Beer, the Forgotten Nutraceutical

30 Aug 12

Beer,  the Forgotten Nutraceutical

The beginnings of brewing are lost in the midst of time. Whatever the origins, beer has played an important part of human history and a nutritious one at that.

In Egypt, King Ramseses III was said to sacrifice a million jugs of beer to the gods. By the Middle Ages beer was seen as a lot safer to drink than water. Monasteries became involved in the production of beer which gave beer the seal of “holy” approval. During the 1800s beer was seen as essential for health according to Dr Charles Macalister.

Some were rejected from life assurance because they were taking a risk from abstaining from what is considered an essential food. During the 1950s and 1960s, UK advertising around the health benefits of beer were prominent such as the classic “Guinness is good for you”. From 1970s, there were growing concerns around chronic diseases such as cancer and analytical techniques were developed to detect harmful substances in food.

For the majority of beers history, it was seen as a nutritious and wholesome product that was part of people’s lives. In the 1900s the main school of thought was that ‘you are what you eat’ and genetics played a small part in illness. However, today this perception is changing. Genetics is seen as a dominant player and more evidence is showing that moderate consumption of beer has health benefits as opposed to heavy drinking and abstention.

Alcohol can protect the heart in a number of ways:

  • It can inhibit atherosclerosis by increasing levels of apolipoprotein A-1 and increasing levels of high density lipoprotein (HDLP)
  • Thrombosis (clotting) can be inhibited by lowering platelet aggregation an increasing break-up of clots
  • There is a general reduction of stress and coronary arteries are dilated

Research has shown that 30g of alcohol/day (approx 2 beers) increased HDLP on average by 8 percent and Apoloprotein A1 by 6, 5 percent. Rimm estimated a 25 percent reduction in coronary heart disease. Beer also contains Ferulic Acid that is a phenolic antioxidant that can protect the blood but more importantly it is bioavaible (Belle et al, lacet, 1994.). It is also a good source of minerals as it is high in potassium, low sodium, high in magnesium and contains a significant amount of calcium.

During the malting process, a number of important nutrients are formed for example, the folate (a vitamin) content of malt increase sixfold and sprouted cereals another. Recently hop compounds have been shown to exhibit anti-cancer as well as anti-oxidant properties.

Preliminary studies have shown that hop compounds may be important in preventing osteoporosis, ulcer formation, and cardio vascular disease and may even protect against liver disease. There is also evidence to suggest that phytoestrogens derived from hops are beneficial to both men and women. (Milligan et al, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology, 2000).

This new evidence reaffirms what has been known for the best part of the last 6000 years; that beer, in moderation, is a wholesome and nutritious drink – a nutraceutical.