An amalgamation of malted barley, hops, yeast and water, beer is an earthy elixir born of the harvest. Before beer bellies and Bud Light stripped the brew of its dignity, the ancients knew of its value and natural healing powers. In Babylonia — widely considered the birthplace of beer — kings offered it to the gods at festivals while women used it to refresh their skin. In ancient Greece, Hippocrates used beer as a tonic for fever and to heal wounds.
A Glass a Day
Beer was pushed aside as a remedy in the wake of alcohol abuse and modern pharmacology. Of course, consuming excessive amounts of any alcoholic beverage can damage the liver, not to mention ruin your life if you abuse it. But drinking in moderation can boost health in a variety of surprising ways. Research now suggests that beer is equally as effective as red wine in increasing the elasticity of arteries and thereby reducing the risk of high blood pressure, strokes and cardiovascular disease. It has also been shown to defend against gall and kidney stones as well as stomach ulcers.
Hops that Heal
Hops — the bitter, leafy buds used to balance the malt’s sweetness — are powerful agents of healing. The antioxidants in hops, similar to those found in red wine, have the potential to protect against cancer by soaking up damaging free radicals. German scientists have even brewed a beer high in hops’ antioxidant xanthohumol, shown to stem the growth of tumor cells. Hops also contain active compounds thought to guard against osteoporosis.
Beer’s plentiful B vitamins and brewer’s yeast are salves for the skin due to their nourishing, cleansing and drying properties. Cleopatra was known to have soaked in a beer bath; today, at a variety of spas in Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic, local lager is poured into tubs for guests to enjoy the rich and relaxing suds and included in “brewski” facials that leave the skin smooth and supple.
Bottom Line on Beer
There’s no doubt you need to be watchful of the calories in beer, but the brew itself has no fat or cholesterol, is low in sugar and sodium and a source of soluble fiber. So go ahead and pop open a frosty bottle to enjoy with your next meal, pour the tawny ale into your favorite marinades and toast the harvest with confidence.