It’s that time of year again. Christmas and Hanukkah are over, the New Year is looming, and for some reason we feel obligated to make a whole lot of resolutions we know are impossible to keep. So, this year, instead of cutting out carbs and sweets, say “Screw your resolutions, I’m going to resolve to drink more sour beer!” Now, that’s a resolution I think most people can get behind.
While we may think we’re experts on drinking, we don’t have the expertise to make outrageous claims about the health benefits of sour beer, so we consulted Janice Whedon, NP, with a specialty in gastroenterology, who helped explain some of our suspicions.
Beers become sour through the introduction of two bacteria strains, lactobacillus and pediococcus. Lactobacillus is the same strain that gives yogurt its probiotic qualities, so what are the benefits of adding it to beer?
We would have to do our own study to see if the probiotics are still “bio-available” after the brewing process, but according to Whedon, probiotics contribute to our immune health as well as our digestive health. In particular, lactobacillus aids with symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and other uncomfortable digestive issues, including those caused by taking antibiotics.
While Whedon is not sure about pediococcus’ affect on humans, it has been shown to stimulate an immune response in red tilapia. The similarities between humans and fish have not been a widely discussed topic, but there have been stranger conclusions made.
Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is now the biological classification of both ale and lager yeasts (they were historically considered separate species), is the cause of fermentation in beer, making the wort alcoholic, thus making it a beer. This non-pathogenic yeast is also used in medicine to be given along with an antibiotic to shorten C. difficile infections (a bacterium that can cause inflammation of the colon) as well as chronic diarrhea.
“Yeast and its impact in the body is controversial,” says Whedon. “Some holistic practitioners overreact, while Western practitioners under react unless it is a true infection. Some studies have linked overgrowth of yeast in the GI tract with bloating, gas, and irregular bowel habits, yet yeast is a normal and needed component in our digestive flora.”
Sure, too much yeast can cause issues, but it seems the benefits of consuming yeast outweigh the drawbacks. Brewer’s yeast is often used in dietary supplements as a source of B vitamins, chromium, and protein, and can aid in many conditions including diarrhea, the common cold, upper respiratory tract infections, influenza, loss of appetite, acne, PMS, and type 2 diabetes.
Many brewers use fruits like blackberries, raspberries, cherries, and peaches to both aid in the pucker factor and to add a vibrant hue to their sour beers. But the health benefits of berries and stone fruits are vast. Again, we don’t know if these benefits are present after the brewing process, but in sour beers there is a transfer between the fruit and the beer – the fruit gets broken down by the yeast, bringing all the flavor and aroma into the beer and the fruit is left shriveled, colorless and full of off-flavors that would normally be present in the beer. So maybe we’ve got something here?
Berries contain large amounts of antioxidants, which Whedon says are helpful for binding to free radicals that occur during oxidization in our cells – free radicals have been shown to promote various types of cancer by breaking down and damaging cells.
Raspberries contain 6,058 antioxidants per cup, blackberries 7,701, and blueberries a whopping 13,427. Plums are considered to be on par with blueberries, as they contain large amounts of phytochemicals that act as natural antioxidants in our diet. Peaches contain carotenoids like beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A that contributes to our immune system, cell growth and healthy vision.
While the immune system is our life force, the gastrointestinal system largely influences our daily functioning. A healthy gut means a healthy mind. The gastrointestinal system produces more of the neurotransmitter serotonin than your brain does – about 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is found in the bowels, according to a Scientific American study. Serotonin is known to have a profound impact on mood.
The effects of alcohol on our digestive system are not necessarily beneficial, but Whedon says moderation is key, with one drink per day for a healthy female and two per day for a healthy male. “Some seem to go through life unscathed despite their drinking, others will develop liver failure in their 20s. We don’t know why,” says Whedon.
In one study, however, alcohol, has been found to elevate positive mood states as a person’s BAC is rising. There have been numerous studies surrounding the association between moderate drinking and the reduction of cardiovascular disease. According to Whedon, beer appears to be on par with red wine in its health benefits surrounding cell degeneration and combating cancer. Moderate amounts of alcohol raise levels of HDL (good cholesterol), which is associated with greater protection against heart disease.
Plus, this past spring, BeerPulse caught on to a study by researches at Indiana University that showed drinking tiny amounts of beer can trigger the release of dopamine in your brain. The neurotransmitter dopamine controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.
While we at Denver off the Wagon cannot make any definitive claims as to sour beer being a healthy part of our diets, we can say there is evidence supporting the health benefits of ingredients in our sour beer. And to us, that’s enough to raise a glass of Crooked Stave’s Blackberry L’Brett D’Or at midnight and resolve to do it again the next day, and the next day… just perhaps with different sour brews.