While reading over the text of the latest study showing a decreased risk of kidney cancer for moderate beer drinkers, I noticed in the References a couple of older studies that showed that beer and/or alcohol had both specific and general health benefits. Most of the 37 academic papers listed as references were about renal cell cancer (a.k.a. kidney cancer), but these two, both from 2000, were about other health benefits of beer consumption.
The first, Beer increases plasma antioxidant capacity in humans, was published in the February 2000 issue of the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. Here is the PubMed abstract:
The positive association of a moderate intake of alcoholic beverages with a low risk for cardiovascular disease, in addition to ethanol itself, may be linked to their polyphenol content. This article describes the effect of acute ingestion of beer, dealcoholized beer, and ethanol (4.5% v/v) on the total plasma antioxidant status of subjects, and the change in the high performance liquid chromatography profile of some selected phenolic acids (caffeic, sinapic, syringic, and vanillic acids) in 14 healthy humans. Plasma was collected at various times: before (T0), 1 hour after (T1), and 2 hours after (T2) drinking. The study is part of a larger research planned to identify both the impact of brewing on minor components potentially present in beer and their metabolic fate in humans. Beer was able to induce a significant (P < 0.05) increase in plasma antioxidant capacity at T1 (mean +/- SD: T0 1,353 +/- 320 microM; T1 1,578 +/- 282 microM), returning close to basal values at T2. All phenolic acids measured in plasma tended to increase after beer intake (20% at T1, 40% at T2). Syringic and sinapic acid reached statistical significance (P < 0.05 by one-way analysis of variance-Fisher’s test) at T1 and T2, respectively. Plasma metabolic parameters (glucose, total cholesterol, triglycerides, and uric acid) and plasma antioxidants (alpha-tocopherol and glutathione) remained unchanged. Ethanol removal impaired the absorption of phenolic acids, which did not change over the time of the experiment, accounting for the low (and not statistically significant) increase in plasma antioxidant capacity after dealcoholized beer drinking. Ethanol alone did not affect plasma antioxidant capacity or any of the antioxidant and metabolic parameters measured.
The second one, Nutritional and Health Benefits of Beer, was published in the November 2000 issue of The American Journal of the Medical Sciences. Here is the PubMed abstract:
Physicians should be aware of the growing evidence supporting the nutritional and health benefits of moderate consumption of alcohol as part of a healthy lifestyle. The recently approved voluntary label on wine (“the proud people who made this wine encourage you to consult your family doctor about the health effects of wine consumption”) implies that physicians should promote wine as the preferred source of dietary alcohol. However, studies evaluating the relative benefits of wine versus beer versus spirits suggest that moderate consumption of any alcoholic beverage is associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease. From a nutritional standpoint, beer contains more protein and B vitamins than wine. The antioxidant content of beer is equivalent to that of wine, but the specific antioxidants are different because the barley and hops used in the production of beer contain flavonoids different from those in the grapes used in the production of wine. The benefits of moderate alcohol consumption have not been generally endorsed by physicians for fear that heavy consumers may consider any message as a permissive license to drink in excess. Discussions with patients regarding alcohol consumption should be made in the context of a general medical examination. There is no evidence to support endorsement of one type of alcoholic beverage over another. The physician should define moderate drinking (1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men) for the patient and should review consumption patterns associated with high risk.
Interesting stuff and not terribly surprising given that recent years have seen a growing body of such findings. What’s perhaps more curious is how silent the neo-prohibitionist groups are about all of the health benefits of moderate consumption. It’s getting harder and harder for them to maintain their shrill evils of alcohol position in light of these generally unbiased scientific findings. What’s perhaps more troubling is that their very inflexibility, especially their refusal to entertain lowering the drinking age or allow reasonable alcohol education, are actually causing the problems associated with immoderate drinking to increase. By forcing kids to drink underground, without benefit of parental or adult supervision or example, today’s generation seems far less equipped to learn moderation.
Take for example, the neo-prohibitionist position undertaken by government studies that defines binge drinking as five drinks in one session. If physicians in many other studies suggest that two drinks per days is considered to be the definition of moderate drinking, then the distance between healthy drinker to problem drinker seems fantastically small. That makes one or both standards all but meaningless. But since it would be hard to argue that the standard of two drinks per day is too high then it seems to me a prima facie conclusion that it’s the binge drinking standard that is out of whack.
But these groups with government collusion continue to demonize alcohol and refuse, where possible, to allow parents to teach their children about how to drink, with the predictable result that newly freed college students binge at the first opportunity. As former Middlebury College president John M. McCardell Jr. — and the founder of Choose Responsibility — asks, has making the drinking age 21 stopped kids from drinking? The answer is quite obviously “no,” which suggests that this approach does not work as intended. And with the growing body of health benefits associated with moderate drinking, aren’t these prohibitions simply doing more harm than good? I think an argument can be made that by not allowing alcohol education and making alcohol a forbidden taboo, neo-prohibitionist groups are actually causing more binge drinking and keeping young people from realizing the health benefits of moderation.