Beer, I’m too sick to drink you

Drinking beer with an absence of any sense of taste or smell is not as fun as one might imagine so in lieu of a beer review I got to thinking about the medicinal properties of beer.  If I can’t drink beer for the taste (temporarily I hope) than perhaps I should drink up simply because it is good for me.

The historical roots of beer and brewing are areas I find extremely interesting. Why did ancient civilizations consume beer?  What purpose did it serve?  How was it made?

The link between beer and medicine appears to be as ancient as ale itself. According to an article in the Bay Area News Anthropologists have found that thousands of years before the  discovery of penicillin, people in ancient Nubia were using beer as an antibiotic to treat everything from gum disease to infected wounds.  The importance of consuming beer for the caloric intake was well known and the importance of brewers in these ancient civilizations was clearly documented however, scientists began to suspect that Nubian beer may have been brewed to contain more than just alcohol. In 1980, George Armelagos, an anthropology professor at Emory University in Atlanta, led a team that discovered what seemed to be the antibiotic tetracycline in nearly 2000 year-old Nubian bones. Tetracycline is naturally produced by a soil bacterium called streptomyces, and scientists theorized that streptomyces might have thrived in vats of Nubian beer. Recently, a more extended analysis revealed consistently high concentrations of tetracycline in Nubian bones and these findings suggest Nubians were regularly consuming this antibiotic beer.

Flashing forward to modern times the medicinal qualities of beer have become well-studied.  Some of the beneficial aspects of beer include the link between alcohol consumption and a lower risk of coronary heart disease. Alcohol increases beneficial cholesterol, thins the blood and decreases platelet adhesion making the blood less sticky.

Beers have a high content of polyphenols which have been shown to have useful antioxidant properties.

Beer is a major dietary source of silicon, which promote bone fracture healing.

Hops -an essential and unique ingredient of beer- act as a natural antibiotic, contain sedative compounds with stress combating and sleep inducing properties, contain flavonoids with potent antioxidant activity, contain estrogenic compounds counteracting complaints related to the menopause and contain bitter compounds which stimulate the digestive tract.

In terms of vitamins, one litre of beer supplies the body with the following percentage of its daily requirement: B6 17%, Niacin 13%, B2 (riboflavin) 17%, Biotin 17%, Panthothenic acid 8% and Folate 10-45%.

Finally, as we become well-seasoned (aged) ale-o-philes we may be less prone to developing dementia, ulcers and maturity-onset diabetes.


Not to dismiss the social benefits, there is also an obvious therapeutic aspect to the consumption of beer with friends and emotional health and well-being. While I did not find any direct connections between helping me get over the flu and drinking beer I may have do an informal study.


*Thanks to aim-digest for the informative article ‘Good News for Beer Drinkers’ by Dr. Erik Skovenborg, the Bay Area News Group for the article ‘Medicinal beer? New study shows maybe the ancient Nubians were onto something’ by Catherine Meyers


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