Beer has been around for a very long time. Some of the oldest writing on Earth gives instructions for brewing it. The world’s oldest known barley beer was made around 3400 B.C. in the Zagros Mountains of modern-day Iran.
The popular alcoholic beverage has been an important part of the human diet for people of all ages. As a traditional home remedy, beer has been used as a mouthwash, an enema, a vaginal douche, and to treat wounds. Some have said that beer is now the world’s most popular herbal remedy.
Modern beers are usually made using water, grain, hops, and yeast. Carbonation and flavoring with hops didn’t happen until the 700s, however.
The most commonly used grain is barley that has been malted. The malting process converts the starches in grains to caramelized sugars by a process of soaking, sprouting, heating, and drying.
Hops are added to the to add bitterness to balance the sweetness of the malt. The hops also act as a preservative. Brewer’s yeast is the stuff that ferments the brew to create alcohol.
American beers and most pale lagers have between 4% to 6% alcohol per volume. The strongest beer in the world has an alcohol content of 67.5%. Aptly named “Snake Venom,” Brewmeister Brewery in the tiny town of Keith, Scotland, introduced its kick-butt beer in 2013.
Okay, we know that beer has been around since before the Great Pyramid in Egypt and humans like it because the alcoholic content makes them feel good. But is beer really good for you?
Harvard researcher Eric Rimm has reassuring news for beer lovers everywhere:
“The strongest evidence suggests alcohol of any kind can increase good cholesterol.”
What’s the catch? Drinking too much alcohol can destroy the liver’s ability to convert waste products into excretable bile, leading to jaundice (yellow pigmentation, typically in the eyes and skin).
Moderate beer drinkers limit themselves to no more than one 12-ounce bottle per day (for women) or two drinks per day (for men). Check out this list of 18 healthy beers to see how many calories and how much alcohol are in each bottle.
Even though the hops, yeast, and grains in beer provide nutrients in the form of carbohydrates, some B vitamins, and minerals (including selenium, silicon, and potassium), no one can honestly say that beer is health food.
Beer bong bashes are right out, according to Rimm:
“Heavy alcohol consumption wipes out any health benefit and increases risk of liver cancer, cirrhosis, alcoholism, and obesity. Heavy or binge drinkers may have increased risk of stroke, chronic hypertension, weight gain, colon and breast cancer.”
But beer is not without merit. Consider these three virtues:
- Beer battles inflammation.
Hops are the female flowers of the hop plant. They impart a distinctive, tangy, bitter taste to the brew. These bright green buds are also packed with healthy chemicals known as bitter acids, which fight inflammation. A 2013 study funded by Japanese beer manufacturer Sapporo found that humulone (one type of bitter acid) looked promising for both preventing and treating viral respiratory infections.
- Beer is being tested for cancer prevention and treatment.
Clinical studies on rodents and in Petri dishes have identified many chemicals present in beer that show promise in preventing or even treating cancer. Lupulone (a type of bitter acid) administered in their drinking water destroyed tumors in rats with colon cancer who consumed it, according to a 2007 study.
A 2010 study by an Austrian research team found that xanthohumol, found in beer, stopped abnormal cell growth and prevented DNA damage in rats after exposure to cancer-causing chemicals. Due to the relatively low doses needed to produce its cancer-fighting effects (equal to the amount consumed by people who drink moderately), the scientists said xanthohumol will likely prove to be good for us humans, too.
- Beer has cosmetic benefits.
Beauty fans claim that a beer facial mask is the bomb for smoothing and enriching the skin. Mix up a quick batch, apply the mask to your face, wait 20 minutes, and rinse with lukewarm water.
Back in April 2015, Japanese brewer Suntory introduced a new light beer called “Precious” that contains two grams of collagen in each can. The beer maker claims that drinking collagen (a natural protein that makes skin elastic) has rejuvenating properties. You have probably eaten collagen without even knowing it: gelatin is the cooked form of collagen. Turns out ingesting this protein can help older people look younger:
“Collagen consumption can increase skin elasticity and help your body’s skin repair process, thus encouraging your body to form new collagen,” Doctor of Dermatology Debra Jaliman said.
Let’s recap: beer, in moderation, can do your body – and your attitude – some good. But too much of a good thing is no good, including our favorite fermented malted barley beverage: BEER!