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Beer: Best Alcoholic Beverage for Your Heart Health?

Beer: Best Alcoholic Beverage for Your Heart Health?

(Copyright DPC)

By    |   Saturday, 10 December 2016 12:59 PM

Beer drinkers, rejoice. Scientific evidence continues to mount in favor of moderate beer drinking for heart health, most recently at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in New Orleans.

According to a large-scale preliminary study presented at the meeting, moderate alcohol consumption – especially of beer – significantly slows the natural decline of HDL “good cholesterol” levels as we age. In some cases, it may even increase them.

High levels of HDL are associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.

But there is a catch: You can get too much of a good thing. Drinking too much beer, or any kind of alcohol, is dangerous.

What’s more, the U.S. government does not require brewers to list all ingredients on beer labels, so some may contain additives that are harmful to human health.

Even so, the consensus view of health experts and scientific research suggests female drinkers can benefit from consuming no more than one drink per day, and male drinkers can imbibe two drinks per day.

The new community-based study presented at the AHA Scientific Sessions supports these guidelines.

For the study, researchers recruited 80,000 healthy adults in northern China in 2006 and evaluated their alcohol consumption and HDL levels for more than six years. The researchers excluded people with a history of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as those who were taking cholesterol-lowering drugs.

The findings indicated that moderate beer consumption was most strongly associated with a slower decline in HDL levels.

“It’s a very clean, general population,” says lead researcher Shue Huang, a Ph.D. candidate at the Pennsylvania State University.

“As beer consumption increased, the HDL decreased slower in moderate and heavy drinkers. We found that the HDL concentration even increased (in some cases).”

The results echo previous research that has shown that beer consumption can boost HDL levels by 10-20 percent.

Now, Huang and her colleagues hope to launch a similar community-based study in the United States.

Huang allows that the new study supports the heart-health benefits of moderate beer drinking, but she cautions that alcohol also has many harmful effects.

“So people still need to be cautious about drinking,” she says.

Beyond the alcohol itself, which has been linked to many health benefits, beer is a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and soluble fiber. In addition, the hops used in making beer contain high concentrations of flavonoids, which are potent antioxidants.

One particular hops flavonoid compound, xanthohumol, is believed to play a major role in the chemoprevention of many different cancers, including prostate cancer.

Although all beers contain some hops, the styles with the highest concentrations are:

• Imperial/double IPA.
• American barleywine.
• Imperial stout.
• IPA.

Other styles such as porter, English bitter/ESB, wheat – and especially American light lager – contain dramatically lower concentrations of hops.

Researchers believe that beer’s high concentration of nutrients and phytochemicals are the reasons why moderate consumption has been linked to a lower incidence of many common conditions such as:

• Alzheimer’s disease.
• Cataracts.
• Diabetes.
• Heart disease and stroke.
• Hypertension.
• Kidney stones.
• Osteoporosis.

Experts agree that heavy beer consumption mostly negates the positive health effects of moderate consumption. Beyond the obvious risk of alcoholism, excess beer drinking can cause weight gain because beer is a calorie-rich source of carbohydrates.

Most regular beers contain a whopping 10 grams of carbohydrates per bottle. But today’s market offers a wide variety of low-carb beers with less than 3 grams per bottle. These include:

• Budweiser Select 55 (1.9 grams).
• Miller Genuine Draft Light 64 (2.4 grams).
• Molson Ultra (2.5 grams).
• Michelob Ultra (2.6 grams).

Some health advocates have called on brewers to disclose all their ingredients, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

“The government used to publish a list of permitted ingredients in beer, which included food dyes, foam enhancers, preservatives, sweeteners, enzyme, and chill-proofing agents,” Michael Jacobson, Ph.D., the center’s co-founder and president, said in a statement.

“Ingredients like propylene glycol alginate, Red 40, caramel coloring, and others should certainly be listed on labels in case consumers are concerned about allergens or simply troubled by beers that contain a raft of additives.”

But experts note some mainstream beers are more likely to be additive-free, including many small-batch micro brews and some commercial producers, including Sierra Nevada, Heineken, and Amstel Light.

If you’re concerned about potentially harmful ingredients, activists recommend choosing:

German beers. The national purity law called “Reinheitsgebot” requires all German beer to be produced only with the core ingredients of water, hops, yeast, malted barley, or wheat.

Certified 100 percent organic beers. This label ensures that all ingredients are organic, while an “organic” label only ensures that 95 percent of the contents are organic.

Local craft and microbrews. The competitive small operations that have sprung up nationwide may be more amenable than mega-breweries to disclosing their list of ingredients.
 

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Beer drinkers, rejoice. Scientific evidence continues to mount in favor of moderate beer drinking for heart health, with the latest research presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in New Orleans. But there is a catch: Moderation is the key. Here's what you need to know.
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