Drinking to your health

Last year, 7.7 million hectoliters of Pilsner Urquell were purchased on the local market. While the high quality of Czech beer has long been celebrated, recent reports show that beer – as well as red wine – are healthier than we had imagined.

Moderating the mixIN DRINK as in life, balance is everything. According to a 2003 report from BBC Health, men should not exceed more than four units of alcohol a day. For women this limit is three units daily. Unfortunately for some, a “unit” is more like a mug than a jug, being equal to one half pint of ordinary strength beer or cider, a small glass of wine or a pub portion of spirits.

THE SAAZ HOP is known worldwide for giving Pilsner its spicy aroma. Recently, the hop is being applauded for another feature: it’s anti-cancer benefits. Like red wine, beer is full of flavonoids; powerful antioxidants that destroy cell-damaging free radicals that cause disease and aging. Of these, xanthohumol, pronounced (zan-tho-HUGH-mol), is among the most health-enhancing. Xanthohumol is rare – in fact, it’s only found in beer hops. In recent years, scientists have been experimenting with the use of this substance to treat cancer. Dr. Donald Buhler of the Oregon State University in the US found that the x-quality of this modest beer hop inhibits cancer cells even more than the flavonoids in citrus fruits and soy. Xanthohumol also works to lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol), and helps prevent heart disease. But there’s a catch: you need to drink 120 gallons of beer, or 1,300 bottles a day to absorb the full benefits. On the other hand, Buhler states that even one mug of beer has enough Xanthohumol to have “preventative benefits”. The problem is getting the “x” without the extra alcohol.
Thank heaven for science. At the request of the German Cancer Research Institute in Heidelberg, market-savvy researchers at the Technical University of Munich are developing a new brew with 10 times the amount of Xanthohumol found in regular beer. So now, instead of a health shake we can enjoy a health brew. Denis De Keukleleire, head professor of the University of Ghent in Belgium, has been studying the health properties of hops for years. He notes that “traditionally, hops have been used in sedatives and sleep-inducing formulations, to combat stress, to treat complaints related to menopause, for stimulation of the gut as well as for their anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.” So though reporting on beer’s health properties is something new, the information isn’t.

Nothing to wine about
For years, reports on the heart-abetting properties of red wine have crowded out the many benefits of its foamy competitor. But not without reason. The French, who consume somewhat more red wine than their northern neighbors, are surprisingly heart-strong (white wine is also healthy in moderation, but contains less antioxidants). Although the French enjoy a high-fat diet and smoke more than either British or Americans, the heart-disease rate in France is one-quarter of that in the UK and one-third that in the US. This is probably due to red wine’s most studied component, an antioxidant called resveratrol. The blood-thinning ability of resveratrol reduces blood clots that can lead to heart attacks and strokes. More recently, Reuters Health reported a discovery of Denmark’s Dr. Thomas Truelsen: red wine decreases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Dr. Truelsen and his team believe this is due to the flavonoids contained in wine. The bad news for daily imbibers is that occasional (weekly and monthly) drinkers get the maximum mental benefits. In contrast, Dr. Truelsen found that raising our daily glass of beer also raises our risk of dementia, at least a little. But we’ll forget about that for now.

Back to top