The Buzz on Beer

February 7, 2008 9:08:07 PM PST
There have been endless studies touting the benefits of red wine, but you could soon be hearing more about beer. Newer research finds that moderate consumption --and the key is moderate -- of a favorite brew might improve health. It's the ingredients that may help reduce the risk of heart disease, the side effects of menopause and even cavities. A bottle of brew never looked so appealing.

Beer - it's the alcoholic beverage that's often gotten a bad wrap, associated with big bellies and poor judgment. But moderate beer drinkers may have the last laugh.

While it may seem contradictory, the health benefits of beer are not a joke.

To make beer, you need hops, yeast and a cereal such as barley. It turns out each of these ingredients mixed together may pack a healthy punch. Hops contains a compound called xanthohumol that may protect against cancer.

"One way in which Xan might prevent cancer is to stimulate cells to protect themselves," said Richard Van Breemen, Ph.D., Medicinal Chemistry UIC College of Pharmacy.

The health effects of xanthohumol weren't know until about 10 years ago. Now researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are studying how it works and exactly how much you need of this compound isn't known yet.

"Xan content in beer is fairly low. Maybe not a medicinal level. So we are hoping to develop some botanical dietary supplements," said Van Breemen.

They're also looking at xanthohumol as a natural alternative to hormone replacement for menopause.

Other research finds it acts as a powerful antioxidant even more than vitamin E. The studies now churning out the benefits of beer seem to be covering almost every possible health aspect.

"Colon cancer prostate cancer, menopause , skin care, type two diabetes, bone density cavity fighting ability and dementia," said Jason Ebel, co-owner, Two Brothers Brewing Co.

At the newly opened Two Brothers Tap House in suburban Warrenville --Jim and Jason Ebel say the taste of the product made at their microbrewerey is the bottom line, but they are also keenly aware of beer's potential benefits.

"There is a lot of compounds found in barley that will translate to the finished product," said Ebel.

And the cereal content apparently makes it a good source of vitamins, especially B vitamins. But do the benefits really outweigh the risks? That's what scientists are trying to determine. What they do know is antioxidants and B-vitamins are linked to reducing the risks of heart disease, strokes and cancer. So if that's the case, which beer has the most nutritional value? Go for the darker ones, such as stouts and some ales.

"When they make those dark malts it creates antioxidants just like red wine has antioxidants," said Jim Ebel.

Of course there are many problems associated with drinking too much alcohol, and no one is suggesting consumers choose a beer over a piece of fruit or drink irresponsibly. Scientists say this research is still early and there are still many unanswered questions. The federal government currently prohibits beer and wine makers from making any health claims in their labeling or marketing

Richard van Breemen, Ph.D.

Professor of Medicinal Chemistry
Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy

University of Illinois at Chicago
College of Pharmacy
833 S. Wood Street (M/C 781)
Chicago, IL 60612-7231

Office: 435B PHARM
Office Phone: 312-996-9353
Lab Phone: 312-413-1815
Fax Number: 312-996-7107
E-mail address:

Two Brothers Brewing Company
30W315 Calumet Ave.
Warrenville, Illinois 60555