Cheers To Your Health: The Benefits Of Beer

One or two beers per day may lower your risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent kidney stones and cataracts, stave off dementia and diabetes, and even fight cancer. But be careful. Much more than that will have the exact opposite effect.

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Scientists have found that moderate beer drinking is associated with a number of very positive health outcomes. But the key word here is moderate, which we’re defining as one or two beers per day for men and one for women. Much more than that and you’ll increase your risk of developing the same conditions that moderate drinking could have prevented. Here are just a few reasons to lift your glass.

Reduced Cardiovascular Risk

Studies conducted at Harvard have found that men who have one beer per day (and women who have half a drink per day) have lower blood pressure than those who have no alcohol—or who have too much. Other studies have discovered that moderate beer consumption raises levels of HDL (the “good” cholesterol), which protects against heart disease. Joe Vinson, a researcher at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, found that moderate beer consumption reduced the risk of heart attack by as much as 50 percent, in part by preventing atherosclerosis, narrowing of the arteries caused by the buildup of cholesterol and other gunk on the inside walls of arteries. Other researchers have reached similar conclusions. A team at the Mediterranean Neurological Institute in Italy say that moderate amounts of beer (1.4 pints per day for men, half that for women) could reduce heart attack risk by 25 percent. A team at another Italian institution, the Fondazione di Ricerca e Cura, found that men and women who consumed a pint per day lowered their risk of developing heart disease by 31 percent. Important note: All of these studies emphasized that anything more than moderate beer consumption had the exact opposite effect—increasing blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and the risk of heart disease and heart attack.

Reduced Stroke Risk

Ischemic strokes are the most common strokes, and they’re caused by blood clots that can block blood flow to the brain, heart, and neck. Moderate beer consumption makes the arteries more flexible and improves blood flow, thereby keeping blood clots from forming, which reduces the risk of stroke by as much as 50 percent over non-drinkers, according to the National Stroke Association.

Anti-Cancer Properties

Hops, a major component in beer (darks and stouts more than lagers) contain a compound called xanthohumol, which researchers believe may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, including breast and prostate. Scientists at the University of Idaho have identified two other chemicals in hops, humulones and lupolones, that appear to be able to interfere with the development of inflammation and bacterial growth. They’re now trying to make synthetic versions of those chemicals that could be used to create cancer-fighting drugs.

Dementia and Parkinson’s Prevention

Xanthohumol may also help protect the brain against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, according to researchers at Lanzhou University in China. Xanthohumol keeps neurons (cells in the brain) healthy by increasing the production of antioxidants, which fight off oxidative stress, a known brain cell killer.

Reduced Diabetes Risk

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health followed 38,000 middle-aged men and found that the guys who drank one or two beers every day were 25 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. The researchers believe that the alcohol in beer helps increase insulin sensitivity. Xanthohumol may be at work here too.

Osteoporosis Prevention

Beer contains high levels of silicon, which is associated with bone growth. Researchers at Tufts University found that older people who drink beer in moderation had higher bone density than those who drank less. Higher bone density generally means fewer bone fractures and breaks. As with beer’s many other benefits, however, drinking too much will have the opposite effect—in this case decreasing bone density.

Cataract Prevention

You’ve no doubt heard the expression “blind drunk”—something that’s associated with too much alcohol. But a reasonable amount of beer (again, meaning a drink or two per day) may have the opposite effect. Researchers John Trevithick and Maurice Hirst of the University of Western Ontario found that some of the antioxidants found in darker beers may keep the mitochondria—the part of each cell that generates the energy for the rest of the cell to do its job—in our eyes from getting damaged. Mitochondrial damage is associated with cataracts.

Digestive Aid

Beer stimulates the production of enzymes that help with digestion. Beer is also a source of soluble fiber, which keeps our intestines working smoothly. Moderate beer consumption may also decrease your chance of developing gallstones.

Reduced Risk of Kidney Stones

Since beer is mostly water, it dilutes your urine and makes you pee more often. It’s also a good source of magnesium. All three of those factors are good for your kidneys. And happy kidneys tend not to produce kidney stones. Dr. Tero Hirvonen, a researcher at the National Public Health Institute of Helsinki, found that moderate beer consumption reduces the risk of developing kidney stones by 40 percent. Remember: The key here is moderation. One or two beers per day for men (about half that for women) could have some wonderful health benefits. But any more than that and you’ll actually increase your health risks.