A risk for the unborn child

DOSSIERS
Alcohol, pregnancy and breast feeding  A risk for the unborn child
How much can you drink during pregnancy?
Alcohol and breast feeding

During pregnancy alcohol has the same effect on health as with non-pregnant women, but for the unborn child alcohol is indeed a risk. For these reasons it is best to avoid alcoholic drinks as much as possible during pregnancy.

When an expectant mother drinks alcohol, it is absorbed in the blood and goes straight to the unborn child via the placenta. When a pregnant woman is under the influence, so is her child.

With pregnant women who drink regularly, the baby is often smaller at birth. Whether this effect can be fully attributed to alcohol consumption is not clear, because women who drink alcohol regularly often smoke too. Smoking during pregnancy in itself leads to a lower birth weight.

Older pregnant women and pregnant women with a higher level of education seem to regularly drink alcohol during pregnancy. Smoking, on the other hand, occurs more often in younger pregnant women and women with a lower education level. Research shows that for women who smoke a lot during pregnancy and who drink more than 12 glasses of alcohol per week, the birth weight of the child is 7% less on average than with women who smoke a lot but do not drink (1).
A clear relationship was also found between high alcohol consumption during pregnancy and the behaviour of the child at 5-6 years of age. Children whose mothers had drunk more than one glass a day were 12 times more likely to exhibit hyperactive behaviour than children whose mothers had not drunk during pregnancy. By the age of 15, this link between alcohol consumption during pregnancy and behaviour could no longer be demonstrated, however (1).

References

 

Alcohol and medicines. Which medicines ?

DOSSIERS
Alcohol and medicines  Introduction
Which medicines ?
A summary article from TEST GEZONDHEID … Summary article from TEST GEZONDHEID

Medicines and alcohol are not good friends. Or so we tend to think. But can you drink not alcohol at all if you are on medication? The answer to the question comes in very subtle nuances, as may be seen from a summary article from TEST GEZONDHEID. In principle, we must follow the advice of the leaflet. Sometimes, though, it’s a tad exaggerated. We run through some medicinal products and offer the relevant advice.

Aspirin (aspro, Aspirine Bayer, Sedergine,…) and the NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: anti-inflammatories). These drugs are sometimes bad for the stomach, just like alcohol. Easy does it then. However, according to the American FDA (Food and Drug Administration), there is no problem with moderate drinking when you take aspirin and NSAIDs. Preferably not more than 3 glasses of alcohol per day, and as your doctor may advise you.

Paracetamol (Perdolan, Paradol, Witte Kruis Mono,, Paracetamol EG, Sanicopyrine, Dolol Instant, Lemgrip, Dolprone, Algostase Mono, Paraphar,…) is an analgesic or painkiller. Anyone not suffering with their liver may quite happily take the occasional drop of alcohol with their normal daily dose of paracetamol. Moderate drinking does no harm.

Antihistamines (Phenergan, Benylin, Theralene, Polaramine, Nuicalm, Nustasium, …) are used to combat the symptoms of allergies, as sedatives or as drugs to alleviate travel sickness. These products have the side effect of inducing drowsiness. Alcohol increases the drowsiness, and senior citizens are more at risk of falling over. Such is not the case for more recent antihistamines (Loratadine, fexofenadine, cetirizine, ebastine, mizolastine, …), so no special precautions are in fact necessary when taking alcohol.

Cough medicines (Bronchosedal Codeine, Actifed New, Vicks Vaposyrup, Nosca Mereprine, …). These medicines contain constituents that can induce drowsiness, at least on overdose. It is therefore not advisable to drink if you have to drive. But a little beer at home won’t do any harm.

Antidepressants (Redomex, Tofranil, Anafranil, Nortrilen, …). Certain antidepressants can induce drowsiness. The effect is intensified by alcohol. This mainly applies for tricyclic antidepressants. The SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), e.g., citalopram, fluoxetine, paroxetine, setraline, … should not have this soporific effect. Moderate enjoyment of alcohol is not necessarily ruled out for all cases.

Nitroglycerine and Propranolol (Nitrolingual, Nysconitrine, Willong, Cedocard, Trinipatch, Isordil, Promocard, Inderal, …), used in the treatment of heart conditions. Side effects may include a sudden drop in blood pressure. The risk increases when you drink alcohol. Ditto for propranolol. So best not to drink if you are taking these particular products.

Statins(Zocor, Lipitor, Pravasine, Lescol, Prareduct, Simvastatine Bexal,…), used to reduce the cholesterol level. These drugs are known to produce muscular problems. If so, consult your doctor. Large amounts of alcohol increase the risk. So, don’t overdo it.

Warfarin and Co (Marevan, Sintrom, Marcoumar, …)are anticoagulants. Alcohol can intensify their effect, with an increased risk of bleeding. Heavy drinking is risky. One or two glasses a day is a safe limit.

MAO inhibitors (Aurorix (moclobemide), Merck Moclobemide, Nardelzine(fenelzine), …) are anti-depressants. Only the non-selective MAO inhibitors (e.g., fenelzine) require great caution with beer. Not because of the alcohol, but more because of the presence of tyramine. There are no reliable lists of the tyramine content in beer.

Metronidazol(Flagyl, Tiberal, Fasigyn, Nagoxin,…) are used for infections, and are thought to trigger antabuse reactions in combination with alcohol, with nausea, palpitations, hot flushes, etc. However, no studies confirm the suspicion, so the antabuse effect of Metronidazol and its derivates would appear still to hover between shadow and substance.

