- A recent study found daily consumption of beer, either non-alcoholic or alcoholic, for four weeks led to a change in gut bacteria in 19 healthy men, showing an increased diversity in their gut microbes. However, the health benefits of these changes are not yet clear.
- Gut microbiome, an array of bacteria and other microscopic organisms in the human gut, is crucial for normal body functions. Diet plays a significant role in shaping the gut microbiome, where previous studies suggested the Mediterranean-style diets could enhance gut microbe diversity.
- In real-world scenarios, the overall quality of diet, rather than the consumption of a daily beer, has a greater impact on health according to nutrition professor Lauri Wright. She advises against highly processed food and recommends nutrient-rich whole foods.
- While the research indicated that beer could improve gut microbial diversity, Dr. Emeran Mayer considered the findings “not very convincing”. He stated that a diet abundant in various plant-based foods and naturally fermented products is the best way to increase gut microbial diversity.
In a recent clinical study, it was found that a daily consumption of a bottle of beer, whether alcoholic or non-alcoholic, after four weeks resulted in a change in gut bacteria in 19 healthy men. Such change was evident in the uptick of diversity in their gut microbes due to the beer intake.
The Significance of Gut Bacteria Diversity
Generally, the more diverse the gut bacteria, the better. But one must be mindful that the ultimate impact of these changes as brought about in this brief clinical trial is not yet clear in terms of actual health benefits.
“There is still so much to learn about the healthy balance of gut bacteria,” commented Lauri Wright, a professor of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. Although Wright did not participate in the study, she acknowledged the value of research striving to understand the effects of food on the human body.
General Diet Quality vs. Daily Beer
Wright highlighted that what counts more in real world scenarios is the overall quality of diet. She suggests limiting highly processed food and opting for nutrient-rich whole foods including fruits and vegetables, rather than a daily beer.
The study, which is among the most recent ones to look into the widely discussed theme of gut microbiome, appeared in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
The Importance of Gut Microbiome
Gut microbiome is a term indicating the extensive collection of bacteria and other microscopic organisms that naturally flourish in the human gut. Recent research has unveiled how crucial these microbes are to the normal functioning of the body, affecting metabolism, immune system, and even brain functions.
Diet, amongst others, is a significant influencer of the gut microbiome makeup. Results of previous studies suggest that gut microbe diversity may be enhanced by diets abounding with vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and fish — similar to the well-known Mediterranean diet —, and by fermented foods like yogurt and kimchi.
Exploring the effects of Beer on Gut Microbiome
In a new trial, Portuguese researchers conducted a study on beer, a fermented extract of malted barley grains, which also contains polyphenols, plant compounds that could possibly impact gut microbes. The researchers, led by Ana Faria from NOVA University Lisbon, used a set of 19 healthy moderate-drinking men. One group was assigned to drink a bottle of lager beer every night for a month, whereas the other group was given a non-alcoholic version. Both groups were instructed to maintain their usual eating and exercise routines. Their stool samples were taken before and after the four week period for gut bacteria analysis.
The findings suggest an increase in microbe diversity of the subjects, along with heightened activity in fecal alkaline phosphatase, which can be an indicator of improved intestinal function.
However, Dr. Emeran Mayer of the UCLA Brain Gut Microbiome Center in Los Angeles was skeptical and labeled the findings as “not very convincing”.
He pointed out that consumption of hops — a plant used in brewing beer that imparts aroma and bitterness —has been linked to health benefits. While it would be interesting to see whether changes in microbiome could be a mechanism, he agreed that a healthy diet wins over a bottle of beer when it comes to health benefits.
In Mayer’s words, “a diet rich in a large variety of plant-based foods and naturally fermented products is the optimal way to increase gut microbial diversity.” Therefore, attempt to manipulate your microbiome through beer consumption should not be considered as the best approach to achieving overall health benefits.
For more insights, have a look at the Harvard School of Public Health’s take on diet and the gut microbiome.