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Meanwhile # 2 | April 2004
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Marna van Schalkwyk

Beer is an ancient beverage that has been consumed as an integral part of the diet in many cultures. The wholesomeness of beer seems obvious – the goodness of sprouted grain is extracted into a rich liquid and fermented to produce a nutritional “liquid cereal” beverage. However, in recent years researchers have been looking for hard scientific facts to back up the conventional wisdom that moderate beer consumption is beneficial to health. The following is a part of a recently published paper and deals with some health promoting ingredients in beer.

Silicic acid and Aluminium toxicity

Aluminium (Al) is abundant in the environment and our daily exposure to dust, foodstuffs, fluids, medicines and antiperspirants results in the average person consuming up to 20 mg Al per day. About 1% of this Al is accumulated in our body tissues such as the liver, muscles, bone and brain. This accumulation of Al could lead to serious health problems. Silicic acid and Al forms an excretable hydroxyaluminiumsilicate that will be eliminated by the kidneys. Therefore a diet rich in silicate will prevent Al toxicity. Cereals such as barley are rich in Silica. During boiling and sparging in the brew house, this Silica is brought into solution in the form of Silicic acid. This level of Silicic acid is up to five times more than of water. So by drinking the beer, you will consume the silicic acid in the beer, which in turn will bind to the Al and remove it from the body.

Folates and vitamins in malt

Seed germination is an ancient and widespread method used to increase the nutritive value of seeds. This is due to the synthesis of vitamins by the germinating grain. Germination increases the riboflavin levels in malt by up to 6 times. It also almost doubles the amounts of folates and niacin. Folates are one of the B vitamins, which are required for the metabolism of single carbon units. As such they participate in the very basic processes of DNA and protein synthesis and hence cell division. It has been indicated that by limiting folates the following diseases could be caused.

- Neural tube defects
- Cardio vascular disease
- Colon cancer
- Cervical cancer and -
- Alzheimer disease

Beer is a rich source of folates and can play an important role in preventing these diseases.

Hop compounds

Hops have been targeted by pharmaceutical researchers as a potential source of anti cancer compounds and other phytoceuticals. There is substantial literature available on the therapeutic use of hop-derived compounds such as prenylflavonoids.


Antioxidant is a term that covers a wide range of compounds, all capable of quenching oxygen radicals. Beer is rich in antioxidants, derived from both malt
and hops, consisting mainly of flavonoids and phenolic secondary plant metabolites. What are the health benefits from consuming antioxidants? It’s been suggested that cellular damage from oxygen radicals is one of the causes for Cardio Vascular Disease and cancer. Since antioxidants quench oxygen radicals,
they should protect the body against these diseases.

You are what you eat (or drink)

The goodness of beer is apparent from its ingredients – sprouted grains, hops and yeast. Recently, medical research has allowed us to understand in greater detail how the health promoting ingredients in beer could produce positive physiological effects. However, there is a final point, which is worth considering when interpreting reports from epidemiological studies on foodstuffs and disease prevention. The beverage itself may be associated with food choice! For example, a recent study in Copenhagen found that wine drinking was associated with a higher consumption of vegetables, fruit, salads and the use of olive oil in cooking; whereas beer drinking was associated with a higher intake of saturated fats. In other words, beer drinkers had a less healthy diet. So fans of beer need to fix in their minds the image of a pint next to a green leafy salad…cheers!


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