Antibiotics. Whatever people say, drinking a single alcoholic beverage will not cancel out the effect of antibiotics, and no interactions are to be expected. Except perhaps with seldom-prescribed cephalosporins, which are thought to have an antabuse effect.

Medicines to treat diabetes (Glucophage, Metformax, Daonil, Gilbeneze, …). Using the medicine Metformine involves the risk of lactacidosis, a dangerous side effect. Sulphonyl urea derivates in combination with alcohol are believed to cause serious hypoglycaemia. Diabetics may still drink alcohol in moderation. But always check with your doctor first.

Drugs and medicines to treat stomach ulcers (Tagamet, Nuardin, Zantac, Panaxid, Cimephar, …). Some of these products against gastric acid and stomach ulcers are believed to increase the blood alcohol level. Only a single small study indicates that ranitidine (Zantac, Pylorid, Raniphar, Docraniti, …) induces the effect in persons who regularly drink at least 4 glasses of alcohol a day.

Drugs and medicines to treat tuberculosis (Rifadine, Nicotibine). Large amounts of alcohol will reduce the effectiveness of these products, and may even render them toxic in the liver.

Source: TEST GEZONDHEID No.56, August-September 2003

The nutritional value of beer

DOSSIERS
Beer and metabolism  The nutritional value of beer
Nutrient content

For a significant section of the Belgian population, beer constitutes a not unimportant part of their diet.

The consumption of alcohol is not evenly distributed over the entire population. Research shows that around 10 – 15% of men do not drink while another 10% are responsible for half of all alcohol consumption (BIRNH study).

Energy value

Alcohol contains 7 kilocalories per gramme. Forty grammes of alcohol (which corresponds to four 25 cl glasses of lager) contain as many calories as 70 g of sugar. As a comparison, four glasses of a soft drink (eg. coke) contain as much as 132 g of sugar, which is twice as much as four glasses of beer. Beers with a higher alcohol content contain more calories. Wines and spirits contain more calories than beer.
The calorie content of beer is determined by the quantity of fermented sugars and by the alcohol, and generally varies from 30 to 45 kcal per 100 ml. In comparison to other drinks, this is rather low.

What food components does beer contain?

• Thirst quenching beers (lagers and some special beers)

calorific value ca 110 to 120 kcal per (25 cl) glass water >90% alcohol ca 5° (ethanol) vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6 proteins and amino acids very few fats none carbohydrates ca 2% monosaccharides and disaccharides
ca 1% polysaccharides trace elements, minerals lot of potassium, very little sodium

• Connoisseur beers (most special beers)

The nutritional value of beer varies according to its alcohol content and sugar content. It is therefore impossible to give a general overview of this type of beer: the variety of their composition is too great.

 

Polls about beer consumption results

Is beer really healthy ? You replied almost straightforward ‘yes’

Yes: 87,4% No: 6,9% I don’t know: 5,6%

On our first simple poll question “Is beer really healthy?” almost 1000 persons have reacted (997 to be precise); little over half of the total amount of visitors in our first month on the net. The overwhelming majority (87,4%) of the voters is convinced of the fact that beer is healthy. A small minority (6,9%) answered resolutely “no”, whereas 5,6% of the replies mentioned “no idea”.

From all this we can conclude two things. On the one hand most of the visitors seem to be convinced of the positive health aspects of beer. On the other hand it is most likely that the majority of the visitors of our site are not only beer buffs but also interested in the health aspects of beer. It remains important to stress that beer is healthy on the condition that one drinks it in moderation! In our second poll we will sound you out about your idea concerning drinking beer moderately.

Result of the second poll (January 2002)

What does moderate drinking mean?

Maximum one beer per day: 24,4% Two to three beers per day: 48,1% Maximum four beers per day: 27,5%

Our second poll has revealed once again that the opinions concerning a precise description of moderate drinking can be very different. About half (48.14%) of the 1,500 voters defines moderate drinking as two glasses per day. A quarter (24%) puts the limit at maximum one glass per day and the others (27,50%) say that maximum four glasses per day can still be qualified as moderate drinking.

Looking at these figures the opinions of the visitors of our site correspond to a large extent with the common definitions. Also the World Health Organisation considers two to three glasses of alcohol per day (which is mostly expressed as 14 to 21 glasses per week) as the upper limit for moderate drinking. On the other hand an important group of alcohol experts and doctors puts the limit at maximum one glass per day. On many cancer-web sites this stricter standard is used. The fact that more than a quarter of our visitors think that four glasses per day should still be acceptable, most probably indicates we’re talking about a group of passionate beer lovers, that can enjoy their glasses of beer to the most. The least we can say is that four glasses per day is a generous definition for moderate drinking that is unfortunately poorly received by the alcohol experts.
As a matter of fact we can not give one single precise definition of moderate drinking, as the limit is different for every person. For some persons one glass per day is already over the limit, whereas others can drink four glasses or more without a single problem. A lot depends on the personality characteristics, physical characteristics and the person’s health.

Result third poll (February 2002)

Brown beer is good during breast feeding

Majority thinks brown beer is good when breastfeeding

Yes: 63,9% No: 15,5% I don’t know: 20,5%

Last month the visitors to this web site could vote concerning the controversial proposition that “brown beer is good when breastfeeding”. 613 persons reacted to our poll and 63.9 % of these visitors think that brown beer is good when breastfeeding. 15.5% does not agree with this idea and 20.5% does not have a clear idea about this. It is a fact however, that the consumption of brown beer (or any other beer for that matter) does not have any direct stimulating influence on the production of milk, as our grandmothers used to think. Yet there is an indirect positive effect : a moderate consumption of beer has a relaxing effect and a relaxed mother produces more milk. So there is an indirect positive effect. For obvious reasons a moderate consumption of low alcohol beer is to be preferred.

