Introduction: A shot of alcohol on an empty stomach

Hangover cures and science  Introduction
Sport drinks
Amino acid
A shot of alcohol on an empty stomach

Source: New Scientist

The hangover: anyone who hasn’t woken up with workmen in his head deserves to be beatified! Excruciating: a near-death experience, that birdcage mouth, blinding headache, aching hard-rubber joints. Sick, having a groan down the white telephone, calling your friends Hughie and Ethel. Ever since the dawn of time, Homo sapiens has been mortified by the “the morning after the night before”, after all the oh-be-joyful.

Science can do all kinds of things: we can fly to the moon, we make computers with incredible capacities, but just what can’t we do? Apparently, we can’t come up with a scientifically sound, experimentally tried and tested remedy against the hangover. The reason is obvious: the fear of the authorities, doctors and captains of industry that an experimental hangover cure would lead to a catastrophic upsurge in alcohol abuse among moderate drinkers. After all, the hangover is nothing more than nature’s gentle way of reminding you that there really are better in which you might consider treating your body. And thus it follows that there is no scientifically sure way of devising a product against the hangover. To be sure, there is plenty of research afoot on the effect of alcohol on the body. And this is precisely what has incited many researchers to speculate about the best remedies against hangovers.

One modest attempt has in fact been made to study the effect of some folk remedies by empirical scientific experiment. The New Scientist magazine shanghaied a dozen inexperienced volunteers (in the celebrations for the new millennium, which was safely expected to be more than commonly well lubricated). Their task would be to drink prodigious amounts of alcohol and to try out a different pick-me-up each week. The morning after the drinking bout they would record their “grottiness” quotient by reference to a number of symptoms. Mindful of dehydration, the best-known effect of immoderate drinking, the volunteers always drank a glass of water before hitting the hay.

Protective or carcinogenic?

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.


Old beer is not harmful to health

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.


Properties of the hop plant

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.


Beer culture

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.


Beer, the remedy for all sorts of ailments

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.


Alcohol levels

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


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).


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


Alcohol not always bad

Alcohol and Diabetes  Enjoy, but use your head
Alcohol not always bad

Source: Diabetes Vereniging Nederland  

Persons who drink moderately (see box) have a somewhat smaller chance of cardio-vascular disease than persons who drink no alcohol at all. This applies in respect of all alcoholic beverages. The positive effect is most visible in more elderly persons. Younger men and women seem not to benefit so much from the positive effects of alcohol. After all, persons who drink “lots” run the risk of dying from all manner of other disorders.

Persons with diabetes who drink in moderation would seem to have a relatively lesser chance of cardiovascular disorder. This does not mean that you have to run out and start drinking if you have never raised a glass to reduced your chances for cardiovascular disease. A healthy diet and regular exercise is the best bet against cardiovascular disease. And you will not end up addicted.

alcohol unit calories percentage alc. carbohydrates glass of beer (200 ml) 80 5% 6 shot of gin (35 ml) 50 38% 0 glass of sherry (50 ml) 55 16% 2 glass of red wine (100 ml) 80 11% 3 glass of white wine (100 ml) 70 11% 0 glass of liqueur (35 ml) 85 various 10 (Source: dieettabel, Voedingscentrum Den Haag)

So, a shot of gin in a small glass. A beer in a bigger one. Remember that the small glass is something like half its volume of alcohol, and the “bigger one” is some five percent of the total quantity. So, all in all, the alcohol units are pretty much the same.


Alcohol and Diabetes  Enjoy, but use your head
Alcohol not always bad

Source: Diabetes Vereniging Nederland  

So, when you drink alcohol, the chance of a hypo is greater than when you’re stone cold sober. You can reduce the risk quite easily by eating something that delivers the necessary carbohydrates to bring your blood glucose back up to level. If you drink something sweet, such as a liqueur, sweet wine or port, then you will have ingested enough sugar and, normally, you will not need to eat anything. Remember that the blood glucose will drop hours after drinking alcohol. So it makes complete sense – if you have been drinking – to sleep before measuring. Because one thing is certain as regards alcohol: measure is everything.

It is, of course, possible for anyone to get a hypo. Anyone who gets a hypo because he or she drinks too much does not always require a glucagon injection. The liver has its work cut out processing the alcohol, a lonely, uphill endeavour. Ditto likewise the processing of glucagon. Give a drunk with a hypo something to eat or to drink with carbohydrates. If that doesn’t work, get straight on the phone, call a doctor. Damn it! A hypo and piss-ordinary drunkenness are not so easily distinguished. So always ask those around you to provide carbohydrates. It is also a good idea to keep something on the person to remind others that you have diabetes. Diabetics with a hypo often end up in the drying-out cell in the erroneous idea that they are “under the influence”.


Alcohol and Diabetes  Enjoy, but use your head
Alcohol not always bad

Source: Diabetes Vereniging Nederland  

Getting a little tiddly, becoming a little bit unsteady on your feet. These are the visible effects of alcohol. But alcohol is far from done there. Alcohol has an immediate effect on the metabolism. First, the blood glucose will increase. Second, there is sometimes a reduction of blood glucose. How? The body throws up defences against alcohol as against any toxic substance. And, as such, it must be broken down by the liver. In the normal way of things, if the level is low, the liver gives the blood the extra glucose that it needs. The liver then has a much harder time of it if alcohol is already in the blood. All the liver wants is a fighting chance of breaking down the alcohol. In short: the chance of a hypo is much greater.

Nor are the intestines spared the effects of alcohol. Think about it: your intestines bear the brunt of the alcohol and pass it on into the bloodstream. Normally, it takes one to three hours for a meal to be taken in and digested. So, the alcohol will not enter the blood as quickly on a full stomach. Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach will make you feel the effects of the alcohol much faster. The intestines send the alcohol direct to the blood: after five minutes the alcohol is surging in your blood. The alcohol reaches your brain. This may result in, for example, some difficulty keeping your balance, or your reactions may be slower. No cause, as such, for alarm. Just a sign to stop and eat something. What makes inebriation dangerous is that you can’t really feel a hypo. And the chance of a hypo increases if you drink alcohol. Especially if you take blood-glucose reducing tablets. Alcohol can potentiate the effect of certain blood-glucose reducing tablets (certain sulphonylureum derivates). Alcohol may even prolong the effective duration. The hypo may occur hours later.

Let us be quite certain, excessive alcohol consumption is dangerous. We all know that it affects the liver. And, if you drink long and hard, you run the risk of infection of the pancreas. If the pancreas is producing insulin, infection will reduce the production of insulin. Infection of the pancreas may be fatal. Regular alcohol consumption also results in reduced sensitivity to insulin and in nervous disorder: alcoholic neuropathy.