The Herald has found some “surprising health benefits of beer.” It found them in the Telegraph, but otherwise we’re not given a lot of help tracking things down. There are eleven”surprising benefits”, labelled 1 to 10. Only two are even arguably new. None of them come with a link, or even with the absolute minimum of both a journal and a researcher name.
The unnumbered benefit is the one that’s closest to being new: that a new study of 80,000 people in China found higher HDL (good) cholesterol in people who drank a moderate amount of alcohol — which isn’t all that surprising, since that relationship has been studied for decades. Here, the research is unpublished: it was presented at a conference this week. The basic conclusion was for moderate consumption of alcohol of any type, not just beer.
Number 1 (lowers the risk of kidney stones) seems to be true and about beer, though the story doesn’t mention that all the participants were smokers.
Number 2 (protects you from heart attacks) was about beer, but it wasn’t about heart attacks. It was about atherosclerosis. In hamsters.
Number 3 (reduces the risk of strokes) is hard to track down — “Harvard Medical School” isn’t very specific. They probably mean this research, which found a slightly lower risk of stroke in people (US male doctors) who drink small amounts of alcohol, not zero, but up to seven drinks a week. The probably don’t mean this Harvard research showing the risk goes up for the hour after consumption. Again, not specifically beer.
In number 4, the headline claim “strengthens your bones” is borderline true, but the later “significantly reduce your risk of fracturing bones” doesn’t seem to be supported. The research actually found an increase in bone mineral density, which you’d expect to lead to stronger bones but doesn’t always.
Number 5 is partly true: the research wasn’t specific to beer, but men who drink 1-2 standard units of alcohol per day are at lower risk of diabetes, though the evidence that the alcohol is responsible isn’t all that strong.
Number 6 is “reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s”. The story talks about research stretching back to 1977. The Alzheimer’s Society says “It is no longer thought that low to moderate alcohol consumption protects against dementia.” The story mentions silicon and aluminium. The Alzheimer’s Society says “Current medical and scientific opinion of the relevant research indicates that the findings do not convincingly demonstrate a causal relationship between aluminium and Alzheimer’s disease.”
Number 7 is about preventing insomnia. It glosses over the alcohol issue entirely. The research was about the taste of beer, used a dose of less than a tablespoon, and didn’t measure insomnia. It didn’t even measure relaxation, just brain waves.
Number 8 (prevents cataracts). From the press release. “In tests with rat lenses, Trevithick’s laboratory found that antioxidants that act similarly to those in beer protect special parts of cells in the eye – called mitochondria. Damaged mitochondria can lead to an increased incidence of cataracts.” They weren’t looking at beer or even at chemicals in beer, or at cataracts. It’s a step forward to know that chemicals similar to those in beer can reduce damage in rats similar to the damage that causes cataracts, but that still leaves some gaps.
Number 9 (might cure cancer). Chemicals related to some chemicals in beer, at high enough doses, might potentially be turned into cancer treatments. In order to do the first steps of the research, using the original beer chemicals, scientists need to be able to measure how much they have of them. To calibrate the measurements, they need pure synthetic versions. The research was about progress in working out the synthesis.
Number 10 is particularly special –“beer helps you lose weight”. Not only is there a specific and detailed explanation of why that’s false in the original press release, it’s even in the Herald story — the doses in the study were the equivalent of 3500 pints of beer per day.