A healthy brew

It is ubiquitous in summertime.  When the temperature goes up to 35 degrees, even health-freaks like myself indulge in a cold one.  Believe it or not, beer, with a history that stretches back to the ancient Egyptians, actually has some medicinal value!

From an herbalist’s standpoint hops flowers have many uses.  They are helpful for insomnia, nervous disorders, indigestion and as a cleansing agent.  As with so many foods and herbs however, the fermentation process changes and enhances theses effects.  (Let’s also assume for arguments sake that you are also aware of the need to use this responsibly and I don’t have to go into it here.)

The website www.realbeer.com has a whole section called “Beer and Your Health”, which I am sure is about to become very popular after this article.  There they list several health benefits to the brew.  The site claims: “Beer is a source of soluble fiber which is derived from the cell walls of malted barley. A liter of beer contains an average of 20% of the recommended daily intake of fiber and some beers can provide up to 60%. As well as aiding healthy bowel function, this has a further benefit by slowing down the digestion and absorption of food and reducing cholesterol levels, which may help to reduce the risk of heart disease. Beer itself has no cholesterol.”  Of course, it then goes on to say that the chips and pretzels consumed while drinking beer may work against you.  And you have to drink it by the litre.  But in a country where most people only eat about ten percent of the recommended daily amount of fibre and are drinking litres of beer anyway, I believe this sort of research should be encouraged.

Beer contains impressive amounts of certain vitamins and minerals as well.  All of the B-vitamins are represented, along with vitamins A and C.  Minerals such as manganese, selenium, potassium and phosphorus are in there too.

Dr. Henk F.J. Hendriks at TNO Nutrition and Food Research released a study in 2004 that showed an increase of 17% in DHEA levels in men and women who drank moderate amounts of regular beer over a three week period.  DHEA is a hormone that declines with age and is associated with a healthy cardiovascular system, strong bones and muscle tissue and youthful appearance.

What I find incredibly interesting is that these ideas are not new.  George Armelagos is an anthropologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. For more than two decades, he and his colleagues have studied bones dated to between A.D. 350 and 550 from Nubia, an ancient kingdom south of ancient Egypt along the Nile River.  Even after all this time, they discovered traces of the antibiotic tetracycline in the bones of 90% of the population.  How did this people come to ingest an antibiotic that we only really discovered about sixty years ago?

The answer is in their beer.  They would make a brew from grain contaminated with the bacteria streptomycedes, which is found everywhere in the soil of that region.  This bacterium when properly fermented creates tetracycline.

I actually come from a family tradition of health-freaks.  My grandmother has kept her arthritis under control for years using beer.  Whenever her hands begin to ache, which is never more then a couple times a week, she indulges.  I have speculated in the past that the ache goes away because she is drinking alcohol and that tends to make people happier, but she claims otherwise, and the effects last longer then your average beer-buzz!  So enjoy your healthy beer (responsibly, in moderation).  As if you needed a reason!

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