A new study shows the healing effects of beer.

healthybeer.jpg Credit: Alex Bramwell

If heads get bumped or knees get scraped during a drunken stupor this St. Patty’s Day, a quick remedy to stop any swelling could be another pint of beer. Scientists at the Innsbruck Medical University in Austria recently found that extracts from the beverage slow down the chemical processes that cause cellular inflammation.

Dietmar Fuchs, a professor of biochemistry and the lead researcher behind this finding, has studied the positive effects of different libations on the immune system for the last five years.

“Two to three years ago, it was observed that wine extracts and green/black tea were able to counteract the stimulation of cells, the next step was then to test beer,” Fuchs said via e-mail.

To test his hypothesis, Fuchs and his team stimulated peripheral mononuclear blood cells, considered to be pivotal in the process of inflammation, with mitogens, a protein that causes cell division. This action normally triggers the response of interferon-gamma, another protein that aids the immune system by fighting foreign viruses and bacteria. When interferon-gamma overreacts to a stimulus, the result is cellular inflammation. Fuchs tested this chain reaction in the presence of solutions containing wheat beer, light beer and non-alcoholic beer.

The results of the experiment, published in the journal International Immunopharmacology, indicate that the antioxidant compounds in beer—possibly from the hops, according to Fuchs—“simply counteract the signaling pathways involved, which are triggered by oxidants.” In this way, the beer extracts block the interferon-gamma-induced chemical processes that normally would trigger an inflammation reaction.

The metabolic paths that are affected by beer are also closely related to the pathogenesis of chronic diseases like atherosclerosis, infections and cancer, which, Fuchs said, means beer could have a healing effect on these chronic diseases.

Although it’s easy to embrace the possible health benefits of beer, Fuchs doesn’t encourage overdrinking and is quick to point out that the same anti-inflammatory effects have been recorded with non-alcoholic beer—much to the chagrin of frat-boys everywhere who thought they had found the perfect rationalization for performing keg stands this St. Patrick’s Day.

Besides bringing down swelling and helping to ward off carcinogens, Fuchs—a wheat beer fan himself—also said that vitamins found in beer can help satisfy daily nutritional requirements: Beer contains nearly all the B vitamins, several minerals like potassium and magnesium.

Hmmmmm…maybe a healthy dose of vitamins is the only excuse you’ll need to go out and truly enjoy this St. Pat’s.

[Editors Note: No amount of drinking will control the possible swelling you could incur if you drink and drive.]

Originally published March 17, 2006

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