The Beer Debate: How Much Is Good For The Body, Health


• As Brewers Canvass For Customers

EVERY television advert for alcoholic drinks, of which beer contains as much as four percent, carries a proviso: ‘Not for sale to persons under 18; drink responsibly.’ It draws a connotation that the product should be taken with a good measure of caution. 

  So, recently, when Nigerian Breweries Plc, foremost brewers, brought the public to attend its inaugural talk shop on ‘1st Nigerian Beer and Health Symposium’ held in Lagos, not a few was curious.

  The ‘why’ of the programme was explained by Managing Director; and Chief Executive Officer, of the brewing company, Mr. Nicolaas Vervelde, when he said, 

    “The reason is quite simple. Firstly, Nigerian Breweries has a huge stake in the industry as market leaders.  Through the increase of shareholder value, generation of employment, creation of business opportunities, attracting foreign direct investments, sustained CSR investments, generation of revenue for government at all levels as well as other linkage effects, Nigerian Breweries has been making enormous contributions to economic development. Nigerian Breweries has remained one of the main drivers of manufacturing growth in the country.” 

  Chief resource person and leading human nutritionist, Prof. Tola Atinmo of the University of Ibadan, in a veiled concern wondered what the public thought expert like him would offer health watchers literally from ‘filled beer glasses’ during his lecture. 

  He played into the hands of his ‘worry,’ when he said it might sound odd to mention beer as one of the healthy drinks. Weighing these odds, Atinmo cautiously approached his subject from the scientific result of the analysis of the nutritional components of beer.

  He used the lecture to consider the impact beer has on health, especially these days when most people are conscious of, and concerned about the state of their wellbeing. “Ultimately, it is to provide evidence based information on the health potentials of beer.”

   Atinmo, said: “according to new medical research findings researchers in Finland found that drinking one beer per day can reduce the risk of developing kidney stones by 40 per cent just as other studies in Spain have shown that beer can actually help rehydrate your body faster than water.” 

    Though there is a popular belief that red wine is the only health alcoholic drink, experts claim beer is as beneficial to the heart as wine that both drinks can lower bad cholesterol and keep clots from happening. It was further disclosed that beer, also share properties which help prevent diabetes,” he said. 

  Another expert and acting head of Department of Food Science and Technology, College of Food Science, Bells University of Technology, Ota, Ogun State, Dr. Olu Malomo, described beer as the beverage brand obtained by yeast fermentation of malted cereal grains, to which hops and water have been added. The family of beverages generally referred as beer has been brewed for centuries. He said that beer has a lot of natural ingredients and nutritional properties that are beneficial to human.

  Malomo said: “Beer requires these ingredients for brewing, properly prepared cereal grain usually barely, sorghum, maize or rice, hops, good water and brewer’s yeast. Each ingredient can affect flavour, colour, alcohol content, and other subtle changes in the beer.

  According to him, “Recent research findings by nutritionists have identified beer as a rich source of vitamins, fibre, minerals and antioxidants and has relatively low calorific value compared with many other alcoholic beverages.” 

  A report commissioned by the beer academy found that when drunk in moderation, beer is one of the healthiest alcoholic drinks available. It also explores the psychological and sociability benefits of people enjoying a pint in their local pub as a place where people go to enjoy company and find out local news and information. 

  “A healthy lifestyle is achieved through healthy eating and drinking; adequate rest and stress management, physical and spiritual exercise, abstinence from smoking and hygiene and sanitation. Indeed, a healthy lifestyle is by choice and not by chance,” Malomo stated.

  He argued that beer drinking can make a positive contribution to a healthy diet because of wholesome raw materials used in the brewing. 

“These natural raw materials are cereals, hops, yeast and water. There are soluble fibres derivable from the cell walls of barley, which are good for human health. All these natural materials contain antioxidants, vitamins especially of the B variation, silicon and fibre. Beer generally on the average is 93 per cent of water. As a result beer is a thirst quencher of the first order with low alcohol,” he said.

  Though not an expert, a beer consumption enthusiast, Prof. Bankole Omotosho, of Department of Drama, University of Stellenbosch, Cape Town, South Africa, said there is medical evidence that alcohol consumption has a blood thinning effect and this leads to the reduction of the tendency of blood to form clots. 

