Dietary polyphenols, which are potent antioxidants, are thought to have a wide range of potential health benefits, including a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer. Polyphenols are found in many plant-based foods that we eat, including that age-old beverage, beer.
A newly published research study, which appears in the current issue of the British Journal of Nutrition, has drawn some very important conclusions about the potential health benefits of alcohol-free beer.
As we age, the inner lining of our arteries often becomes progressively more diseased. As our arteries age, complex “plaques” can form on the inner surfaces of our arteries (a process known as atherosclerosis), which may then result in a critical narrowing of important arteries, including the arteries that nourish our heart, kidneys, brain, legs and feet, and other important sites in our bodies. When these atherosclerotic plaques bleed or rupture, the blood supply to our vital organs can then become compromised, resulting in heart attack, kidney failure, stroke, and the potential loss of toes, feet, and legs.
In this interesting laboratory study, mice with a genetic predisposition towards atherosclerosis were fed either alcohol-free lager beer or alcohol-free dark beer for 20 weeks. (Mice within a third group, the control group, did not receive any alcohol-free beer.) The results of this study were striking. The mice that received alcohol-free lager (“light”) beer experienced 44 percent less atherosclerosis within the main artery in their bodies (the aorta), while the mice that consumed the more polyphenol-rich alcohol-free dark beer were noted to have 51 percent less atherosclerosis in their aortas (versus the control group mice).
Additional results from this animal study indicated that the consumption of alcohol-free beer significantly also reduced the presence of substances that cause the lining of arteries (endothelium) to become “sticky,” such that inflammatory white blood cells, muscle cells, and fat cells begin to “stick” to the interior of these arteries, causing arterial atherosclerosis.
While I always caution that the findings of laboratory animal research studies are very often not validated in subsequent human studies, this particular animal study is exciting in that not only was a significant reduction in atherosclerosis observed among the mice that received alcohol-free beer supplements, but also the actual biochemical mechanisms linked to the development of atherosclerosis, in both mice and men (with apologies to Steinbeck…), were also shown to be inhibited by alcohol-free beer supplementation.
The findings of this study raise the possibility that beer polyphenols may be able to significantly reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, particularly in people with an increased predisposition towards premature atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. (I must stress that the frequent consumption of beer, or other beverages that contain alcohol, is associated with a variety of potentially serious health problems, including liver disease, GI tract bleeding, pancreatitis, cancers of the breast and GI tract, and other life-threatening illnesses. However, fortunately, based upon the results of this laboratory animal study, alcohol-free beer appears to retain the potential health benefits of traditional beer, but without the harmful health effects associated with beer that contains alcohol.)
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Disclaimer: As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity
Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author