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Beer Drinking Can Also be Healthy

As most people know, the health benefits of moderate red wine drinking have been extensively studied. However, some recent studies on beer suggest that it may be as healthy as wine. Once again, the caveat 'if consumed in moderation' applies.

Of course, both beer and wine contain alcohol, and there is good evidence showing beneficial effects from that alone. Moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with higher levels of 'good', or HDL, cholesterol. Drinkers also had lower levels of fibrinogen, a protein that promotes blood clots that can lead to stroke and thrombosis.

Alcohol also lowers insulin levels, which aids in reducing the risk of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.

Overall, several studies (like one undertaken at the Institute of Epidemiology at the University of Muenster), suggest moderate drinking of beer helps reduce the risk of coronary disease.

But the benefits appear to be derived from more than just the alcohol. A Dutch study from the TNO Nutrition and Food Research Institute found a 30% increase in vitamin B6 among beer drinkers, double the increase present in red wine and gin drinkers.

A recent Tufts University study suggests that beer consumption, whether light or dark, can protect bone mineral density. Thinning of the leg bones is often a problem for the elderly.

The July 2001 issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported a study that attributed the healthful effects of beer drinking to its folate levels. Folates are thought to help combat cardiovascular disease.

A study undertaken at Harvard and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2001 concluded that moderate consumption of beer helped preserve the mental abilities of older women.

Of course there are always exceptions. Researchers are unanimous that pregnant or nursing women should not drink alcohol, since it can lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Alcohol can pass through the umbilical cord and through breast milk and affect the child's brain.

Weight gain can also be an issue, and not just for asthetic reasons. Obesity is a known health risk. Beer has no fat, but alcohol and the residual sugars in beer do contain calories. A glass of beer contains between 150-450 calories, depending on size and type. But that amount is lower by volume than apple juice or a similar glass of red wine.

The key, again, is moderation. Excessive drinking has long been known to cause liver damage, can stress kidneys, and heavy drinking obviously leads to less mental acuity and can increase the risk of traffic accidents as well as those around the home.

Amount is everything. Moderate consumption can be relaxing, reducing stress, a factor in several health issues. Excess drinking leads to negative outcomes that outweigh the benefits.

Benefits derive from the alcohol, moderate amounts of B vitamins, helpful amounts of magnesium and selenium and other components. And beer is 90% water, which along with the alcohol helps flush kidneys. The brewing process and the alcohol also help kill bacteria in the water.

Naturally, no single article or study should be taken as definitive. And if you don't drink beer now, it's not suggested that you start just to gain the health benefits. But, if you are a beer drinker currently enjoying one to two 12-oz glasses per day, most studies suggest the benefits far outweigh the risks.

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