Man has been relaxing with a beer on a hot summer day for thousands of years. No one knows who brewed the first beer — an anonymous Sumerian in ancient Mesopotamia is usually given credit — but according to Greek philosopher Plato, "He was a wise man who invented beer." Perhaps even then, Plato knew what modern science is proving: Beer contains vitamins and antioxidants that make us smarter, protect us from many ailments, and can even help us live longer.
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Check out the following seven ways beer can improve your health:
• Osteoporosis. A study of 100 commercial beers at Tufts University found that they were high in silicon, a key mineral in keeping bones strong. "Silicon impacts bone mineral density in humans, and supplementing silicon in the diets of osteoporitic women increased bone density," the authors wrote. But stick to no more than two drinks a day (one for women) because other studies have shown an increased risk of fractures in those who have more than two drinks a day.
• Arthritis. Researchers at Harvard found that women who drank a couple of beers every week over a long period of time reduced their risk of rheumatoid arthritis by 31 percent, according to a study published in Arthritis & Rheumatism. Swedish researchers reported even more dramatic results with moderate drinking (three drinks a week) lowering risk by 52 percent when compared to study participants who didn't drink.
• Heart attack and stroke. Studies show that beer raises HDL or good cholesterol, and many studies have shown that moderate drinkers lower their risk of heart attack by up to 40 percent. A Greek study found that beer improved the flexibility of men's arteries better than vodka or alcohol-free beer, although all three drinks provided some benefit, and a study published in the journal Stroke found beer's ability to thin blood slightly lowered the stroke risk of moderate drinkers by 20 percent.
• Kidney stones. A Finnish study found that drinking a single bottle of beer a day lowered a man's risk of kidney stones by 20 percent. Researchers don't understand the exact mechanism, but they believe that beer keeps the body hydrated and the hops it contains causes calcium to be released more slowly from bones — calcium that could be reabsorbed as kidney stones.
• Cancer-causing carcinogens. Marinating meat in beer before barbecuing thwarts the formation of potential carcinogens — polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs — that form when meat is cooked at high temperatures. Portuguese researchers found that black beer cut the levels of eight PAHs by more than half when compared to unmarinated meat. Previous studies have indicated a link between PAHs and colorectal cancer.
• Dementia. Many studies have linked dementia and Alzheimer's to aluminum, and a study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology found that the silicon in beer reduced the body's absorption of aluminum, thus decreasing the amount of memory-destroying aluminum in brain tissue.
• Diabetes. Two studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that moderate drinkers were less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. One of the studies, which involved 35,000 men, found a 65 percent decrease in those who drank moderately. The second study of more than 38,000 men found that when occasional drinkers increased their intake to one or two drinks daily, they cut their risk by 25 percent.
It's also possible that beer may increase your life span. Scientists at UCLA found that giving small amounts of alcohol to worms used in anti-aging studies doubled their life spans. "It was amazing to see how the worms given a little ethanol looked significantly more robust than worms not given ethanol," said researcher Paola Castro. While not proof that beer will help improve a human's life span, it's another reason to hoist a brew.
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After learning about all of the ways beer can improve your health, you might agree with actor Jack Nicholson who said, "Beer, it's the best damn drink in the world."
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