Potential Antioxidant Benefits of Beer Touted

By Anne Harding

NEW YORK, Dec 22, 2000 (Reuters Health) -

Beer may not be considered a health food, but it is rich in the nutrients that help make fruit and vegetables good for you. Three new lab and animal studies presented this month at the International Chemical Congress of Pacific Basin Societies in Honolulu confirm that beer--especially darker brew--contains plenty of antioxidants.

These chemicals shield cells from the effects of free radicals, which are corrosive molecules produced during normal metabolic processes that have been implicated in the development of many aging-related diseases.

``We think that beer is good for you, at least in an antioxidant way,'' Dr. Joe Vinson, from the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, told Reuters Health.

In laboratory studies, Vinson found, beer prevented the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein and very low-density lipoprotein--two types of bad cholesterol. This oxidation is believed to be an initiating step in the development of heart and blood vessel disease.

When Vinson and his colleagues gave hamsters the equivalent of two beers a day, their rate of atherosclerosis was halved. The hamsters, who consumed the diluted beer in their drinking water, had been fed cholesterol and saturated fat for 10 weeks to increase their blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Another group of hamsters was given the equivalent amount of plain ethanol alcohol to determine whether beer's health effects are separate from its alcohol content. Alcohol alone did not have any effect on the amount of disease in the hamster aorta (the major blood vessel supplying the body).

While Vinson's lab studies found that ales contained more polyphenols, a family of antioxidant chemicals, lagers had a stronger effect on the hamsters.

A second study looked at how alcohol consumption impacts on cataract formation. Cataracts are another aging-associated disease thought to be related to oxidation.

People who consume one alcoholic beverage daily reduce their risk of developing cataracts by half, according to Dr. John Trevithick of the University of Western Ontario in Canada and colleagues. The researchers have found evidence that the antioxidants in beer and wine, along with its alcohol content, could be responsible for this effect.

Trevithick and his group exposed rats' lenses to high levels of glucose, similar to what occurs in the eyes of people with diabetes. Normally, the excess sugar would damage important cell components, but adding an antioxidant called venoruton prevented this damage from occurring.

His daughter Colleen Trevithick, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles, led another study investigating the source of beer's antioxidants. She found that beer and the beer ingredients wort and malt all reduced oxidation by 95%, as compared with 75% for ethanol alone.

Trevithick's research was supported by Labatt Brewing Company, a Canadian beer maker, along with other companies. Vinson received financial support, and beer, from the Czech brewer Pilsner Urquell.