Beer and Health Part III: Helping Reduce The Health Impact of Drinking Beer

Beer and Health Part III: Helping Reduce The Health Impact of Drinking Beer

So, how’s the new-year-new-you diet going? Are you still going to the gym this month? It’s an unfortunate fact that only 8% of New Year’s resolutions succeed. So, as we come out of the start of the year, maybe it’s time we look at what small but very do-able positive lifestyle changes we can make and commit to all year round.

This is what I -- and some of the Brew By Numbers team -- have done to help deal with the occupational hazard of working in the beer industry for over a decade, although it would be a healthy approach for anyone wanting to maintain a balanced lifestyle long-term.

Having researched liver health, studied longevity, and explored hypotheses through self-experimentation, here are the top 6 concepts I have implemented in my life to improve my “health span” and to deal with the stressful, fast-paced world of brewing. Many of these address the points made in our recent blog post on beer and health, where we take a closer look at health statistics and how different lifestyle choices, including drinking alcohol, affect our lifespans.

1. Help your liver out! It’s not just alcohol that can cause it stress…  

The liver is a truly incredible organ. Not only can it continue to perform at 10% function levels with no noticeable side effects for the body while in a state of crisis, but it can also regenerate! 

We know alcohol in excessive amounts can damage the liver, but there are other day-to-day substances that are equally as damaging that we should be aware of.

Fructose has been described as “alcohol without the buzz”, and today, it’s seen increasingly often in the things we eat and drink. Unfortunately, fructose has a similar metabolic pathway to alcohol and can only be broken down in the liver. It is one of the main contributors to non-alcoholic liver disease (NALD), which is on the rise and set to overtake alcoholic liver disease (ALD) in the coming years.

There are worrying correlations between the rate of soft drink consumption and liver disease. So, if you’re worried about alcohol’s effect on this vital organ, it’s advisable to consider how fizzy drinks might affect it too. So, if we are already drinking alcohol, should we consider what else we are drinking too?

Consuming both regularly is, of course not advisable. However, making the effort to avoid alcohol completely while also drinking soft drinks or packaged fruit juices regularly might not be as good as you think for preventing a fatty liver. (Furthermore, sugary drinks can also increase your chances of getting diabetes.)

Another dangerous thing about soft drinks is that it’s acceptable to drink them all day, any time; the uninhibited availability and acceptability of them makes overconsumption pretty effortless. At least there’s something of a limit placed on when and how you can attain and consumer beer!  

Other things that put additional stress on the liver include inflammatory seed oils and quite a few medications. The increased use of seed oils and fructose in fast food has also been linked to NALD (Non-alcoholic liver disease). 

My advice? Don’t count on cutting out alcohol as the one thing you should do to help your liver. Be aware of all the things (even the mundane, innocent-seeming ones) which could be harming it, and make informed decisions based on all the information available.

2. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” - Dr John Harvey Kellogg

Some fantastic marketing that seems to be viewed as fact, but is breakfast the most important meal of the day? 

One of my favourite scenes from the original Matrix is a fight between Morpheus and Neo when Morpheus asks, “do you think that’s air you’re breathing?”.

Neo then closes his mouth and continues in the fight without an issue.

For years I would eat breakfast religiously, thinking it was the only way to do things, not challenging that reality: we’re talking huge bowls full of porridge in the morning topped with fruit, even during the height of summer. What would normally follow was a load of coffee and… the inevitable 11am carb-crash!

It wasn’t air Neo was breathing – did I really need to be eating breakfast every single day?

Dropping breakfast and committing to time-restricted eating/intermittent fasting has been the best health-oriented lifestyle choice I’ve ever made and is also, interestingly, something done by people living in blue zones: regions with native populations which have, on average, the longest life spans in the world.