Result fourth poll (March 2002)

Is a “beer belly” the direct consequence of excessive beer consumption ?

Yes: 49,37% No: 42,62% I don’t know: 7,99%

Opinion is clearly divided on this point. Just under half (49.37%) of people who replied to our fourth poll question think that a beer belly is a direct consequence of excessive beer consumption. Slightly less than half (42.62%) are convinced that a beer belly is not a direct consequence of excessive drinking. The remaining 7.99% declined to answer.
As usual, the truth of the matter is somewhere in the middle. Beer, certainly lager or pils, does not contain all that many calories, but once you get used to downing several lagers, one after the other, the number of calories increases sharply. Heavy drinkers therefore tend to gain weight as a result of their drinking.
However, the main cause of the beer belly seems to be the savoury snacks (salted peanuts, sausages, fried potato snacks, cheese dice, etc.) that beer-drinkers are so fond of. Salted snacks contain large amounts of saturated fats and calories; they are undoubtedly the main cause of the round belly.

Result fifth poll (April 2002)

Soft drinks? We’d rather have table beer!

Yes: 65,78% No: 28,15% I don’t know: 6,05%

To our question as to whether children ought not to drink table beer rather than soft drinks, nearly three quarters of the 380 respondents answered in the affirmative. One quarter thought otherwise.
Soft drinks are not healthy. The high sugar content in these non-alcoholic beverages not only gives children weight problems, it also disturbs insulin secretion. Insulin plays an important part in the normal growth and development of various organs and fibres, including the breasts. Scientific research has shown a link between abnormal insulin levels and the risk of breast cancer (more info on the website). It is quite possible that mass consumption of soft drinks among the young is one of the causes of breast cancer in the Western World, as the seeds of breast cancer are already sown during the childhood to early adult years. Table beer contains sugars, but complex sugars, and these do not disturb insulin levels. Furthermore, the alcohol content of table beer is so slight as to leave hardly any traces in the blood. That makes table beer a healthy alternative to soft drinks.

Result sixth poll (May 2002)

Beer past its best-before date is bad for your health

Yes: 16% No: 69,2% I don’t know: 14,8%

That, in any case – if our sixth mini-survey is anything to go by – is the considered opinion of 7 out of 10 visitors to the Beer and Health website. Since the past few years, all brewers are obliged to ensure that the label on their beers state a “best-before” date, in accordance with the current food and drugs administration laws. This is not logical for beer though, because beer keeps, provided that it’s kept well (preferably, a cool, dark place). Beer past its “best-before” (or rather, “sell-by”) date has no harmful effect on the health. Well, OK, the taste may change (and wine doesn’t?) and old beer can sometimes become cloudy.

Result seventh poll (June 2002)

Drinking to drown your sorrows less healthy than drinking for simple enjoyment?

Yes: 66,7% No: 27,8% I don’t know: 5,5%

About twice as many people think that drinking is less healthy when you drink to drown your sorrows than when you enjoy a glass at an outdoor café and drink the same actual amount of alcohol. According to our seventh mini-survey, at any rate. From a scientific viewpoint, however, this reasoning does not hold water. If you drink two glasses of beer (or another alcoholic beverage), your body absorbs the same amount of alcohol regardless of whether you are drinking because of stress or for the simple pleasure of it. The way someone happens to be feeling when he or she drinks makes no difference to the liver that has to digest that alcohol. And yet voices are now raised proclaiming the opposite. Prof. Jan Snel, psychologist at the University of Amsterdam, has collected in his new book arguments that would appear to suggest that the “feel-good” factor does, in fact, make an appreciable difference in the effect of alcohol on health (more information on the subject can be found in the “Books” section at www.beerandhealth.com). So, who’s right? Scientists are not yet certain as to the exact ins and outs of the matter. We shall be keeping our finger on the pulse.

Result eigth poll (July-August 2002)

Alcohol passes through your system faster is you drink water between rounds

Yes: 44,5% No: 41,4% I don’t know: 14,1%

The elimination of alcohol is not influenced by drinking water

Approximately one thousand men and women responded to our eighth mini-survey. To the question as to whether the elimination of alcohol was accelerated when you drink water “in between”, 44% answered in the affirmative while 41% answered in the negative. The rest were undecided. The truth is that drinking water between alcohol units is recommendable, because you end up drinking that much less alcohol in any case. However, that does not mean that you will eliminate the alcohol any the faster.

Result ninth poll (September 2002)

Beer drinkers less prone to alcohol addiction ?

Yes: 36,5% No: 48,7% I don’t know: 14,7%

Our ninth mini-survey suggests that less people (37%) think that beer is a slower track towards alcohol addiction than the drinking of wine or spirits (48%). The extent to which a person becomes dependent on alcohol is not so much a matter of the type of alcohol as it is of the personality traits. Once you have the impression that your autonomy is limited on account of your alcohol consumption, you know there’s a problem. When you’re gasping for alcohol and have the feeling that you’ve lost control of your drinking habits, then you’re clearly in a danger zone. There are a number of tell-tale symptoms: carrying on drinking even when there’s nothing in particular to celebrate or any particular sorrows to drown, drinking more than anyone else in the round, drinking at times of the day when you ought to be working, not knowing what you did last night (blackouts), needing the “hair of the dog” the morning after in order to feel halfway human again, watching the clock for pubtime, drinking on the sly, hiding drink, aimlessness, alienation, becoming bitter and lonely.

Result tenth poll (October 2002)

A wee drop to keep out the cold?

