6th Beer and Health Symposium: From myths to science - Key points from the symposium

Consumer perceptions of the benefits and risks of moderate beer consumption are not always accurate. As scientists we welcome the opportunity to address myths with accurate and peer-reviewed science. The 6th Beer and Health Symposium demonstrates that moderate beer consumption among adults can be compatible with a healthy lifestyle, confirming the results of previous symposia that have take place since 1999.

This Symposium once again shed light on a number of complex issues. It highlighted the potential health benefits of moderate beer consumption ranging from a lower risk for cardiovascular disease to positive effects on bone mineral density to benefits accrued from nutrients specific to beer.

Overall, the research shows that moderate consumers have a lower risk of mortality than both abstainers and excessive consumers. However, it is important to emphasise that beneficial effects are conferred only by moderate consumption and that the pattern of consumption and the associated diet and lifestyle are also important.

Session 1: Consumer perceptions

Consumers' myths on beer - Professor Kok

A number of myths persist among citizens regarding the health benefits of moderate consumption of beer. According to research, commonly-held perceptions include: ‘Beer is bad for you’, ‘Wine is better than beer’, ‘Beer makes you fat’, ‘Beer is bad for your heart’ , ‘Beer consumption is dangerous for the elderly’. These misperceptions are the result of a lack of knowledge. As scientists active in researching these areas, we have a role to play in addressing these myths, supported by the latest scientific findings

The Mediterranean diet as intangible cultural heritage (UNESCO): role of fermented drinks - Prof. Serra-Majem

Presentation delivered by Prof. Ramon Estruch, Hospital Clinic - University of Barcelona

The Mediterranean Diet is an evolutionary, dynamic and vital cultural heritage and represents the worldwide most recognized healthy dietary pattern. Olive oil, wheat and fermented beverages such as wine and beer play a major role in this diet, together with fruit and vegetables, beans, nuts, dairy and fish. Its international recognition by UNESCO in October 2010 will achieve the mobilisation needed to safeguard this heritage and ensure its benefits to our health, culture, traditional countryside and rural population.

The Beer Story - Dr. Philliskirk

Beer has a rich and fascinating history and an often understated role in the social, cultural, economic and scientific development of western civilisation. Natural raw materials and unique brewing processes are used to craft an enormous diversity of beers. This story is little appreciated or understood by audiences largely overwhelmed by negative images of beer associated with the social and medical effects of excessive alcohol consumption.

Session 2: Health benefits

Does beer play a sole role in alcohol and health symphony? - Dr. Iacoviello

The relationship between alcohol consumption and cardiovascular events or all-cause mortality is described as a J-shaped curve whereby the lowest point of the curve is moderate consumption. Results have concluded that the amount and the way of drinking (moderately at mealtimes) rather than the beverage type play a major role in cardiovascular prevention. Futher research is needed as to the protective effect of specific beverages.

Why moderate beer consumption is beneficial for cardiovascular health - Dr. Hendriks

Moderate beer (alcohol) consumption has been associated with a lower risk for cardiovascular disease in many epidemiological studies worldwide. This beneficial association is not only observed for the most common cardiovascular disease - heart attacks - but also for other cardiovascular diseases like ischaemic stroke and peripheral artery disease. Other studies indicate that the benefits from moderate alcohol consumption is in addition to the beneficial effects of other healthy lifestyle factors like non-smoking, physical activity and a healthy diet. Intervention studies have identified that the main processes by which these benefits accrue are lipid (cholesterol) metabolism, blood clotting and glucose metabolism. The studies combined provide strong evidence for a cardio protective effect of moderate beer (alcohol) consumption.

Is beer consumption responsible for the beer belly? - Prof. Astrup

Among laymen beer consumption is considered to be responsible for causing a belly, one of the essential components of metabolic syndrome. However, there is no scientific evidence to support that moderate beer consumption produces abdominal fatness. The well established risk factors for “beer belly” are male gender, age, smoking, physical inactivity, mental stress, impaired sleep, high intake of trans fat, and the use of certain drugs.

Silicon, ethanol and connective tissue health: a case for moderate beer consumption - Prof. Powell

Beer contains high levels of well absorbed silicon. Research has found that moderate ingestion of beer could have two complimentary effects on bone health: (1) moderate ethanol consumption would inhibit bone loss, and (2) silicon would enhance bone formation. Given the enormous estimated healthcare costs associated with osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and other connective tissue disorders, it is of critical importance that the “beneficial” effect is fully understood. Further work on beer, silicon and health is clearly warranted.

Session 3: Social wellbeing

Anthropology of drinking: Can social sciences help understanding excessive consumption of certain types of alcoholic drinks? - Dr. Nahoum-Grappe

By studying different narratives on drunkenness in modern Western society from novels, TV series, press and media, according to the ethnographic methodology rather than the sociological methodology, it can be concluded that social sciences can offer reflections on the role played by alcoholic drinks in the game of collective communication. Examples include the ritual of clinking glasses, the culture of the round and the morals of excess.

Beer and other alcoholic beverages: the possible role in cognitive decline - Dr. Solfrizzi

Light to moderate drinking has been proposed as a protective factor against the development of age-related changes of cognitive function, predementia syndromes, and cognitive decline of degenerative (Alzheimer’s disease) or vascular origin (vascular dementia) in several longitudinal studies, but contrasting findings also exist. At present, there is no indication that light to moderate alcohol drinking would be harmful to cognition and dementia, though it is not yet possible to define a specific beneficial level of alcohol intake.

Beer after exercise: Yes or no? - Prof. Castillo

Beer quenches thirst and is frequently consumed after practicing sport or exercise. Beer is mainly water but also contains alcohol. Research into whether alcohol content prevented adequate recovery and/or rehydration found that neither a specific nor a negative effect could be attributed to the intake of beer compared to the intake of just water. In conclusion, at least in healthy, young adults, beer in moderate amounts is as effective as water for rehydration and recovery after exercise.

Non-alcoholic beer: a good drink for lactating mothers - Dr. Hernández Aguilar

Breast milk is the specific nutrition for the human infant. Among other essential nutrients it provides the necessary antioxidants for a baby with an immature antioxidant system. Given that the composition of a mother´s milk may change with the mother’s diet, scientists hypothesised that antioxidant capacity could be increased by non-alcoholic beer supplementation. The research concluded that non-alcoholic beer may be a good source of nutrients and antioxidants to add to other healthy foods for the breastfeeding mother.

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