Beer drinkers may not need to give it up to maintain gut health.
Recently, a small study of 22 healthy men offered evidence that beer (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) in moderation can actually “improve the gut’s biodiversity,” according to its authors. In the study, the male participants drank 11 ounces of either 0 percent or 5.2 percent alcoholic lager beer each day for one month. The lab collected blood and stool samples before and after each week. In the end, the team found that, compared to the pre-drinking samples, the final post-study blood and stool samples showed an increased diversity of gut bacteria.
Improved biodiversity is especially important because of its ability to help the body regulate and remain healthy. Ana Faria, a metabolism and food chemist at the Comprehensive Health Research Centre, and the study’s corresponding author, said, “It was very interesting to see that the effect on microbiota was independent of the alcohol content, supporting our expectation that beer components can affect microbiota diversity.”
There is significant evidence that increased biodiversity makes for a healthier gut, which can have a profound influence on one’s ability to sustain both a sound mind and a healthy body. Certain foods, including whole grain cereal, fiber-rich snacks, and vegetables, can help increase biodiversity. If gut bacteria becomes imbalanced, interestingly, this alone can cause an individual to become very sick.
Faria hopes the study will help to add beer to the list of beverages that promote diverse gut bacteria as well as serve as an example of how non-alcoholic beer has its place in a diet as more than a sober-living alternative. Individuals who are reluctant to stop drinking altogether could be given some hope from these results.
“We hope that people can see that moderate beer consumption as a part of a well-balanced diet can be used as a strategy to improve our microbiota,” she wrote. “Particularly the responsible choice of non-alcoholic beer.” Faria emphasized that these findings show that it’s beer’s chemical composition – not simply its alcohol content – that improves gut health.
Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, is not entirely convinced that drinking lager is a responsible way of promoting healthy bacteria. “While I welcome rare trials like this, without any larger replication studies, we should be skeptical,” he said. Spector would like to see similar clinical trials repeated with many, many more people. He also pointed out the the study only includes male participants with no data currently available on how the same amount of drinking may impact the gut health of females.
Another limitation of the study is that the participants already could have been drinking frequently (prior to participating) so it’s difficult to determine the exact results of their drinking habits during the four weeks included in the monitored period. “And lager,” according to Spector, has “relatively low levels of polyphenols and little fiber.”
Faria wants to continue investigating the impact of non-alcoholic beer on gut health with a much larger group of people consisting of both genders. Faria is also interested in whether fermented beverages could be used as effective medications to treat persistent imbalances in the gut microbiome.