Right: 32,4% Wrong: 58,8% Don’t know: 8,8%

A wee dram can taste good and give a nice, warm feeling when you’re frozen to the bone. But is alcohol really a good pick-me-up in such circumstances? We asked you the question on our website. One in three of the 726 persons who answered think that a stiff drink is a good reviver against extreme cold. The majority, nearly 60%, consider it ill-advised, and the other respondents don’t know. In this case the majority are right: drinking a shot of alcohol against the cold is not a good idea, and certainly not when you’re outdoors. After all, alcohol dilates the blood vessels, which means that you actually lose body heat faster – despite the brief sensation of a nice, warm glow.

Result eleventh poll (November 2002)

Drinking the yeasty dregs of the bottle of beer?

Right: 30,3% Wrong: 52,1% Don’t know: 17,6%

To our mini-enquiry, “Drinking the dregs of the bottle of beer causes diarrhoea” 162 readers answered in the affirmative and 279 in the negative. Under normal circumstances, and if your intestinal flora is normal, drinking a bottle of beer yeasty dregs included should not do you any harm. However, people with irritable bowel syndrome are better advised against doing so, because the yeast can have a softening effect on the stool. You won’t get real diarrhoea if you drink a beer or two to the yeasty dregs.

Result twelfth poll (December 2002)

Beer, the new trend in banquets

Yes: 74,8% No: 22,4% I don’t know: 2,8%

More and more people are coming to the realization that beer is a perfect accompaniment to a banquet. The great variety of special beers makes that perfectly possible. Ever tasted a lobster with a glass of fresh Brigand, for example? A wonderful combination! And three quarters of the visitors to our website who gave their answers to December’s poll question quite agree: beer has its rightful place on the banquet table. However, one in five still swear by wine as the ideal drink for that special dinner.

Result thirteenth poll (January-February 2003)

Do you become irritable when the alcohol leaves your blood ?

Yes: 33,4% No: 51,4% I don’t know: 15,2%

A few glasses of beer lift your spirits. But what happens when the alcohol level in the blood slowly ebbs away? Some people say that they start to feel gloomy or bad-tempered. We asked your opinion on the matter in our thirteenth mini-survey. Half of the more than one thousand respondents would not agree; however, one in three say they do experience mood-swings after an hours or two of moderate drinking. It’s very hard to generalize, because different people react in different ways. The reaction depends on genetic factors and on drinking habits in the late teens and early adulthood. Generally speaking, the reported euphoria-dysphoria swing after drinking is closely connected with the dopamine-to-serotonin levels in the brain. Alcohol is known to increase the level of serotonin, bringing increased self-confidence and the feel-good factor. The ratio will decrease once the effects of the alcohol start to wear off. This will probably trigger an opposite effect in sensitive individuals. However, there is still no hard scientific proof for this assumption.

Result fourteenth poll (March-April 2003)

Regular beer-drinkers have a higher averge body weight than total abstainers

Right: 62,9% Wrong: 28,8% I don’t know: 8,3%

Are people who drink beer in moderation fatter on average than total abstainers? Nearly two out of three respondents answered this question spontaneously in the affirmative, while one in three thinks that such is not the case or is a don’t-know. This time the majority are wrong. A representative random sampling conducted in Belgium in 1999 showed that moderate beer consumption does not contribute to extra body weight; in other words, beer-drinkers who drink in moderation will not necessarily be any fatter than teetotallers

Result fifteenth poll (May 2003)

Men like beer, women prefer wine

Right: 62,8% Wrong: 33,1% I don’t know: 4,1%

Various studies seem to indicate that women have a preference for wine while men would rather drink beer. Our mini-survey shows that the 62% of the respondents are aware of this, while 33% miskick the ball and think that wome enjoy drinking beer just as much as men do. There are undoubtedly large numbers of women beer-lovers, but most women – still – tend to prefer a glass of wine. Most beer-drinkers are men.

Result sixteenth poll (June 2003)

Does drinking beer protects against insect bites?

Right: 24,9% Wrong: 47,4% I don’t know: 27,7%

According to slightly less than half of the respondents to our mini-survey this month, drinking beer protects against mosquito bites. A quarter think that drinking beer does repel mosquitoes, gnats, etc., while nearly one in three are don’t-knows. To be honest, we have to admit that we don’t know either. According to one experiment, beer drinkers appear to attract flies and are therefore more prone to suffering from insect bites. Beer increases the transpiration and that attracts the wee beasties. However, drawing conclusions from a single experiment strikes us as premature. You can claim that there is an indication that drinking beer attracts mosquitoes, gnats and so on, but there is still no certainty.

Result seventeenth poll (July-August 2003)

The better you hold your drink, the less the risk of dependency

Right: 13,7% Wrong: 73,1% I don’t know: 13,2%

Come on! That’s nonsense. Whether you can swill at will or swoon at the whiff of the barmaid’s apron is neither here nor there when it comes to developing a dependency. Nearly three quarters of respondents in our latest mini-survey appear to have the right idea. A small minority seem still to cherish the belief that the ability to hold your drink will reduce the risk of dependency. No it won’t!

Result eightteenth poll (September 2003)

Drinking beer through a straw gets you drunk faster

Right: 62,7% Wrong: 22,2% I don’t know: 11,1%

About 60 percent of the respondents in our mini-survey gave the right answer: drinking beer through a straw gets you drunk faster. A quarter answered in the negative – and got it wrong. The vacuum created when you such through a straw reduces the boiling point of alcohol (normally 79 degrees Celsius); alcohol vapours form inside the straw. The vapours are inhaled into the lungs, and the alcohol reaches the blood much faster this way than via great gulps of beer into the stomach. Also, beer sucked through a straw reaches the mouth in thin jets, hitting a greater surface in the oral cavity. This means that more alcohol will evaporate before being swallowed. The palate, which has an ample blood supply, absorbs part of the alcohol vapours. This, too, is a quicker way to get alcohol into the blood and therefore get drunk faster.

