Beer and milk


Question:once I nearly fell off my (beer)bar stool in amazement. A young Austrian always drinks beer and milk fifty-fifty! The very thought turns my stomach … Is this medically sensible?

Answer: judgments about tastes and colours are highly personal and culturally determined. Beer with lemonade, red wine and coca cola, tequila and salt,… Why not beer and milk? Both are natural products, and their combination is not harmful. And, just in case you’re not holding on tight to your bar stool: the national beverage in Mongolia is slightly fermented mares’ milk. A sort of “horse ale”, if you like. Undrinkable for us, a delicacy for them.



Gout and beer


Question:I’m a martyr to gout in my big toes, but I do like to drink the occasional brew in the livelong day. I haven’t tasted a drop since my last crisis one month ago. A blood test for the urine content gave a very low result (3.3%). People who seem to know have given to understand that beer can cause an attack of gout, so I’m scared about drinking beer. My question: is there any beer that I can savour in the knowledge that won’t hurt my joints?

Answer: gout can hit you from a clear blue sky, or if you drink too enthusiastically, if you are overweight or if you eliminate insufficient uric acid when using diuretics. Generally speaking, a sane and a sensible consumption of a beer or two per day will not lay you low with gout. Alcohol-free beer (containing only a small amount of alcohol is obviously a rather better idea than high alcohol-content “skull-attack” beer.



Alcohol and physical effort


Question:I would like an answer to the following question: what is the influence of alcohol regarding physical effort? What is the reason for its negative influence on exertion?

Answer: alcohol influences both the function of the brain and – consequently – the nervous system, and the complex metabolism of the digestive system. You have to remember that the negative effects are going to outweigh any positive effects as soon as you drink more than the recommended quantity of alcohol (three standard units per day for men, two for women).

Alcohol influences the brain in such a way as to calm the nerves; inhibitions melt away, feelings of pain and fear subside, the muscles shake less. That said, the precision of the reactions reduces together with the reaction time, your sight is blurred, ditto the processing of information and, finally, your physical strength is sapped – your capacity for brief exertion and the sustained effort of your muscles.

Alcohol creates the illusion of enhanced psychomotor abilities, although in fact the opposite is true. Pain is a signal of a wound. Dulled sensation of pain makes you less readily aware of a wound, effectively increasing the risk of serious bodily harm.

Alcohol also has a dehydrating effect by blocking the secretion of antidiuretic hormones, which means that the kidneys have to expel excessive amounts of bodily fluid in the form of urine.

Alcohol also embarrasses the absorption and the use of many vitamins and minerals, which may ultimately delay the processing of proteins and carbohydrates. Alcohol further influences the metabolism of proteins and fats in the liver and causes defective production of the pancreas enzymes needed for fat metabolism. Alcohol can also trigger a glycogen deficiency in the liver.

All in all, drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol will reduce both your explosive energy and your long-term muscular endurance. You will also feel rather less inclined to engage in physical exertion, explosive or otherwise.



Fewer calories in alcohol-free beer

Question:does “alcohol-free” beer contain as many calories as an ordinary lager? Cholesterol? Or any other possibly harmful substances? Is it dangerous to drink?

Answer: the calorific value of a litre of lager-type beer is about 440 kcal, while the corresponding value of “alcohol-free beer” (which still contains a little alcohol) is 275 kcal. There is no cholesterol nor any other lipids in beer. On the contrary: beer has a mitigating effect on cholesterol. Alcohol-free beer contains much larger amounts of glucides (sugars). For the rest, it contains varying proportions of the same mineral salts and vitamins as ordinary beer. It certainly is not dangerous to drink. In fact, it is good for the health.



Moderate alcohol consumption, less risk of dementia

alcohol and body

Recent research appears to indicate that moderate alcohol consumption (1 to 6 glasses a week) leads to a reduction in the risk of dementia among persons over 65 years of age. Higher consumption involves a higher risk of brain damage.

Alcohol consumption causes complex changes in the supply of blood to the brain among senior citizens. However, the consequences do not all follow the same direction. Moderate consumption is thought to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, one of the factors often implicated in dementia. On the other hand, the risk of brain haemorrhage increases, and higher doses even involve the death of the cerebral cortex.

A recent 5-to-7 year study attempted to gauge these effects. The prospective research included nearly six thousand subjects over 65 years of age, with 373 confirmed cases of dementia. Alcohol consumption was determined by reference to a questionnaire filled in by the individual patient. Anyone drinking less than one glass a day had a 40% higher risk of dementia compared with persons who drink 1 to 6 glasses per week. The risk increased by one half for a consumption of 7 to 13 glasses per week, while 14 or more glasses per week increased the risk by three quarters. The increased risk was also established for vascular dementia such as Alzheimer.

Source: Mukamal KJ; JAMA 2003; 289.


