Beer is so (un)healthy

Beer has many ingredients.  Some are suspected of having a positive effect on health.

Beer has many ingredients: some could be good for your health. (Source: semenovp/getty-images-bilder)
The popular after-work beer is controversial. But new studies suggest that a certain amount of beer a day could actually have a positive effect on your health.

It is well known that alcohol is harmful to health . High consumption can result in liver damage, high blood pressure and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. But: Individual studies now indicate that moderate consumption could actually have a positive effect on health.

Moderate consumption in this case means: a maximum of one glass of beer a day for women and two glasses for men. Even a small beer of 0.33 liters contains around 13 grams of pure alcohol.

What makes beer special?

Beer is one of the oldest and most popular drinks in the world. In addition to carbohydrates and alcohol (ethanol), it also contains minerals and secondary plant substances. These include, for example, fluoride, folate, choline, various polyphenols and silicon.

Some of these ingredients can be traced back to the basic ingredients of water, hops, malt and yeast. Others are only created through the fermentation process.

A majority of the health-promoting ingredients in beer come from hops and grains.
A majority of the health-promoting ingredients in beer come from grains and hops. (Source: Inga Kjer/

The minerals and phytochemicals make beer different from spirits such as gin, schnapps or vodka. And: They are crucial to the health benefits of beer.

Beer against cardiovascular diseases

Low to moderate beer consumption, similar to wine, can apparently reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. This is what the results of an Italian study from 2016 suggest. She compared how moderate consumption, heavy drinking and abstinence affected the study participants. The researchers involved made a surprising discovery: beer can even increase life expectancy in healthy adults.

According to this study, the protective effect against cardiovascular diseases is due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of beer and wine. These properties promote an increase in “good” HDL cholesterol in the blood, reduce the clumping of blood platelets (platelet aggregation) and reduce fibrinogen, which reduces the likelihood of a blood clot. According to scientists, protective factors for the cardiovascular system are – in beer and wine – the alcohol (ethanol) itself and the polyphenols.

Beer protects against cancer

A 2020 study also named beer’s antioxidant properties as the most likely trigger for its health-promoting effects. She focused on two natural ingredients in beer: polyphenols and melanoidins.

Through their antioxidant effect, polyphenols can protect the genetic material (DNA) of cells from damage caused by so-called free radicals – and thereby reduce the likelihood of cancer. Because cancer cells usually arise from cells with damaged genetic material. The change in the genetic material results in the cells changing pathologically and often dividing uncontrollably. This can cause cancer to develop.

Some polyphenols, including those in beer, may reduce the development of cancers such as breast cancer , colon cancer , prostate cancer and leukemia. Melanoidins also have an antioxidant effect. They are mainly caused by heating during beer production and are mainly found in dark types of beer.

Moderate alcohol consumption reduces the risk of dementia

The risk of developing dementia can also be influenced by alcohol consumption, as a current comparative study suggests. However, it is controversial that abstinence actually increases the risk of dementia in older people. Because other studies found exactly the opposite. In addition, the toxic effect of alcohol on the brain has been proven.

The scientists suspect that both abstinence from alcohol and heavy consumption can increase the risk of dementia. Light to moderate alcohol consumption appears to reduce the risk. The researchers do not yet know why this is the case. Despite the finding, the study’s authors do not advise current abstainers to start drinking alcohol.

A beer for strong bones

Bone density: Low bone density can lead to increased bone fractures.
The risk increases with age: low bone density can lead to more bone fractures. (Source: Christin Klose/dpa)

Many people know that calcium from milk is good for your bones. But beer can also potentially help you have stronger bones – especially in men and women after menopause. But: alcohol is not the same as alcohol.

A study with more than 2,500 participants from 2009 examined whether beer, wine and spirits had an equally positive effect on bone density. The result: Moderate alcohol consumption of one to two glasses of beer or wine has a greater effect on bone density than consuming spirits.

This suggests that the silicon contained in beer in particular appears to be involved in the effect. Other factors need further investigation.

Classification of the research results

But: Despite all the potentially positive effects of moderate beer consumption, you should not forget the health risks of alcohol. The authors of the various studies also do not recommend starting to drink alcohol. The problem: A threshold value beyond which the harmful effects of alcohol exceed possible positive effects cannot be specified with certainty. Because everyone is different and therefore different risks can be expected for each individual.

The acceptable amount of alcohol is currently considered to be 10 grams per day for healthy women and 20 grams per day for healthy men. However, this should not be taken as a recommendation to drink alcohol every day, warns the German Nutrition Society (DGE). It points out the strong addictive potential as well as the increased risk of cancer and liver damage.

Alcohol and cancer

Unlike light beer consumption, heavy consumption, particularly of high-proof spirits, is associated with an increased risk of cancer. The oral cavity, esophagus, pharynx and larynx are particularly frequently affected. But other organs such as the colon, liver and pancreas can also be affected.

Alcohol and cardiovascular disease

The DGE also advises against alcohol consumption when it comes to cardiovascular diseases, as the negative effects outweigh the positive ones. There are also other measures to prevent coronary heart disease, she continues. Above all, a healthy diet, lots of exercise and not smoking.

Alcohol and diabetes

Extensive consumption of beer, i.e. over 60 grams of alcohol per day, can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Because: The hidden calories promote fat deposits around the organs and can lead to general obesity.

Alcohol and dementia

It doesn’t have to be alcohol itself that reduces the risk of dementia. The authors of the study mentioned above also write this. This effect could also coincidentally apply to those people who drink alcoholic beverages every day. For example, people who occasionally drink alcohol are more likely to have an active social life. And social contacts are proven to be important for health. Further research into the connection between alcohol and dementia still needs to be carried out.

Alcohol and bone density

Alcohol, especially in large quantities, causes increased calcium excretion through the kidneys and damages the intestines. A sick intestine can no longer absorb enough calcium. Alcohol also damages the liver and therefore disrupts vitamin D metabolism. Both calcium and vitamin D are essential substances for healthy bones. A deficiency has a negative impact on bone health.“Last but not least, the high energy density of alcohol is important from a nutritional point of view,” explains the DGE. With seven kilocalories per gram, the energy content of alcohol is almost as high as that of fat with nine kilocalories per gram. You can consume around 140 kilocalories in just one small beer (0.33 liters). Alcohol also stimulates the appetite and can also contribute to the development of obesity.


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