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We now know that the intestinal microbiota plays a major role in health. Also, any approach likely to reinforce this bacterial population deserves our interest. Drinking a lager every day leads to a greater diversity of gut microbes, reducing your risk of certain diseases, a new study suggests. Whether the beer is alcoholic or not, it provides the same benefits.
Our intestinal microbiota is made up of billions of bacteria, viruses, parasites and other fungi. These microorganisms not only play a role in digestive and metabolic functions, but are also involved in the functioning of the immune and neurological systems. This is why an alteration of the microbiota (what is called “intestinal dysbiosis”) is sometimes the cause of certain inflammatory or autoimmune diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
The microbiota, as a potential therapeutic target, is therefore today the subject of much research. The objective is to help patients regain a balanced and functional microbiota. Previous research has shown that when men and women consumed non-alcoholic lager for 30 days, the diversity of their gut microorganisms increased. Based on this observation, a team from the New University of Lisbon wanted to examine the effects of beer consumption on the microbiota.
A much more diverse microbial population
Their study is based on a sample of 22 healthy men, whom the researchers asked to drink 33 cl of lager daily, during dinner, for four weeks. Some drank alcoholic beer (5.2% alcohol), others non-alcoholic beer. Blood and fecal samples were collected before and after the experiment. The intestinal microbiota was then analyzed by sequencing the 16S ribosomal RNA gene (which constitutes the small subunit of prokaryotic ribosomes).
The team reports that this moderate beer consumption did not lead to any increase in body weight, or body fat, among the participants. Additionally, it did not significantly alter serum markers for heart health and metabolism. On the other hand, it appears that the daily consumption of beer increased the diversity of the intestinal microbiota, regardless of the alcohol content.
However, studies have shown that when several types of bacteria populate the gastrointestinal tract, individuals are less likely to develop chronic diseases, such as heart disease or diabetes. The data also showed that drinking beer led to an increase in fecal alkaline phosphatase activity — a marker of gut barrier function.
Independent of alcohol, these effects could be induced by the chemical compounds present in beer. This drink, made from barley malt and hops, contains fibers, polyphenols (tannins) – renowned for their antioxidant properties – and yeast, used for alcoholic fermentation.
A benefit-risk balance that remains to be explored
Scientists are increasingly interested in the potential health effects of low to moderate consumption of alcohol and, in particular, beer. This has often been associated with a protective effect against cardiovascular disease and a reduced risk of mortality (compared to abstinent people) – beneficial effects confirmed by a meta-analysis reviewing recent scientific evidence.
Beer is primarily made up of water, but it is also rich in nutrients (carbohydrates, amino acids, minerals, vitamins and polyphenols), resulting from a multi-step brewing and fermentation process. Hop flowers, used as a bittering and flavoring agent, contain phenolic compounds, which have different antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, estrogenic and antiviral biological activities. However, it is particularly difficult to determine the precise amount of beer needed to achieve these benefits without also increasing the risks associated with alcohol consumption.
This new study thus suggests that a moderate consumption of beer can have beneficial effects on the intestinal microbiota. But the team points out that these effects are independent of alcohol — non-alcoholic beer causing the same results. Therefore, scientists point out that it is better to opt for the alcohol-free version if you want to take care of your microbiota. ” We hope people will realize that moderate beer consumption as part of a balanced diet can be used as a strategy to improve their microbiota. In particular through the responsible choice of non-alcoholic beer “, said to ReverseAna Faria, corresponding author of the study.
Alcohol consumption is generally associated with many health risks (hepatitis, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc.). Several research works, including a recent large-scale genetic study, have even established a direct causal link between alcohol and several types of cancer. Some scientists remain skeptical about the results obtained by Faria and his colleagues and consider it necessary to carry out this study on a much larger sample, including hundreds or thousands of individuals.