Tired through alcohol?


Question:I have had glandular fever with persistent tiredness for almost two years now. I have now more or less made a recovery. Last year I went in for a thorough check-up after feeling tired for more than six months. Then I heard of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and began to consult a specialist from the VUB in Jette. The blood tests detected mycoplasma in my blood, the cause of my condition. Antibiotics were prescribed which, after discussing the matter with my family doctor, I did not take. To be quite clear: I do not have CFS, because I feel fine now. My question is: why do I feel out-of-sorts (tired) days or weeks (or even months) after drinking alcohol? Or what is the effect of alcohol with mycoplasma in the blood??

Answer: CFS displays a complex and varied clinical picture. There is no test to show CFS in the blood or in urine. Infection by mycoplasma as cause is one of the many theories accepted by not all specialists. It is generally supposed that CFS is the consequence of a series of reactions between the defence system, the mind and hormones. The connection with the drinking of alcohol is most likely also to be sought in this interactive field. Alcohol can, in some cases, have a negative effect on the immune system and on the brain functions. There may be circumstances and personal symptoms whereby these interactions are very marked, which seems to apply in your case. It is therefore not directly to do with the influence of alcohol on mycoplasma. The interactions may be far more complex. That also explains the lack of clear, scientifically substantiated research on the subject.



Calorie-free beer?


Question:I am working on a project and would like to know if it is possible to brew completely calorie-free beer.

Answer: Completely calorie-free beer would suppose that the beer contains no sugars, no fats and no proteins and, above all, no alcohol. These substances are precisely the result of the brewing process. Yes, you can halve the calorific value of the beer, which is the case in the so-called non-alcoholic beers, but completely calorie-free beer means reducing the beer to … pure water.


Beer without hangover?


Question:The minute I start to drink beer, I start to get an extreme form of hangover. Even after just 1 bottle of beer I start to suffer. As soon as I wake up I start to be sick. A whole day spent alternating between sleeping and vomiting. It was no big deal in my student days, but now that I work I try to drink beer that won’t give a hangover. I have found a lager that I can drink without getting a hangover no matter how much of it I drink, Alfa Pils. I have since found out that a hangover is not caused by the alcohol but by an ingredient in the lager. I can drink Belgian beers and I can spirits without getting a hangover. Can you perhaps tell me why all lagers except Alfa give me a hangover?

Answer: Your story is quite peculiar. A hangover is caused by the effect of alcohol on the brain and on the gastro-intestinal system. You say the hangover is not caused by alcohol, because you can drink “Belgian beers and spirits” without a hangover, but first you said you can drink only Alfa Pils without a hangover. This doesn’t hang together.

The only relevant difference between Alfa Pils and other lager beers is the water that is used in the brewing process. Alfa Pils is the only lager beer in the Netherlands for which the brewing water is drawn from a natural spring that gives water of exceptional purity. However, the cause of the hangover cannot be a matter of the water used: otherwise you would have a hangover after drinking water!



What per-thousand?


Question:I weigh 70 kg. What should my blood alcohol level be 3 hours after drinking 6 glasses of beer? I have a number of answers, but I’d like to know which one is, in fact, correct: a) approximately 0.7 b) 0.4 c) 0.5 or d) 0.9.

Answer: It’s impossible to give an exact per-thousand figure on the simple basis of how much you drink and how much you weigh. The amount of alcohol in your blood will depend on the time it takes to drink six glasses of beer, whether and what you may have eaten in the meanwhile, and a number of characteristics of your personal metabolism.

For some idea of order of magnitude, the following examples:
A woman weighing 70 kg who downs 6 beers in a period of one hour, on an empty stomach, can expect to crest 1.16 promille after 1.5 hours and will not be sober until a good 9 hours later. If she spreads six beers over two hours, she will hit a maximum promille of 1.01 after 2.5 hours. She will be sober in 9 hours.


The most likely highest value in your particular case would be 0.9.



My husband is an alcoholic


Question:For years now, my husband has been drinking 5 to 8 glasses of beer a day. He quite often takes a couples of shots of vodka as well. In my opinion he’s an alcoholic. He can’t go without it. He doesn’t seem to like anything, just the beer. There are many other problems besides, and they all start with drinking. He doesn’t actually get “falling-down drunk”. He just talks. Still, I don’t like it. My question is whether it’s normal to drink so much per day..

Answer: Scientific research has shown that drinking three glasses of beer over a day is good for a man’s health. When you go beyond this dose, not just the once by way of an exception, but systematically and long-term, you run a greater risk of cardiovascular problems, cirrhosis of the liver and heart damage, to name but a few. In your case I would suggest trying to persuade your husband to seek professional help, from your family doctor, a psychiatrist or even an AA group. Excessive drinking frequently brings on other problems, but it is also possible that other problems may be the cause of excessive alcohol consumption.