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Dr Kathryn O’Sullivan
Beer contains vitamins which can help you to maintain a well-balanced healthy diet, fibre to keep you regular, readily absorbed antioxidants which may protect you against heart disease and some cancers, and minerals such as silicon which may lower your risk of osteoporosis. It is low in sodium (salt) and high in potassium, a mineral that helps to control the balance of fluids in the body and possibly contribute to controlling blood pressure.
All beers are made from the same basic, natural ingredients hops, water, yeast and malted cereal such as barley and wheat. When malted, barley is a very rich source of B group vitamins including nicacin, riboflavin (B2), pyridoxine (B6), folate (B9) and cobalamin (B12). According to the US Department of Agriculture, a half pint of beer contains on average 7% of daily folate requirement for an adult and 9% of the required vitamin B2 intake.
Along with barley, hops are an important contributor to the antioxidant content of beer. When comparing drinks of equivalent alcohol content, beer contains twice as many antioxidants as white wine and half the amount found in red wine (Suter P M, 2001, Nutritional Reviews, 59(9):293-297). However, the antioxidants in beer are smaller molecules which are thought to be more readily absorbed in the body than those in wine (Nardini M et. al. 2006, J Nut Biochem, 17:14-22). Research indicates that antioxidants in beer may be beneficial in reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (Vinson et. al, 2003, J Food Chem, 51:5528-5533). However, specific antoxidants called flavinoids found in hops have also been associated with potential protective effects against a variety of diseases including some cancers (Gerhauser C et. al. 2002, Molecular Cancer Theraputics, 1:959-956 & Dell’Eva R et. al. 2007, Cancer, 110(9):2007-11), diabetes (Yajima Y et. al. 2004 J Biol Chem 279(32) 33456-462), obesity (Yang J Y et. al. 2007, Apoptosis, 12:1953-63) and improving levels of ‘good’ cholesterol in the blood (Miura Y, 2005 British J Nut 93:559-567).
It is important to remember that beer may form part of an adult’s balanced and healthy lifestyle only when consumed in moderation according to sensible drinking guidelines and by persons who do not have to abstain from drinking alcohol for health reasons. Consuming outside of the recommended guidelines results in a decline in such benefits and an increase in risk.
The silicon story
Silicon is possibly one of the most underrated and least understood of minerals but essential, nonetheless, for many of the body’s anti-aging functions. Silicon is thought to play an important role in the synthesis of collagen, the protein found in tendons, nails, vessel walls and skin. Professor Jonathan Powell, Head of MRC Human Nutrition Research in Cambridge comments: “Silicon could literally hold your body together, increase your collagen levels and help your body in the fight against aging.”
But silicon is not produced naturally by the body. Our ancestors got their minerals from untreated water that passed through soil, minerals and rocks and from unrefined grains. Now, in the age of treated water, this source has all but vanished. Instead we take it from plants such as green beans, a bowl of wholegrain cereal or certain types of mineral water. There is also a high concentration of silicon in beer.
Professor Jonathan Powell, the first scientist to show a link between the effects of silicon and bone density comments: “We found that half a pint of beer contained around 8mg silicon. Considering that the average intake of silicon is around 30mgs a day you can see that a glass of beer would provide around a third of that amount.”
Professor Powell’s initial studies measured the density of bones in the hip and spine of more than 1,200 men and 1,500 women and analysed this in relation to the amount of silicon they consumed. His results showed that the higher their silicon intake, the denser their bones.