Result nineteenth poll (October 2003)

Can moderate beer consumption give you the gout?

Right: 30,6% Wrong: 44,8% I don’t know: 24,6%

The opinions of nearly 700 respondents to our last poll question seem to be rather split: 31 per cent think that moderate beer consumption causes gout, 45 per cent disagrees, and a further 24 per cent doesn’t know either way. The majority is right: moderate beer consumption does not cause gout. Gout occurs spontaneously (as a result of excess uric acid in the blood) and can be caused by heavy drinking and obesity. A modest beer consumption of a glass or two a day is no problem.

Result twentieth poll (December 2003 / January 2004)

Keeping beer in brown bottles does not affect the quality

Right: 37,6% Wrong: 48,4% I don’t know: 14%

Of course it does. The quality of beer changes under the influence of light: too much light causes a nasty “cat’s piss” taste. Leave your beer too long in the glass and you’ll see for yourself: the taste changes – and not for the better! Most of those who answered our Dec03 poll question put the “cat” before the horse: almost half of the 1 245 respondents answered that beer keeps just fine in any old glass you care to mention. A good 38 percent know better: dark bottles stabilize the quality of the beer. Brown is good. Green is good. The main thing is that it keeps the light out. For the same good reasons that beer is best kept in a cool, dark place. Your cellar, for instance.

Result 21th poll (February 2004)

Does beer make you hungry?

Yes: 57,9% No: 32,2% I don’t know: 9,9%

The majority of the more than one thousand respondents (58 percent) to our last poll question answered in the affirmative. Approximately one in three (32 percent) took the opposite view: they are mistaken. Yes, drinking beer does indeed sharpen the appetite, and there are various explanations for this. Our body fluids contain about 0.9 percent salt. If we drink a few glasses of beer, we increase our water reserves considerably, but not the mineral salts. To restore the balance the body reacts with an increased demand for salt. According to another explanation, alcohol stimulates production of the hormone insulin, which causes a reduction of the blood sugar level. A low blood sugar level stimulates hunger. Or again. We are less in control of our eating habits when we are in our proverbial cups, so we tend to snack more.

Result 22th poll (March 2004)

We lean more to the left more than to the right

True: 35,9% Not true: 35,4% I don’t know: 28,7%

Most of us “favour” our right to our left after a heavy drinking session. This is because, for most of us, the right leg is rather stronger and more supple than the left. So, you’re stranded in the jungle or the desert. You may think that you’re soldiering on, unswervingly ahead. In fact, all you’re doing is taking a really big widdershins route, only to return at the given moment to exactly where you started out from. This dominance of “right over left-leggedness” means that, unless we steer by the landmarks or use our sound common sense to adjust course and keep to a nice straight line, we veer to the left. Bearing in mind that beer fuddles the senses, too much will send us reeling to the left.

Our latest poll reveals that one in three respondents was right. One in three say that we tend to lurch left, whereas the rest “don’t rightly know”.

Result 23th poll (April-May 2004)

A glass of beer contains as much alcohol as a glass of wine

True: 49,2% Not true: 45,6% I don’t know: 5,2%

Half of the respondents to our previous poll question say that a standard glass of beer contains less alcohol than a standard glass of wine. It ain’t necessarily so. As 45 percent of you know, it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. A 25 cl glass of 5 percent vol alcoholic strength beer contains as much alcohol as a 10 cl glass of 12 percent vol alcohol wine – and even as much as 3.5 cl of spirits of an alcoholic strength of 35 percent. Why, then, do so many of us labour under the illusion that beer contains less alcohol than wine? Because the blood alcohol level is connected to the alcohol concentration in the drink. The maximum concentration of alcohol in the blood is lower after drinking beer than it is after drinking wine. Besides which, the concentration tails off faster for beer than it does for wine.

Result 24th poll (June 2004)

Moderate beer drinkers more intelligent than total abstainers?

True: 57,4% Not true: 29,1% I don’t know: 13,5%

According to approximately half of the respondents to our last poll question, it is in fact the case and beer drinkers are more intelligent than total abstainers! One in three takes a more sober view and says that there is no difference between moderate drinkers and non-drinkers. The rest have no clear-cut idea either way. Interestingly enough, research conducted in Japan in 2000 included IQ tests on 2 000 subjects. The moderate drinkers (beer, wine or spirits) did in fact score better than the abstainers. However, such tests should be taken with a pinch of salt and we should not jump to conclusions! There is a strong possibility that the connection is no more than coincidence.

Result 25th poll (July-August 2004)

Does alcohol kill harmful bacteria?

True: 40,2% Not true: 43,5% I don’t know: 16,2%

40 percent of the nearly 900 respondents to our latest poll question think that drinking alcohol kills harmful bacteria. Rather more people, some 43 percent, think otherwise. Sad to relate, the small majority are right. It would be just too easy to down a nice drop of beer and put paid to a cold or this, that or the other infection. So whence the misconception? Alcoholic solutions are frequently used as disinfectants. In the laboratory for instance, to clean surgical instruments. Ah, but … these alcoholic solutions are 75 to 95 percent and remain in contact with the contaminated object for several minutes. Go on then! Try to keep a stiff drink, a good drop of rum say, in your mouth for one whole minute. What’s more, bacteria in the oral cavity or pharynx are protected by a layer of mucus. Alcohol can’t get round, past or over it. To say nothing about the viruses that squat within the cells. Oh, and by the way, all colds are caused by viruses and not by bacteria. So you can forget alcohol as a nice way of killing infections. Alas, it just doesn’t work.

