Beer for Bones

It is good to know that beer does something for us besides the obvious.  Of course we have no comparables and it is likely other good sources of silica exist.  Yet grist products do not find their way readily into our diets.  We rarely eat cooked grains outright.

It is also not clear to me how much silica normally finds its way into our bone mass.

In the meantime, it is good to know that beer is definitely doing something positive and is quite acceptable in moderation.  Of course we knew that.  And it is a far better way to get quick calories than flavored sugar water.

Beer for Bone Strength

Hoist up a pint—a new study credits beer’s silicon content for increased bone mineral density.

By Joanna Cosgrove

Published April 22, 2010

The two most commonly used terms associated with beer consumption are probably “beer gut” and “empty calories,” but researchers at the Department of Food Science & Technology at the University of California have confirmed a third and decidedly more positive term: “bone builder.” That’s right; beer has the propensity to enhance bone mineral strength thanks to its inherent silicon content.

Previously published research has documented silicon’s ability to improve human bone mineral density, as well as its ability to support increased bone mineral density in women with osteoporosis.

In this most recent study from the University of California, which was published in the Journal of Science of Food Agriculture (J Sci Food Agric 2010; 90: 784–788), researchers studied the impact of raw materials and the brewing process on the quantities of silicon that enter wort and beer, subsequently testing 100 commercial beers to determine their silicon content then categorizing the data according to beer style and source. The study evolved out of previous research, including work from U.K.-based Dr. Jonathan Powell, who indicated a possible relationship between moderate consumption of beer and bone health, though little was known about how silicon contents varied from beer to beer, depending on the malting process.

While the average person's daily silicon intake ranges between 20 and 50 mgs, the researchers found the beers’ silicon content to range between 6.4 milligrams per liter and 56.5 mg per liter.

“The main source of silicon is the malted barley, as silicon is present in its outer layers (husk),” explained Charles Bamforth, an Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Malting and Brewing Sciences at the University of California’s Department of Food Science & Technology, which is dedicated to the study of beer, including its composition and its potential impact on health. “Hops are also a very rich source of silicon, although in beer the proportion of hops added is relatively low compared to the amount of malt.”

In the published study, researchers concluded that products derived from a barley grist tended to contain more silicon than did those from a wheat-based grist, “likely because of the high levels of silica in the retained husk layer of barley.”

Hops, they said, contained substantially more silicon than did grain, but quantitatively made a much smaller contribution than malt to the production of beer.

The researchers also noted that it was possible to influence the silicon levels during the brewhouse production phase. “During brewing the vast majority of the silicon remains with the spent grains; however, aggressive treatment during wort production in the brewhouse leads to increased extraction of silicon into wort and much of this survives into beer,” they wrote.

Just as beer varietals have different taste profiles and attributes, they also have varied silicon levels. Pale ales were found to contain the richest amounts of silicon, while non-alcoholic, light lagers and wheat beers contained the least due to the lessened presence of barley husk. “The ones with the highest levels of silicon are those containing high proportions of pale malts and also the very highly hopped beers,” said Mr. Bamforth. “One category of beer with high levels then is India Pale Ale.”

Though  Mr. Bamforth and his colleagues did not analyze the bone mineral densities of beer-sipping test subjects, he said the result of their work is positive and opens the door to additional research “[The research results] confirm my understanding that beer is absolutely NOT empty calories,” he affirmed. “Our research program focuses on the beer itself and on the brewing process. This is where we will continue our effort—on silicon levels and much more besides.”

Of course, the positive effects of beer consumption should be part of a wise and well-balanced lifestyle and diet. Mr. Bamforth offered some advice for beer drinkers who might consider this positive research to be a green light for overindulgence in the name of building bone strength. “If you like and drink beer, then consume in moderation the beer that you enjoy,” he said. “Just be glad that through the alcohol (countering atherosclerosis) it may be doing you some good and that there will definitely be present in that beer some silicon, along with some B vitamins, antioxidants and other useful nutrients.”

Cheers, indeed!

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