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  • Writer's pictureDominic Cincotta

Craft Beer: Undercover Health Hero

We’ve all seen that local drunk, stumbling down the street after having one too many. But is there a chance that he’s actually healthier for it? Probably not. We can all agree that over consumption of any alcoholic beverage has multiple negative health consequences, not the least of which could be death do to impaired driving (note, the author is a staunch anti-drinking and driving advocate). But there is evidence that that freshly fermented local brew can actually have health benefits if consumed responsibly and in moderation.

At its core, craft beer is made up of a minimum of three ingredients: malted 2-row or, more commonly, 6-row barley, some form of pellet or whole leaf hops, and yeast mixed with water. For a long period of history, there was German law forbidding the use of outside ingredients. This is called Reinheitsgebot and limited ingredients in beer to water, barley, and hops. Today’s more modern craft brews are experimenting with fruits, woods, and other exotic ingredients in order to differentiate themselves from each other.

The craft brewing industry is undergoing growth that has not been seen since the pre-prohibition era United States. According to the Brewers Association, growth of the craft brewing industry in 2011 was 13% by volume and 15% by dollars compared to growth in 2010 of 12% by volume and 15% by dollars. In 2012, that increased to 15% by volume and 17% by dollars. Craft brewers in 2011 sold an estimated 11,468,152 barrels of beer in 2011, up from 10,133,571 in 2010. In 2012 the production increased to 13,235,917 barrels of beer. The craft brewing sales share in 2011 was 5.7% by volume and 9.1% by dollars. 2012 brought sales share of 6.5% by volume and 10.2% by volume. Craft brewer retail dollar value in 2011 was an estimated $8.7 billion, up from $7.6 billion in 2010 and up to $10.2 billion in 2012. As of March 18, 2013, the Brewers Association is aware of 409 brewery openings in 2012 (310 microbreweries and 99 brewpubs) and 43 brewery closings (18 microbreweries and 25 brewpubs). In 2012, 2,347 craft breweries operated for some or all of 2012, comprised of 1,132 brewpubs, 1,118 microbreweries and 97 regional craft breweries.

So as this industry grows, can we actually be getting healthier if we consume in a responsible way? Well, let’s look at some of the facts.

· Beer contains high levels of silicon. Silicon is linked to having higher bone density and therefore stronger bones. The levels of Silicon are higher in your craft Pale Ales while your mass produced light lagers have much lower silicon levels. A win for craft beer!

· Beer is the heart super booster. Beer has been shown to raise your levels of HDL. This is the “good” cholesterol and plays a role in cleaning out your arteries. A study in Italy showed that those who consumed alcohol had a 31% lower risk of heart disease. This also helps guard against stroke by preventing blood clots. The heart health link can also be extended to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of a heart attack.

· Men who drank a bottle of beer a day showed a 40% reduction in kidney stones. Beer also helps prevent the loss of calcium that can occur in the kidneys and lead to kidney stones.

· Am I smarter due to beer? Well beer has been shown to limit Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. So while I’m not getting ‘smarter’ I am holding on to my smarts for longer!

· It has been suggested that Beer helps limit HCAs or heterocyclic amines. These are carcinogens and beer contains a flavonoid in the hops which promote a sugar that blocks these HCAs. Go grab that bitter IPA!

· Dutch researchers showed that beer connoisseur had 30% higher levels of B6. Craft beer, when traditionally bottled and carbonated will contain some yeast sediment that is very rich in B vitamins and folic acid. Beer provides a 30% increase in vitamin B6 into the blood plasma -- something that neither wine nor any other liquor can do

· So next time you want to pour out that last swig “for the homies,” think twice!

· Alcohol has the ability to increase insulin sensitivity. A 2011 Harvard study showed that middle-aged men who drank two beers daily, reduced their risk of type 2 diabetes by 25%.

· And finally, while beer may not be the fountain of youth, the USDA reports that moderate drinkers tend to live longer.

· The ancient Egyptians used beer as a health elixir and homeopathic remedy.

So next time you’re out and about, don’t shy away from that local craft brew. Generally local and craft beer are made with more barley and hops, the health benefit giving ingredients than the large national brews which substitute corn and rice much of the time. You’re doing yourself a health benefit by consuming in moderation, and you’re supporting the local craft guy. Both things you can feel good about.

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