Result 26th poll (September-October 2004)

Beer as a nightcap?

True: 55,1% Not true: 31,8% I don’t know: 13,1%

Half of the more-or-less 600 respondents in our most recent poll question say that beer is a good goodnight kiss. One third say otherwise. The rest, well, they just “don’t rightly know”.

As so often in life, the majority are “sort of” right. The hops in beer do, in fact, have that nice sedative effect, plus lots of lovely vitamin B3, also present in beer. And a nice glass of beer will help most of us up that little wooden hill to Bedfordshire in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. To be completely honest, the interested reader may wish to be informed that the proverbial “nötige Bettschwere” is not the best idea for expectant mothers. For man , woman, child nor beast. To cut a long story short, moderation in all things.

Result 27th poll (November 2004)

Alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water

True: 33,5% Not true: 50,6% I don’t know: 15,9%

Somewhat more than half of the respondents to our latest poll maintain that alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water. One in three think the opposite. One in three have therefore got it wrong. Alcohol so happens to boil at around 78 °C, pure water at 100 °C. The reason is that the forces bonding the water molecules are stronger than those bonding the alcohol molecules. A mixture of water and alcohol will therefore reach boiling point at a temperature somewhere short of 100 °C.

Result 28th poll (December 2004)

Inclination to alcohol abuse is in written in the genes.

True: 51,3% Not true: 38,4% I don’t know: 10,3%

Half of the respondents to our latest mini-survey think that the risk of alcoholism sits in the genes, whereas nearly 40 percent begs to differ. The truth of the matter is – somewhere in the middle. According to the current state of play, no single gene is ‘responsible’ for alcoholism. One gene is known, perhaps more, that is (are) instrumental in a tendency towards alcoholism, but you must of course also consider the considerable role of environmental factors such as lifestyle and, especially, the will-power of the persons concerned. So you can’t just say: well, it’s the genes. What you can say is: he or she has a certain family proclivity to alcoholism and will therefore experience more difficulty resisting that temptation.

Result 29th poll (January – February 2005)

Should a pregnant woman drink beer?

True: 39,7% Not true: 52,4% I don’t know: 7,9%

That is our latest poll question, and approximately half of the more than 800 respondents say that a few glasses of beer during pregnancy will not do any harm. Slightly less than 40 percent think that it is harmful. What does science say?

It is undisputed that regular drinking during pregnancy is unhealthy: the risk of a premature birth increases, and daily may even compromise the health of the unborn child. However, it is thus far unclear precisely where the limit is to be drawn. According to recent epidemiological research, in which the drinking habits of more than 40 000 pregnant women were analyzed, three glasses of beer a week does no harm and will not increase the risk of a premature birth. Pregnant women drinking four to seven glasses a week will probably run a slightly higher risk of their baby being born too soon.

Result 30th poll (March – April 2005)

Moderate beer consumption good against high blood cholesterol

True: 59,2% Not true: 19,5% I don’t know: 21,2%

Various scientific studies appear to indicate that moderate beer consumption influences blood cholesterol levels in a good way (the references can be found on our website). The results of our latest poll question show that 60 percent of respondents are aware of this beneficial effect, while one in five think that drinking beer affects the cholesterol level unfavourably. Not so. Anyone who has problems with high cholesterol can quite happily drink a glass of beer, as long as the drinking is in moderation.

Result 31th poll (May 2005)

Do men lose their self-control faster when drinking than women?

True: 38,8% Not true: 51,6% I don’t know: 9,5%

That was our last poll question, and slightly more than half of the respondents do not accept it, while 38 percent think it is the case that women are better able to keep their composure. This time the minority got it right. Alcohol has more effect on men than on women. Male drinkers lose their self-control and inhibitions faster. This is revealed in a study by researchers from the University of Kentucky. The results are given in the specialist journal Addiction. Men become aggressive and lose their self-control more easily, while women drinkers experience a rather numbing effect.

Result 32th poll (June-August 2005)

A crate of trappist beer versus two white loaves

Two loaves of white bread: 26,6% Six loaves of white bread: 29,6% Twelve loaves of white bread: 43,7%

Our summer poll reveals that a small half (44%) of around 1 200 respondents thinks that a crate of trappist contains the same number of calories as 12 white loaves. That’s a very high overestimate! One full crate of trappist, or 24 bottles, contain precisely the same number of calories as two white loaves. About a quarter of you (26%) gave a correct answer. The idea apparently persists that a trappist is packed full of calories, but that’s an exaggeration. Equally the number of calories contained in one loaf is underestimated: white bread is very high in calories and contains more calories than does brown bread. So you don’t need to go without an occasional trappist for your figure’s sake. No more than you would need to go without a brown bread sandwich!

Result 33th poll (September-October 2005)

Beer tastes different from a can?

True: 84,4% Not true: 9,4% I don’t know: 6,2%

Of the nearly one thousand respondents to our latest poll question the great majority (84%) hold that beer from a can tastes different to beer from a bottle. Only 6% disagree, while the remaining 10% don’t rightly know. However, the container of the beer, be it a bottle or a can, should not affect the taste. That, at any rate, is the theory, because many a beer-drinker has his or her own opinion in the matter.

