A Brew for the Brain? 5 Ways Beer Benefits Mental Health

(WellnessNova.com) - If you like to drink beer, your taste buds may not be the only thing benefitting from sipping a pint.

Studies have shown that beer has many positive effects on the body, ranging from improved heart health to better kidney function. But where beer reigns most may be its ability to keep you mentally sharp and sound.

In fact, your brain health can actually improve when you drink a brew. Hard to believe? Check out these five ways beer protects and strengthens mental well-being—and make a toast to brain power.

1. Beer Reduces the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

If memory loss runs in the family, you might turn to beer for protection.

According to a study published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, drinking beer can help stave off Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers studied 125 brains of deceased men of different ages and asked relatives questions about their alcohol consumption.

The results? Beer drinkers had a reduced risk of beta-amyloid aggregation in the brain, a marker of Alzheimer’s disease. Even more interesting, neither the amount of alcohol drunk nor spirit and wine consumption was linked to beta-amyloid aggregation. Other studies have cautioned against overconsumption of any alcohol, citing serious health risks, including dementia.

2. Beer Fends Off Other Degenerative Brain Conditions

Beer’s powerful antioxidant xanthohumol, found in hops, is a flavonoid similar to those present in dark chocolate and blueberries. Xanthohumol packs a punch when it comes to protecting the brain from degeneration.

A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reports that xanthohumol protected neuronal cells from oxidative damage in mice and could be useful in the prevention of Parkinson’s and other degenerative conditions in humans.

Another study by Oregon State University showed that xanthohumol administered in mice went beyond protecting the brain to boosting brain function. After receiving large doses of the compound, young mice showed intellectual improvement in navigating their way through a specifically-designed maze.

But don’t think drinking a few beers will make you smarter. Researchers are quick to caution that it would take excessive amounts of the beverage to reap the same intellectual benefits in humans, something that’s not advised. Still, if you like hops-heavy beer, more power to you and possibly your brain.

3. Beer Increases Creativity

Although the alcohol in beer can diminish your ability to focus, there is a positive side effect for the brain — increased creativity.

A study by the University of Illinois at Chicago found that men who were tipsy but not drunk showed better cognitive creativity when solving word-association puzzles than sober men.

Lead researcher of the study, Jennifer Wiley, explained that alcohol in moderation improves creative problem solving by reducing the mind’s working memory capacity, or the ability to concentrate without allowing distractions to interfere. Being too focused hinders a flexible attention span, which can spark novel ideas and creative solutions.

So while working memory may be beneficial for analytical tasks, when it comes to thinking outside the box, drinking a beer could be just the ticket.

4. Beer Improves Mood

Want to feel happier? Beer can help, thanks to its high concentration of vitamin B6. Also known as pyridoxine, vitamin B6 helps the body produce mood-stabilizing serotonin.

Serotonin promotes sleep, plus it wards off depression and mood swings. Studies have shown that beer drinkers were found to have much higher levels of vitamin B6 in their blood than teetotalers. But, there is a catch.

Since alcohol has a way of destroying vitamin B-complex nutrients, you need to stick to beer that hasn’t filtered out the vitamin B. Beer produced in small quantities, like many craft and home brews, fit the bill, plus they make retention of other beer nutrients — phosphorus, magnesium, selenium, protein, niacin, riboflavin, and iron — more likely.

5. Beer Reduces Stress

Most imbibers would agree, beer has a calming effect. It can be the perfect antidote to a hectic day at the office. Beer dilates the blood vessels and allows more blood flow to the brain, resulting in reduced stress and a state of relaxation.

In fact, studies have even shown that people who drink beer and other alcoholic beverages tend to live longer than those who abstain. In a recent report, scientists at the IRCCS Mediterranean Neurological Institute conclude that drinking a pint of beer a day can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease, a known stress-related illness.

For the over-stressed and anxiety-ridden, however, beer drinking can make the condition worse. Despite an initial numbing effect, alcohol alters the chemical balance in the brain, triggering more anxiety. Worse, people who use alcohol to relieve anxiety may be more likely to become alcohol-dependent or drink in excess — which can lead to a number of additional mental health conditions, like depression, learning disorders, and behavioral problems. Binge drinking is especially dangerous and counterproductive to mental health. There are life-threatening risks associated with it, including coma and suicide.

Bottom line? Use care and caution when drinking any alcohol, and follow these tips for safe, healthy beer consumption:

  • Drink in moderation. According to the 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate drinking means no more than one 12-ounce beer with 5 percent alcohol per day for women and up to two 12-ounce beers per day for men.
  • Go for hoppy beers. The more hops, the more antioxidants. IPA (India Pale Ale) beer has plenty of hops to keep you healthy. Bear in mind, though, hoppy beers tend to have more alcohol (5.5 – 7.5 percent on average) and calories, so a small glass may be all you need.
  • Make freshness matter. While beer straight from the tap may be the freshest beer available, canned and bottled beer stay fresh as long as they’re packaged and stored properly. Keep beer cold, even if you don’t plan to drink it right away; refrigeration helps preserve freshness.
  • Be wary of “light” beer. Not all “light” beers are low-calorie and low in carbs. Likewise, some craft beers are lower in calories and carbs than you might expect. Read labels and select your beer carefully.
  • Choose craft beer and microbrews. They’re usually void of chemical preservatives and other harmful ingredients found in many commercial bottled beer. And the flavor can’t be beat.
  • Chase with water. To avoid dehydration and ward off the woozy effects of alcohol, drink a tall glass of aqua after finishing a beer. Alcohol strips the body of water, so you need to replenish what you lost. Drinking water can also help alleviate headaches associated with beer drinking.
  • Cook with beer. You don’t have to drink beer to get the health benefits. Beer makes a great flavor enhancer for food. Add beer to soups, stews, meats, fish, and even desserts for a rich, earthy zest.

Beer lovers can enjoy a fresh brew even more, knowing the good it’s doing to their mental health. Drink safely and responsibly, and say cheers to beer — and your brain.

Written by Susie Yakowicz
I am a freelance writer living in Minnesota. I specialize in writing articles for the web on topics ranging from health and wellness to writing to dogs. Please visit my blog at susieyakowicz.com/blog for more information about me and my work. See more articles by this author
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