Caroline Walker (UK): “Always read the professional literature on beer and health with a critical eye.”

INTERVIEWS

During he 29th international symposium of the European Brewery Convention in Dublin (17 – 22 May 2003), Caroline Walker (doctor in biochemistry, UK) held up to the light the medical literature on the effects of moderate alcohol consumption on the health.

What do you think about the influence of moderate beer consumption on the health?
Caroline Walker : “The influence of moderate beer or wine consumption on the health is often overestimated. Our health is much more influenced by way of life and lifestyle than by alcohol consumption, moderate or not. It is also especially difficult to compare the effects of beer and wine with each other. Studies show that wine drinkers often keep to other modes of living than beer drinkers. Beer drinkers usually have lower socio-economic status, they smoke more often, are more prone to obesity, do less sport and have less healthy eating habits than wine drinkers. Nor is that all, some researchers have come to the conclusion that beer drinkers are more extrovert than wine drinkers, they are thought to be verbally more aggressive and lie more, … Ascribing such differences to drinking either beer or wine is, of course, completely wide of the mark, and shows that we must be careful when interpreting medical studies.”

So medical studies are not always credible?
Caroline Walker : “Absolutely not. Some studies even border on the absurd. One research team showed, for example, that drinking beer attracts flies. They came to this odd conclusion after an experiment in which drinkers and non-drinkers had their gnat bites counted. And an explanation was thought up: drinking beer increases perspiration, and that attracts the insects. It sounds plausible, but it remains highly fanciful. A single study is nowhere near sufficient to support any such connection. Another even more ridiculous research revealed that drinking beer protects us against cosmic rays. A good definition of just what, precisely, “cosmic rays” are supposed to be was nowhere to be found in the research. And yet studies like these find their way into the specialist publications, alongside rather more serious work. You can only conclude that not everything that is published is actually true!”

But the influence of beer-drinking on cardiovascular diseases has been proven ?
Caroline Walker : “Yes, indeed. The beneficial effects of moderate alcohol consumption as regards the risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes are very convincing, because they have already been demonstrated in numerous studies. The more studies that point in the same direction, the stronger the connection. The difference between beer and wine consumption on these diseases is less clear however, because many other life factors are involved, which tends to give conflicting results. On the whole, we can now say that alcohol taken in moderation is good for the heart and arteries and reduces the risk of diabetes.”

Beer is also supposed to protect against dementia?
Caroline Walker : “The first studies do in fact point in that direction, but it’s still too early to jump for joy. More research is needed to confirm this effect. And we don’t yet really know exactly what starts up the process of dementia. Doctors know that lesions in the brain can lead to dementia, but what causes these lesions is still a mystery. If you don’t know exactly why a disease happens, it’s more difficult to know for certain which factors influence that process.”

Does beer make you fat?
Caroline Walker :“If you drink too much of it it’s bound to make you fat. We can’t deny the phenomenon of the beer belly! Although other factors such as eating habits are also involved. Then again, it’s also true that beer doesn’t make you fat as long as you drink in moderation!”

Your conclusion.
Caroline Walker : “Our health is influenced first and foremost by our way of living, with our eating habits, physical exercise and body weight as the most important influencing factors. Whether or not you drink beer in moderation makes little difference! Beer doesn’t compensate for any unhealthy eating habits, such as fatty meals. As long as you drink in moderation, you needn’t worry too much about your drinking habits. So enjoy yourself!”

Marleen Finoulst
EBC Dublin, 21 May 2003

 

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