Result 34th poll (November-December 2005)

Alcohol from one glass of beer stays in the body about 1,5 hours

True: 66% Not true: 25,9% I don’t know: 8,1%

Most of the respondents (66%) got the right end of the ‘stick’: it takes about ninety minutes for the alcohol from one drinking session to disappear from the body completely. So alcohol can still be detected in the blood and the urine for one hour and a half. This duration will naturally vary according to personal characteristics, whether you eat while you drink, how much you drink and how fast, etc.

Result 35th poll (January – February 2006)

Must beer bottles be graced with a pictogram: ‘Do Not Drink During Pregnancy’?

True: 50,8% Not true: 44% I don’t know: 5,1%

Opinions divided over pictogram on beer bottles

Our last poll question revealed that about half of our respondents (51%) favour a cautionary legend on beer bottles for pregnant women: a pictogram to remind them that pregnant women might do better than to drink alcohol. Rather less (44%) think otherwise. The other six percent don’t rightly know, either way. In France voices are raised to impose the rule for all alcoholic beverages. In recent years the French have had to cope with various cases of foetal alcohol syndrome, a series of serious problems arising from maternal acohol abuse during pregnancy. Whether alcohol-addicted mothers choose to read the message on the bottle is another story.

Alcohol levels

DOSSIERS
The alcohol level in your blood  Alcohol levels
Absorption and breakdown of alcohol in the body
Alcohol levels after consuming alcohol-free beer a case apart

The quantity of alcohol in the blood after drinking alcoholic drinks not only depends on the type of drink, but also on individual factors, including sex and body weight. Alcohol levels are the lowest with beer.

After drinking spirits the alcohol level (the alcohol blood level) is higher than after drinking the same quantity of beer. In an 80 kg person the alcohol level will be lower than in someone of 50 kg, after enjoying the same quantity of drink. The alcohol blood level rises faster in women than in men.

Differences between individuals

Sex

Even if a man and a woman have exactly the same body weight and drink precisely the same quantity of alcoholic drinks, the alcohol level will be higher in the woman than in the man.

Body weight

Drinking the same quantity of alcohol will yield a higher alcohol blood level for a man with a low body weight than for a bigger man. The same applies to women: when drinking the same quantity of alcohol the body weight will play a role in the article permillage (quantity of alcohol in the blood expressed in permille).

 

Note:
In addition to sex and body weight, alcohol levels are also influenced to a lesser extent by:

  • The type of the alcoholic drink;
  • The speed of digestion;
  • Other individual differences;

 

The above tables show the alcohol levels after drinking beer. After drinking wine or spirits the alcohol level is higher than after drinking beer.

25 cl beer contains 12.5 ml ethanol
20 cl wine contains 20 to 22 ml ethanol
15 cl port contains 30 ml ethanol

 

Beer, the remedy for all sorts of ailments

DOSSIERS
Beer and medicine, a long history  Beer, the remedy for all sorts of ailments
Is beer really healthy?
Scientific research
Moderate daily consumption versus dangerous consumption

In Babylon and Egypt, long considered as the birthplace of beer, the drink was offered to the gods and was mainly used by kings and at important festivals. The Egyptians also attributed a therapeutic effect to beer, and women of the upper classes used it for cosmetic purposes, ie. to freshen their skin and reduce the risk of certain skin conditions.

In ancient Greece Hippocrates used beer as a remedy to facilitate diuresis and the drink was also considered to act against fever. Alcohol was also used at this time to heal wounds. Aretus of Capadocia recommended it for diabetes and migraine.

In the Middle Ages beer was used as a stimulant to improve mood. Appetite generating and calming properties were attributed to the hop, a component of beer. Up until a hundred years ago, hop-filled cushions were recommended for sleeping disorders.

In the beginning of this century, the harmful consequences of alcohol abuse came to light, and medicine adopted a sceptical attitude towards alcoholic drinks, including beer. The emergence of powerful medicines further pushed out the use of alcohol as a remedy. It is only in the last few years that there has been renewed interest for the beneficial effect of alcohol on health.

 

Beer culture

DOSSIERS
History of beer  Beer culture
The history of beer

The etymology of beer is uncertain. Two words are associated with it: bibere and cervisia. Bibere is Latin and means to drink. The explanation would seems simple, but until now it has been the only probable one. Cervisia strongly resembles cerveza, the Spanish word for beer. Cervisia is apparently derived from Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. Beer is considered to be agricultural product in this context.

That Belgium is a country with a definite beer culture is clearly reflected in its language and sayings. They can “bring life to the brewery (liven things up), “fight against the beer quay (fight a losing battle) or something might be “no small beer. Bad tempered “little girls can sometimes be called “a barrel of sour beer and it can be said of headstrong, noisy boys that “young beer still has to ferment.

Sensible beer drinking is healthy

One 25 cl glass of beer is better than none. Two are even better, but more than three is ill advised.
Beer is not unhealthy. On the contrary, if drunk moderately it acts against the occurrence of heart and circulatory diseases, possibly plays a protective role against some forms of cancer, and reduces the general level of mortality. This has been shown by various scientific studies, the main ones of which you will find in this document.
That sensible beer drinking is also good for the soul does not need any scientific confirmation.

Beer also provides a number of important nutrients, including carbohydrates, amino acids, minerals and vitamins. It is not without reason that beer is called liquid bread. Beer does not make you fat either: 1 litre of lager contains fewer calories than the same quantity of wine or soft drink.

