August 10, 2022 – Can a beer a day keep the doctor away? That’s what new research in Portugal suggests.
In a pilot study in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistrymen who drank a can of alcoholic or non-alcoholic lager a day for 4 weeks improved the diversity of their gut microbiome, the collection of microbes that live in the intestinal tract.
The results stand out among the growing evidence that no level of alcohol, even small or moderate amounts, is good for your health. This study indicates that a once-a-day beer may benefit the gut microbiome regardless of its alcohol content, although non-alcoholic beer may still be the healthier choice.
“There are many myths about beer,” says study author Ana Faria, PhD, a clinical nutritionist at NOVA Medical School in Lisbon, Portugal. “We believe it is important to know the impact of moderate consumption of this drink.”
Giving new meaning to “Beer Gut”
For the study, 22 healthy men between the ages of 23 and 58 were randomly divided into two groups. One group drank 11 ounces of non-alcoholic lager every day for 4 weeks, while the other drank lager with 5.2% alcohol (comparable to a Budweiser).
At the end of the 4 weeks, analyzes of blood and fecal samples revealed an increase in more than 20 types of helpful bacteria in the digestive tracts of men in both groups. Neither group saw significant changes in body weight, body fat, blood sugar or LDL cholesterol, the researchers report.
Beer is rich in healthy compounds called polyphenols, which reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the gut. This creates a good place for beneficial bacteria to grow, Faria says.
Fermented foods have also been shown to boost gut microbiome diversity, she notes, meaning microorganisms from beer fermentation may also contribute.
Is beer a healthy food now?
These results agree with — and contradict — previous research exploring the impact of beer on the gut microbiome. A studyin the review Alcohol in 2020, found that men and women aged 21 to 53 who drank 12 ounces of non-alcoholic beer daily for 30 days saw an increase in gut microbiome diversity. But a separate group who drank beer with 4.9% alcohol did not see the same improvement.
Why are the results different between the two studies? This could be due to differences between the people studied, says Khemlal Nirmalkar, PhD, author of the 2020 study and microbiologist at Arizona State University.
While the 2020 study included both men and women in Mexico, the 2022 study only involved “healthy men” in Portugal. Gut microbiome changes may be influenced by gender and body mass index, other research found. And the fact that the people in the study lived in different communities may also have had an impact, the Portuguese researchers noted in a press release.
But non-alcoholic beer appears to boost microbial diversity in people in both studies across the board, Nirmalkar notes. For now, that means non-alcoholic beer is probably the best bet for gut health, though more research is needed.
“There definitely should be more studies in this area with different beers and different alcohol strengths,” says Nirmalkar.