I have written extensively in the past in a number of different venues about the health benefits associated with moderate wine consumption.* I am often asked if there is something unique to wine, particularly red wine or does it apply to any type of alcohol. Studies have shown that there is a protective cardiovascular and overall health benefit associated with any type of moderate alcohol consumption. Although the health benefits associated with wine are often attributed to antioxidants in general; or specific compounds like resveratrol or quercetin, is interesting to note that in general studies looking for health benefits with the consumption of these compounds in isolation are disappointing. So the question becomes is the secret in another compound, a combination of compounds, the alcohol or is the magic in the elixir?
A recent study from Greece examined this question with respect to beer. The study examined four scientifically quantifiable parameters that are known predictors of future risk for cardiovascular disease. One of the variables that they examined was something known as endothelial function. Proper endothelial function is necessary for blood vessels to be able to properly relax and dilate as well as contract in the appropriate circumstances. It is a very important function within the cardiovascular system, and very sensitive as well. It is one of the earliest markers of potential future atherosclerosis, or blockage formation. For example, there is a measurable decrease in endothelial function immediately following cigarette smoking; long before there are any signs of arterial blockages or events like heart attacks.
The study group consisted of 17 non-smoking males in their 20s. They were studied after drinking beer, alcohol free beer and vodka. Two of the four variables were improved after quaffing all three beverages. This suggests that some of the benefit was related to compounds other than the alcohol. A third variable was also positively influenced by all 3 drinks. However, the magnitude of the benefit was almost three times greater for beer and vodka. This suggests an additional potentially synergistic effect related to the presence of alcohol in the beverage. In an interesting twist, endothelial function was only improved after the consumption of beer, in its natural intoxicating form. Beer provided about a 33% improvement in endothelial function. While the study group was small, the findings were statistically significant. This study opens the door for further research into the intriguing possible additive or synergistic effects of alcohol and other compounds found within alcohol beverages. In the interim, the reduction of cardiovascular risk seen with moderate beer consumption makes beer, as every college student knows, like … bloody great.
*See below for a small sampling of relevant articles
 (Karatzi, et al., 2013)
Karatzi, K., Rontovanni, V. G., Protogerou, A. D., Georgoulia, A., Xenos, K., Chyrsou, J., et al. (2013). Acute Effects of Beer on Endothelial Function and Hemodynamics: a Single Blind, Crossover Study in Healthy Volunteers. nutritionjrnl , http://www.nutritionjrnl.com/article/S0899-9007(13)00108-1/abstrac.