Alcohol is a stimulant

Together with coffee, alcohol (including beer) is one of the most used stimulants in the world. Alcohol puts the drinker in a positive mood and helps him or her to relax mentally. The danger of drinking ever increasing amounts can constitute a real problem for some people, however. When the drinker notices that he or she will use alcohol in order to get intoxicated or to forget about problems, then he or she is clearly going down the wrong path. The same also applies to excessive eating.
It can be assumed that certain people run a greater risk of developing in the direction of alcoholism. People with serious psychosocial problems belong to the risk groups, as they cannot resist the group pressure to drink more, and there are also people who have a certain hereditary predisposition towards drinking.
It goes without saying that alcohol can only have a positive influence on general wellbeing when consumed sensibly in moderation.

 

Properties of the hop plant

DOSSIERS
The hop in the brewing process and as medicinal plant  Properties of the hop plant
The virtues of lupulin powder
Medicinal properties of the hop
author and sources

The hop (Humulus lupulus L.) is a dioecious plant of the family Cannab(in)aceae, to which hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) also belongs. Only the hop cones of the female hop plant are used as essential raw material for beer. Female hop cones contain lupulin powder, rich in compounds that give beer a bitter taste whilst also acting as natural preservatives.

The hop is a sensitive plant and does not flourish everywhere. Hops have particular requirements regarding intensity and wavelength distribution of sunlight, and commercial hop cultivation is limited to areas between the 35th and the 55th parallels. The main hop-growing regions in the world are Hallertau (Bavaria), Yakima (Washington), Kent (UK) and Bohemia (Czech Republic) in the Northern Hemisphere and Australia and New Zealand in the Southern Hemisphere. In total, approximately 80 000 tons of hops are harvested from some 135 850 acres. There are about 40 different varieties (cultivars) of Humulus lupulus from which the brewer can choose, according to the style of beer he wishes to brew.

A hop plant has 12 to 20 years of productive life. The above-ground parts of the plant die back during the Winter, but the root stocks survive. In good conditions, a root stock can grow about four and a half feet high and six feet wide. By early Spring, shoots appear on the root stocks. The young hop shoots are a culinary delight! In commercially grown hop plants, shoots are wound around wires in clockwise direction only, and are further secured to an elaborate network of posts and poles to train the upwards growth of the plant. A hop plant can reach a final height of 24, 25 feet.

Hop cultivation in the Northern Hemisphere is situated mainly between April and July. In favourable conditions hop vines can grow by as much as 35 inches a day. A hop plant can attain an average growth rate of 4 inches a day, making the hop one of the fastest-growing plants in the vegetable kingdom. Commercial hop plantations are frequently treated against fungi (mildew, white rot) and pests (lice, red mites). At present – unfortunately – there are no hop varieties that are resistant to predators.

Once the hop plant is fully grown (late June, early July), it begins to flower. After about a month the female flowers develop into the hop “cones”, while the male flowers simply wither away. It is legally forbidden to grow male and female hop plants together in the same field, because fertilized hops are of inferior brewing quality. The presence of fats and oils in the seeds prevents flocculation, and the beer cannot keep its froth.

Ripe hop cones are harvested in late August, early September. The hop cones used to be picked by hand, but now this is done by machines. The machine cuts the vines in the hop field and the hop cones are immediately separated from the vines and leaves in the hop house. The cones are then carefully dried with hot air blowers at moderate temperatures (below 65°C). After all, the moisture content of fresh hops, which can be 75% to 80%, has to be immediately reduced to under 12%, otherwise the hop would quickly become mouldy and spoil. Finally, the dried hops are packed and stocked in bales, preferably at low temperature.

 

Old beer is not harmful to health

DOSSIERS
Beer and its shelf life  Old beer is not harmful to health
The ageing process in beers
High quality water
Lifetime of the head

Old beer is not harmful to health. The EU requirement to place a consume-by date on the bottles was introduced a couple of years ago.
The Objective Beer Tasters, a Belgian association of beer consumers, conducted a campaign against this measure in the past. The breweries are not happy with a compulsory consume-by date on the label, either. Beer does not really go off, although the flavour can change and it may turn slightly cloudy.

Lager in particular has a tendency to cloud over time. The gradual clouding is caused by bonds being formed between proteins (from the malt) and polyphenols (from the chaff of the malt and the hops), so that is why types of malt are selected with not too high a protein content in which the proteins easily coagulate and can be removed during the brewing process. Consumers do not like cloudy lager. Keeping lager clear is generally a sales issue. Drinking cloudy lager has no effect on the health of the drinker. Some special beers are deliberately made and sold cloudy.

 

Protective or carcinogenic?

DOSSIERS
Alcohol and cancer  Protective or carcinogenic?
Alcohol increases the risk of cancer
Beer reduces the risk of cancer
Alcohol and breast cancer

The final word is yet to be said on the influence of alcohol – and beer in particular – on the occurrence of cancer. For a number of cancers, the risks possibly does increase with moderate drinking. More research is needed to clarify matters here.
On the other hand beer contains phyto-oestrogens that have a protective effect against certain cancers. But here again it is too early to pass judgement.
Up until now most information has been collected on breast cancer, where there is a slightly increased risk for moderate to heavy drinkers.

There is a close link between our eating habits and the occurrence of chronic diseases, including cancer. Thus there is a relationship between diet rich in saturated fats and cancer of the breast, intestine, prostate, ovaries and uterus. However, recent cohort studies have shown that the group with high fat consumption barely differs from low fat consumers with regard to the risk of breast cancer.
A fibre-rich diet on the other hand reduces the risk of certain cancers. The influence of alcohol, and beer in particular, on the occurrence of cancer has not been widely researched up until now. Certain trends can indeed be noted. Some studies point to a high alcohol consumption mainly increasing the risk of gastrointestinal tract cancers.
More recent research into other components (ie. not alcohol), including the phyto-oestrogens in beer, point in the direction of a protective effect.