Health - Symposium

References

  1. Vorläufiges Biergesetz, German Beer law, 1993
  2. Nutritional and health benefits of beer, M.A. Denke, American Journal of the Medical Sciences, November 2000, 320(5):320-6
  3. Alcohol dosing and the heart: updating clinical evidence, M.N. Di Minno, M. Franchini, et al. Seminars in Thrombosis and Hemostasis, November 2011, 37(8):875-84
  4. Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption and risk of stroke among U.S. male physicians, K. Berger, et al. New England Journal of Medicine, November 1999, 341(21):1557–64
  5. Diet and gallstones in Italy: the cross-sectional MICOL results, A.F. Attili, E. Scafato, et al. Hepatology, June 1998, 27(6):1492-8
  6. Prospective study of beverage use and the risk of kidney stones, G.C. Curhan, W.C. Willett, et al. American Journal of Epidemiology, February 1996, 143(3):240-7
  7. Effects of beer, wine, and liquor intakes on bone mineral density in older men and women, K.L. Tucker, R. Jugdaohsingh, et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 2009, 89(4):1188-96
  8. Alcohol consumption is associated with decreased risk of rheumatoid arthritis, H. Källberg, S. Jacobsen, et al. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, July 2008. 68(2):222–7
  9. Effects of moderate beer consumption on first-line immunity of healthy adults, J Romeo, J. Wärnberg, et al. Journal of physiology and biochemistry, June 2007, 63(2):153-9
  10. Pathogenesis, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Alcoholic Liver Disease, K.V. Narayanan Menon, et al. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, October 2001, 76(10):1021-9
  11. The role of GABA(A) receptors in the acute and chronic effects of ethanol, S. Kumar, P. Porcu, et al. Psychopharmacology, September 2009, 205(4):529-64
  12. Alcohol intake and cognitive abilities in old age, J. Corley, X. Jia, et al. Neuropsychology. March 2011, 25(2):166-75
  13. Underage Drinking, NIAAA, January 2006
  14. Alcohol and cancer, P. Bofetta and M. Hashibe, The Lancet Oncology, February 2006, 7(2):149-56
  15. Alcohol intake and body weight: a paradox, Eric Jéquier, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, February 1999, 69(2):173-4
  16. Intake of wine, beer, and spirits and the risk of clinical common cold, B. Takkouche, C. Regueira-Méndez, et al. American Journal of Epidemiology, May 2002, 155(9):853-8
  17. Moderate consumption of beer reduces liver triglycerides and aortic cholesterol deposit in LDLr-/- apoB100/100 mice, P. Degrace, et.al., Atherosclerosis, Dec 2006,189(2):328-35
  18. Dietary isohumulones, the bitter components of beer, raise plasma HDL-cholesterol levels and reduce liver cholesterol and triacylglycerol contents similar to PPARalpha activations in C57BL/6 mice, Y. Miura, et.al., British Journal of Nutrition, April 2005, 93(4):559-67


Other health claims?

What other health claims for and against beer have you heard?

Let us know in the comments below!

Questions & Answers

    Comments

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      • nifwlseirff profile imageAUTHOR

        Kymberly Fergusson 

        4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

        Thanks Avinesh! I've also heard that the scent of hops can help people get to sleep more easily!

      • AvineshP profile image

        Avinesh Prahladi 

        4 years ago from Chandigarh

        Beer is known as a rich source of flavonoids, vitamins and minerals. The hops used in the formulation of beer are known to have antioxidant effects. There are various other health benefits which include - curbs the development of kidney stone, helps in CHD (coronary heart disease) and various others.

      • profile image

        RoadRipper 

        5 years ago

        I don't drink beer so I don't have to worry about it

      • mercuryservices profile image

        Alex Munkachy 

        5 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

        Beer is better for you than soda!

      • vibesites profile image

        vibesites 

        5 years ago from United States

        Although I've avoided beer and much alcohol for years (only occasionally sipping red wine), this article really surprised me. I thought that beer is entirely bad for one's health. Thanks listing all the health benefits of beer. I believe tho that moderation is indeed the key. Up and useful.

      • PaoloJpm profile image

        John Paolo B.Magdaluyo 

        5 years ago from Philippine

        wow, it seems you're a master of it very informative! Thanks for clearing that up! So, I bet, I should take less.

      • Better Yourself profile image

        Better Yourself 

        5 years ago from North Carolina

        Very interesting! I'm not a drinker myself but it's interesting to learn that there are benefits to drinking beer in moderation. I'd heard of health benefits with red wine but not beer. Great research and hub!

      • nifwlseirff profile imageAUTHOR

        Kymberly Fergusson 

        5 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

        Hi PaoloJpm! The alcohol in beer is metabolized by the liver while you sleep, over a period of 4-8 hours, so adding water the morning after drinking too much, won't help. Of course, it will help to replace the water in your body that was lost thanks to beer's diuretic properties!

      • PaoloJpm profile image

        John Paolo B.Magdaluyo 

        5 years ago from Philippine

        Cool! great job and very informative. I want to ask something, I have a friend that told me about excessive beer drinking. If you drink a lot, drinking lot water in the morning would minimize consequences. Is that true? medically speaking?

