Gerda Endemann, our Senior Director of Science and Research, has a BS in Nutrition from UC Berkeley, a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry from MIT and a passion for cherry picking in our wellness shop. She spends a lot of time interpreting research – both established and emerging. You can find some of their deep insights into health conditions in our growing library of articles called goop PhD. You can send your own questions to Gerda [email protected]
Dear Goop, when we go out my friends pretend they’re making a superior choice by drinking wine when all I want is a cold beer. You know – resveratrol, the French paradox and all that. I find beer comforting and handle it better than wine. Which one is better? – Michaela M.
Hello Michaela. Don’t let anyone intimidate you. Beer is an amazing invention – full of compounds with proven health benefits. Wine is similar in that they are both complex soups of bioactive chemicals, some of which can make you feel good and others may not. It’s an individual thing. I attribute my poor reaction to red wine to histamine which, depending on how well your body detoxifies it, can lead to flushing and headaches. The tyramine in ale can do the same thing. Of course, the alcohol can cause a hangover in both of them.
Personally, I’ve had a rocky relationship with beer. I got car sickness when I was a kid and my dad tried to get me to have a sip of beer to calm my stomach. I hated the taste, and this was probably why I gave up beer for much of my adult life. He wasn’t a big man: Papa had a beer in a cooler in the trunk to have with a picnic on all-day sales trips. The brand he preferred was a smooth dark beer called Bayerisch. I’m assuming it came from the Bavarian Brewing Company in Kentucky, which no longer exists.
All of this is to explain why, deep down, I associate beer with healing properties, especially for digestion. And a few years ago when my fiance was teaching me how to watch baseball and drink beer, I finally discovered his joys. I’m not very good with alcohol, but a moderate amount of a smooth dark beer seems to agree with me. When I say I drink a “health beer” these days, I understand that I am referring to Modelo Negra.
Wine has gotten more press, but whether beer or wine, up to one drink a day for women and up to two a day for men is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes. It’s likely a combination of alcohol, phytochemicals (plant chemicals), and fermentation products that are responsible for the benefits. Drinking spirits is associated with similar but less significant benefits.
Note: this is not a prescription. You don’t need to drink alcohol for good health, and of course it is advisable to avoid it if you are not handling it well. Some researchers argue that with any amount of alcohol, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Alcohol consumption is linked to increased mortality for many reasons, and even the lowest alcohol consumption is linked to an increased risk of cancer, including breast cancer and oral cancer.
However, I assume that you know all about the cons. And here I will share what I learned about the unique properties of beer, starting with the hop content. A flower found in the hop vine, hops have been used medicinally for thousands of years to aid sleep, digestion, and gynecological health. Before the harvesting and processing of hops was mechanized, it was found that doing this work made people quite drowsy. Perhaps my father thought beer would soothe my stomach because of the calming effects of hops. Hop components have even been shown to increase the sedative activity of the parasympathetic nerve.
Hops contain numerous bioactive compounds, including unique acids, essential oils and polyphenols. The hop acids (humulones and lupulones) are important for the characteristic bitter taste of the beer. Every beer contains hops, although the amounts vary. I wish I had liked the strong, bitter taste of a hoppy IPA that has more of these compounds in it. Hop acids and polyphenols such as catechins, epicatechins, proanthocyanidins and quercetin have a strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect.
During fermentation, yeast metabolizes phytochemicals, which makes the mixture more complex. And after drinking beer, our gut microbes can carry out further transformations. For example, like many plants, hops contain compounds with weak estrogen-like activity. The metabolism through intestinal bacteria can greatly increase this estrogenic activity. This may or may not be desirable. Female hop harvesters complained of menstrual irregularities. On the other hand, there is preliminary evidence that the estrogenic compounds may help prevent postmenopausal bone loss.
Clinical studies have shed light on how beer can promote cardiovascular health. I bet it’s easy to recruit attendees when there is a need to drink beer. In some particularly revealing studies, men were asked to drink beer, gin, or non-alcoholic beer every day for four weeks – the equivalent of about two drinks. Those who drank alcohol had improvements in blood chemistry, mainly in their blood lipids. In the case of alcohol-free beer drinkers, however, there were different effects, such as B. a decrease in inflammation.
In this study, beer, but not gin, had another interesting effect. The body can repair damaged arteries using stem cells from the blood. These stem cells can repopulate and repair the lining of the arteries. The researchers found that the number of stem cells in the blood increased after the subjects drank beer or non-alcoholic beer, but not after they drank gin. The researchers concluded that beer may have heart health benefits that spirits do not. (Before you get too excited, just remember that this stem cell research will need to be repeated by others to see if it holds up.)
To get back to digestion, while that doesn’t explain why beer might soothe a queasy stomach, research has shed light on how beer can support a healthy bowel. One reason hops are added to beer is because it acts as a preservative and prevents unwanted microbes from growing. Hence, it makes sense that hops affect our gut microbiota, and beer has been reported to promote desirable gut bacteria. In return, intestinal bacteria help break down polyphenols in order to make them more bioavailable to us. Animal studies show that hops can improve gut health by promoting healthy barrier function and reducing inflammation, and that hops can improve metabolism and blood sugar regulation.
If you want more good news, beer is also a source of vitamins and minerals. It contains niacin, folic acid, choline, B vitamins, and a little magnesium and potassium. Some beers contain significant amounts of chromium, a trace element that is required for insulin to function.
And of course, beer goes perfectly with many foods. It doesn’t get much better than pizza and beer. My fiancé was delighted when I took him to Mentone for his birthday. It’s chic for pizza but still a cheap date. Here are some suggestions to lighten the mood for your next beer and pizza night in.
Gerdas Beer night picks
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, nor should it be used as a substitute for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article contains advice from any doctor or health care professional, the views expressed are the views of the expert quoted and do not necessarily reflect the views of goop.