FROM MYTHS TO SCIENCE: BEER & HEALTH SYMPOSIUM

At the 7th European Beer & Health Symposium in Brussels, scientists presented some of the latest research on the potential positive effects on health of moderate beer consumption, supporting the notion that moderate consumption by healthy adults can be fully compatible with a balanced lifestyle.

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The programme for the event was divided into three key areas; ‘Beer: What’s in it?’, ‘Beer’s Place in the Diet’ and ‘Moderate Consumption of beer and your health’.

The first session ‘Beer: What’s in it?’ focused on beer’s ingredients, in particular, touching on the potential for gluten-free beer and the research being undertaken to assess the potential of certain ingredients as a means to improving the benefits of beer.

The second session ‘Beer’s Place in the Diet’ looked at beer’s place in a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet – often associated with decreased rates of obesity, hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The session also revealed, when comparing calorie counts for different foods and drinks, that there is no scientific basis for beer causing abdominal obesity or the so-called ‘beer belly’ when enjoyed in moderation.

The final session ‘Moderate consumption of beer and your health’ presented a number of scientific studies that looked in more detail at the current scientific consensus on beer’s protective effect for heart and respiratory tract health including the effects of specific components in beer, such as polyphenols.

‘The low alcohol story’:
Professor Johanes Scherr, Department of Prevention & Sports Medicine, Rechts der Isar Hospital, Technical University of Munich, Germany
It is well known that strenuous and prolonged exercise significantly increases the incidence of upper respiratory tract illness (URTI), which is known as the so called “open window” in athletes. This is caused by transient immune dysfunction.

Naturally occurring polyphenolic compounds present in foods such as vegetables, fruits, wine or also non-alcoholic beer (NAB) have strong anti-oxidant, anti-pathogenic and anti-inflammatory properties. In his research and lecture Professor Johanes Scherr, looked at the health-protective effects of polyphenols, especially those found in non-alcoholic beer, on athletes. There was a particular focus on inflammation and upper respiratory tract infections.

‘Beer and cardiovascular health: effects on morbidity and mortality’:
Dr Simona Costanzo, Department of Epidemiology and Prevention, IRCCS Mediterranean Neurological Institute, Pozzilli, Italy
Scientific evidence of the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption only began to surface in the last part of the 20th century. Since the proposal of a ‘French paradox’ in the early Nineties, the possibility that consuming alcohol might confer protection against coronary artery disease (CVD) was extensively investigated; the question whether wine was a better protecting beverage than beer or spirits was addressed by a large meta-analysis, published in 2011 by Dr Simona Costanzo.

The Symposium heard that there was evidence for a J-shaped association between wine or beer (but not spirits) consumption and vascular risk. Dose-response curves from comparable studies appeared substantially similar for wine and beer: one out of three people drinking an average daily amount of 25 grams of alcohol, as either wine or beer, appeared to be maximally protected from the risk of suffering a fatal or non-fatal cardiovascular event. The findings indicated that the effects of wine and beer do not differ significantly and reiterate the hypotheses that: ethanol plays a major cardio-protective role regardless of the polyphenolic content of various beverages besides the ethanol effect, non-alcoholic components may have an additional role, but they are present both in beer and wine they may confer a new beneficial effect of drinking wine or beer in moderation in terms of cardiovascular risk and mortality reduction not only amongst the general population but also in patients suffering from CVD.