      • iguidenetwork profile image

        iguidenetwork 

        5 years ago from Austin, TX

        Oh goodness! Let's drink to that! :D

        Of course like all the good things, beer should be taken in moderation. I am surprised to find out that beer can actually prevent heart diseases. Thanks for your wonderful information. Voted up and useful, awesome.

      • bisnar6665 profile image

        John 

        5 years ago from Irvine, California

        My brain is about to explode with information about beer! Strangely enough, my entire family has a really weird reaction to beer and alcohol in general, so I've never been able to fully understand the appeal.

        I'm assuming I got lucky!

        Great hub. Thanks for the info.

      • nifwlseirff profile imageAUTHOR

        Kymberly Fergusson 

        5 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

        Thanks lambservant! I went hunting specifically for beer and cholesterol research - seems it actually improves cholesterol! In moderation it reduces liver and heart cholesterol (the bad stuff), and increases HDL cholesterol (the good stuff). Added to the article - thanks again!

      • lambservant profile image

        Lori Colbo 

        5 years ago from Pacific Northwest

        Does excsessive beer drinking affect cholesterol?

        Interesting article and well referenced. I hate beer but grew up around it and lots of beer alcoholics. The smell of it makes me ill. But I have to say, I have enjoyed on a few occasions some of the stronger beers, ales, whatever you call them.

      • nifwlseirff profile imageAUTHOR

        Kymberly Fergusson 

        5 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

        alphajuno - Thank you! Enjoy your home brew!

      • alphajuno profile image

        alphajuno 

        5 years ago from League City, TX

        Lots of great information in here. Thanks for doing all the research and putting it together. I'm all out of home brew now but may start back now that it's fall. Thanks again!

      • nifwlseirff profile imageAUTHOR

        Kymberly Fergusson 

        5 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

        Thanks sri! Moderation is best!

      • profile image

        sri 

        6 years ago

        Having a moderate diet control is a good idea. I liled it.

        Thank you. . .

      • nifwlseirff profile imageAUTHOR

        Kymberly Fergusson 

        6 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

        Tenkay - perhaps drinking beer if you lack green leafy vegetables is for the antioxidants? Everything in moderation ... Thanks for commenting!

      • nifwlseirff profile imageAUTHOR

        Kymberly Fergusson 

        6 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

        Keri - enjoy your healthy vitamin dose! :)

      • nifwlseirff profile imageAUTHOR

        Kymberly Fergusson 

        6 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

        cclitgirl - Thank you! There's quite a lot of beer-related slang that is different in England / Australia / America - I'd be surprised if anyone got 100%.

      • nifwlseirff profile imageAUTHOR

        Kymberly Fergusson 

        6 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

        Marina - thanks! Moderation in everything is certainly a good motto to live by.

      • nifwlseirff profile imageAUTHOR

        Kymberly Fergusson 

        6 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

        GC - I had heard good health claims about Guinness (mostly because it's high in B vitamins), but had not heard the connection with nursing mothers! Not sure that's a good idea...

      • nifwlseirff profile imageAUTHOR

        Kymberly Fergusson 

        6 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

        Alissa - The water content probably helped with UTIs - flush everything out! I don't think I could do that though, I hate the taste of beer!

      • TENKAY profile image

        TENKAY 

        6 years ago from Philippines

        I've read somewhere that if you lack green leafy veggies in your diet you can drink beer instead. Of course, it should be taken in moderation. Anything in excess is bad for your health.

        Voted up and useful.

      • Keri Summers profile image

        Keri Summers 

        6 years ago from West of England

        I loved reading about the anti-oxidants and Vitamin B - I knew it was good for me on some level!

      • cclitgirl profile image

        Cynthia Calhoun 

        6 years ago from Western NC

        MMM...I definitely like a beer here and there. Yum, yum. I did NOT do well on that quiz. Hmm, I'd better learn some more about beer. But, I learned SO MUCH from your hub. This was chock-full of great information. :)

      • Marina Lazarevic profile image

        Marina 

        6 years ago from San Francisco, CA

        Very informative & interesting Hub! Moderation is important with anything we choose to consume. I had no idea that it's commonly believed beer helps with weight loss. Ha!

      • Global-Chica profile image

        Anna 

        6 years ago from New York, NY

        I heard a fascinating claim in my international marketing class about a major Guinness marketing campaign during the 1930s which claimed that Guinness is "good for health" - and not only that, good for breastfeeding mothers to enhance breastmilk production! Guinness has stopped claiming that it's good for your health a long time ago but the connection with Guinness being good for nursing mothers still lingers and some women think it's true.

      • alissaroberts profile image

        Alissa Roberts 

        6 years ago from Normandy, TN

        When my mom was younger, she suffered from numerous kidney and bladder infections. Her doctor always suggested to go home and drink a beer. It was pure torture for her because she has always hated the taste. But she did say it helped her. Great job with this most informative hub - voted up!

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