Beer, that mainstay of many a man’s social life is good for you. At long last a study has found out what all we beer drinkers have known for a long time. The researchers from the University of California, Department of Food Science investigated 100 different brands of beer and found that beer can help to strengthen bones.
Bone mineral density depends on a good supply of silicon in the diet and it has been found that beer contains ample amounts. As the National Institute of Health in the United States puts it, “silicon may be important for the growth and development of bones, and beer appears to be a major contributor to the amount of silicon in the diet”. Lagers and pale malted beers appear to be the best beers for silicon whilst stouts and dark beers have less silicon present because of the method of manufacture. These beers roast the barley first and this causes the levels of silicon to decrease.
Wheat beers are not very good sources of silicon because barley has higher silicon content than wheat.
The researchers who studied the different types of beer identified that silicon content varied between 6.4 milligrams per liter to 56.5 mg/l. The reason why lighter beers and lagers contain more silicon is down to the fact that the beer making process uses less heat during the malting stage.
The study leader, Charles Bamforth said, "Beer containing high levels of malted barley and hops are richest in silicon. It is the husk of the barley that is rich in this element. While most remains during brewing, significant quantities are none the less extracted into wort and survive into beer".
We now know that beer has a beneficial effect on bone density and will help bones remain strong and this will help reduce the risk of broken bones in old age. However it leads to some uncertainty relating to what is good and how much can safely be consumed. Is one pint a day ok, or can we stretch it to a few more without causing damage to other areas of our body?
So far research has identified that one pint of beer a day can slash the heart disease risk in middle aged males by 40%. However if you are a moderate drinker you are increasing your chances of getting bowel cancer by 10% and if you are female then your risk of breast cancer developing increases by 7% too.
The confusion abounds but one fact which seems to be agreed upon is that those who do drink a little regularly do tend to live longer than those who never drink alcohol. The secret is to understand what ‘a little’ actually means.
Earlier research appears to have found an association between regular beer drinking in moderation and a decrease in the incidence of osteoporosis. This bone thinning disease affects about 3 million people in the United Kingdom and about 200,000 will have to go to hospital with broken bones annually because of the disease. Estimates state that the rate of osteoporosis will be about 12% in men over age 50 and in women that rate rises to 33% in over 50 year olds.
When discussing the latest study Claire Bowring, of the National Osteoporosis Society, is cautious, and says, "The Society welcomes measures to improve bone health but we do not recommend anyone increases their alcohol consumption on the basis of these studies”.
She goes on to point out that while this report appears to show that taking small to moderate amounts of beer may improve bone density there are other studies which have indicated that drinking too much alcohol (in excess of 2 units per day) can increase the chances of fracture. She concludes, “There are also many other health concerns linked with alcohol which cannot be ignored".
And another person doubting whether the findings are actually as significant as others believe is Catherine Collins, a dietician at St George's Healthcare NHS Trust. She points out that, "Beer drinking is not really relevant in terms of bone health. Silica may well contribute to bone health but in a minor way: it is not significant compared with nutrients that we know are essential for bone health and are potentially deficient in the UK diet – such as calcium and vitamin D".