  Omotosho said: “As we know, blood clots prevent the flow of blood to the heart and brain thus causing massive heart attacks. It is also true that moderate alcohol consumption reduces the inflammation of the inner linings of the nerves as well as a lower level of insulin resistance. Any alcohol, whether sourced from beer or wine or any other beverage, protects the heart.”

  As to the quantities required by drinkers to accomplish these health-enhancing milestones, he could not dare prescribe, but rather anchored on the safe shore of moderation. Though he advised, ‘the consumption of beer with a meal is considered a better way rather than drinking on an empty stomach.’ 

  The beneficial nutrient content of the various raw materials used in beer brewing is not in doubt. However, studies have shown that most of these ingredients lose their native form in the process of application of heat, adjuncts, cellar storage and filtration. 

  There is loss or modification of nutrients at process throughput, and the debate on how nutritious a glass of beer is remain a continuous one. Clearly, those who stay away on moral persuasion cast long look at the lure of opposing arguments. 

…Of Lure To Drinking, Consequences

AN Ageing Research and Development expert and professor at Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos, Princewill Alozie says it is unethical to encourage people to drink beer or take other alcoholic drinks because it is not exactly healthy. 

  Alozie noted that in beer, there is alcohol content of about 3-5 per cent or more and people have to be very careful taking alcohol; it is a problem just as we have problem of tobacco and its advertisement and just like beer also in the country. He pointed that addiction to beer and tobacco sometimes just started as a little social thing until it is out of control. 

“It is not good in terms of health just as it is argued that a little alcoholic intake is good to the body; there is a relation to heart problem and that means people could be sent early to the grave. It is serious offence to lure people to drink more alcohol to increase sales and we have to defend the lives of our citizens,” he said.

   The ageing research expert said alcohol could endanger the kidney, liver and eliminates some micronutrients in the body thereby exposing people to danger of having cancer in different parts of the body. He said the continuous advertisement of beer in the media would push even young persons to take to these dangerous alcoholic beverages that come in different names.

  He advanced that alcohol could have negative psychological effect and behaviuor pattern that is anti-social on people especially the young ones, adding that in the work place, it could affect people’s performance.

  In some African countries like Cameroun among others, beer drinking is very normal but the issue is, ‘what is level of consciousness and sobriety in those countries? he queried.

  President, Ophthalmological Society of Nigeria, Prof. Sebastian Nwosu, affirmed that alcohol has deleterious effect on various organs of the body, including the liver and the nervous system.  

   He said besides that intake of alcohol results in loss of inhibition and self-restraint, it also causes visual blurring; such individual may become violent and prone to mistakes and accidents, especially when handling machines.  

   “Chronic alcohol intake will damage the liver leading to cirrhosis and eventually liver cancer. It could also affect the eye, causing alcohol amblyopia and irreversible blindness. The nerves, including the brain are not spared. Adverse effects of alcohol manifest in various forms of neuropathies and psychiatric disorders. 

    “Alcohol intake during early pregnancy can affect the developing foetus leading to a constellation of congenital malformations known as fetal alcohol syndrome.”

  Despite this negativity, he however noted that alcohol has beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system and blood vessels where it may induce vasodilatation and may protect against atherosclerosis. 

   “But this little positive health benefit should not be a justification for one to drown oneself in alcohol.”

   For him, there is no hard and fast rule as to the minimum or maximum quantity of alcohol to be taken.  

   “Generally, these chemicals should be taken sparingly and intake individualised,” Nwosu advised.

    President, Association of Resident Doctors Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) Dr. Moronkola Ramon observed that taking a little more than recommended has avert effect on the heart.         

   He said that two bottles in a week, average of 20 alcoholic grams or some thing less than 40 units of alcohol in a week could be better. 

   “It is difficult to maintain the limit of alcoholic intake because most of those who take beer usually go beyond the limit and the effect on the body is large. 

   “Large intake of alcohol could result in heart disease and heart failure and swollen legs. Alcohol has damaging effect on the liver over a long period of time.” 

  Psychologically, he said that those addicted to alcohol, it affects their jobs and marriages. 

  “People who feel that they cannot do without alcohol they take recommended limit and also go for regular medical check up.” 

   A psychologist and senior lecturer at the University of Lagos, Mrs. Ayenibiowo Kehinde, said that children who grew up seeing their parents drinking alcohol are likely to develop the habit of alcoholic intake because children learn by observation. 

    She suggested that one addicted to alcohol should seek professional assistance.

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