Healthy Beer Drinking

Benjamin Franklin said it best: "Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

For sure, men love their alcohol: The average American guy drinks about 23 gallons of beer, 15 pints of wine and 10 pints of spirits every year. All in all, each year, about 200 million barrels (that's 6.2 billion gallons) of beer are produced, and we buy about $116 billion worth of alcoholic beverages.

Beer: The Next Health Drink?

Sometimes, beer loves us back too: Studies have suggested that, when consumed in moderation, beer has many health benefits. For instance, moderate amounts of alcohol may be good for the heart.

An Emory University study involving over 2,200 elderly men and women discovered that those who consumed at least 1.5 drinks daily had up to a 50 percent lesser risk of suffering from heart failure. Another study conducted by Germany, France and the United Kingdom found that moderate consumption of beer or wine may have anti-inflammatory properties, which can lower the risk coronary heart disease. The French, who drink lots of red wine and have the highest per capita alcohol consumption, actually have one of the lowest rates of coronary heart disease mortality.

Beer can also be good for your brain. Using an MRI, a Boston scientist discovered that light drinkers (one to six drinks a week) to moderate drinkers (seven to 14 drinks a week) have fewer strokes than nondrinkers — probably because of alcohol's effect in thinning the blood and preventing the formation of tiny blood clots in the brain. Note, however, that although heavy drinkers (more than 15 drinks a week) have the least amount of strokes, they also suffer the most atrophy or wasting of brain tissues.Moderate amounts of alcohol can also help reduce stress, decrease anxiety and self-consciousness, and improve your mood.

Beer in particular has plenty of nutrients, such as protein, B vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, selenium, iron, niacin, and riboflavin.

Beer Can Also Be Unhealthy

Before you go out and celebrate with a few pints, keep in mind that all of the studies above point out that beer is only healthy if you drink moderately. Some scientists even consider the health benefits of alcohol for moderate drinkers to be controversial due to the variations in the methodologies of the studies.What all doctors and scientists agree on, however, is that the health risks of drinking larger amounts of alcohol will quickly outweigh its benefits; and to make matters worse, alcohol can impair your judgment, thus making it hard for you to stop at just a drink or two.

One of the most common harmful effects of alcohol is on the liver, the organ that removes toxins from the body. In the liver, enzymes first convert alcohol into acetaldehyde, a chemical intermediate that can cause nausea, headache, vomiting, and other bad effects of alcohol ingestion. During this step, a molecule called NADH is also produced.

Acetaldehyde is further metabolized into acetic acid, and then water and carbon dioxide that we breathe out. Unfortunately, in people who drink daily, the body might not be able to metabolize the toxic acetaldehyde fast enough.

To make matters worse, heavy drinking can elevate the levels of NADH, which can lead to the accumulation of fat in the liver in a condition called fatty liver. A liver clogged with fat is not only less efficient in performing its duties, it can also lead to a reduction in the distribution of oxygen and nutrients to the liver's cells. Left untreated, this causes liver cells to die and form fibrous scar tissue leading to cirrhosis or scarring of the liver — a potentially deadly condition.Yet another effect of high levels of NADH is the formation of harmful free radicals, which can cause further damage to the cells in the liver and the rest of the body.

And that's not all — beer has a lot of calories, which can lead to obesity (not to mention a beer belly) in those who drink a lot of it. Being obese, in turn, carries a lot of health risks, including heart disease and diabetes.

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Tips for Beer Lovers

Short of not drinking any alcohol (which is the medical recommendation for men who have had liver damage due to alcohol), there are many things you can do to limit the bad effects of alcohol and beer.

1. Set your limit and pace

Decide how many drinks you will have ahead of time and stick to it. Don't be afraid to say "no thanks." Also, remember to drink slowly: A healthy liver can process a standard drink (a 12 oz can of beer) an hour — if you drink any faster than that, you risk overloading your body's ability to process alcohol.This is especially important at parties and in social situations, where peer pressure to drink can override your better judgment.

2. Don't drink on an empty stomach

Eating a substantial meal before you go out and drink can actually help slow the absorption of alcohol. A full stomach may also help you cut down on the amount of alcohol you can drink.

3. Drink water or non-alcoholic beverages between drinks

Alcohol dehydrates your body, so drinking a nonalcoholic "decoy" between alcoholic drinks not only helps you cut down on alcohol consumption, it also helps keep your body hydrated.

4. Protect your liver

Allow your liver to recover by not drinking alcohol every day — in fact, have as many alcohol-free days as possible between drinking.Also, consider taking nutritional supplements that contain herbs and nutrients that help keep the liver healthy. These supplement may contain milk thistle extract, curcumin, gotu kola, schizandra berry, and other liver-friendly herbs clinically shown to help rid the liver of toxins and improve liver functions.

Take Care of Your Body

Beer and alcohol are very important parts of a man's life — many of us can't imagine life without our beloved drink of choice — but remember that drinking too much can lead to ruins.Remember that you bear the ultimate responsibility for your health — and if you love beer, this means understanding the health benefits and risks of alcohol, as well as drinking only in moderation. Taking care of your liver by taking liver-friendly supplements should also be a part of your daily health routine.