Over thousands of years of evolution, humans have spent most of their existence as hunter gathers, who would regularly go from famine to feast. It could be argued this is the way we should still consume food. Some of the many health benefits include:

  • Burning off visceral fat
  • Managing weight
  • Reducing insulin resistance
  • Cell autophagy – a process of breaking down and recycling old cells
  • Gut health, bile production and reducing gut permeability

So how does this help with my beer-drinking? Fasting is particularly helpful for offsetting the carb intake from the drink and helping to burn visceral fat from around our organs (ie. fatty liver). 

And if fasting is just too much? Even if you can go without carbohydrates until lunchtime, you will still notice some health benefits, and this will still go towards offsetting the carbs you’ll get from the beers you drink that day. It should be noted that intermittent fasting as a fully grown adult man is safe and is not recommended for children and young adults.

For anyone who’s viewed their ‘calories burnt’ after a strenuous bike ride, it can be disappointing to see how few you burn. Unfortunately, if you are looking to manage weight through exercise alone, there has been some interesting studies showing that it isn’t that effective for weight loss! Of course, there are many other health benefits to exercise, but to effectively manage weight, diet is far more important and intermittent fasting has been the most effective way I’ve found to do this… 

If you are interested in trying out intermittent fasting to lessen the impact of alcohol on your body, I’ve shared my morning routine below. It works for me and should work for you too!

For my morning routine, I start the day with rehydration salts, apple cider vinegar and squeezed lemon juice. This combo is particularly good for helping liver recovery and detoxification. I would then wait for 30 mins before having any coffee.

For my morning coffee, I have an espresso shot with some hot water, organic butter, erythritol sweetener, MCT oil and sometimes CBD powder. I mix this up with a stick blender – this last stage is very important as it emulsifies the fats providing an energy boost and makes the beneficial polyphenols in the coffee more bioavailable. This is essentially a version of the bulletproof coffee that was taken from people living in Tibet – the boost of burning fats instead of carbs requires less O2, which is useful at higher altitudes.

I will then have a low carb shake around 11/12.

3. What you drink and when you drink matters!

All beers are not created equal.

As we can see from the diagram, different beer styles contain different amounts of carbs. It should be noted, too, that some beers are pasteurised, meaning they will contain simple sugars that are not good for the liver. The beers with the lowest carb content are typically Belgian Saisons and mixed-fermentation beers as well as the highest Imperial Stouts and Pastry Sours. Illustrating carbohydrate content is lower.

Interesting to note is that due to their growing popularity, juicy IPAs have seen a massive average increase in carbs over the past 5 years. BBNO’s juicy IPAs, for example, have seen an increase of 40%, but there are other breweries who have gone a lot higher.

As someone who’s enjoyed exploring concepts through self-experimentation, I’ve had a lot of fun using a continuous blood glucose monitor to test my response to different food groups. An interesting find was the result of drinking a beer before an evening meal. It helped stabilise my blood glucose, and this effect is reflected in studies on the relationship between moderate drinking and diabetes risk. So, it seems the Italian idea of an “aperitif” can be a good thing!

Exactly what impact drinking beer will have on your health depends not just on whether you drink it or not, and how much. It’s also worth looking into which beers have the highest sugar (fructose) and carb contents, as well as when the best time to drink beer is – before or alongside a meal is a good starting point! But late at night right before bed? That’s a no-go, as we find out in part 4...

4. The importance of sleep

It is important to understand that sleep is not just for rest. Our bodies go through vital metabolic processes during sleep that help to clean out toxins, process memories, and much more.

Regularly drinking alcohol late at night can reduce REM and deep sleep as our bodies need to spend time processing it. This can lead to short term memory loss and depression. I aim to stop drinking (and eating) at least 2/3 hours before bed to allow time for my body to adequately process and digest what it needs to. The benefits of this are clearly reflected in my sleep scores recorded with my smart watch.

5. Check yourself before you wreck yourself!

Speaking of smart-watch monitoring, my next tip is to take the time to thoroughly check on your body and health in the following, easily accessible ways:

  • Blood tests are a great way to see if you are deficient in vitamins and to check your liver enzyme levels for stress. I’ve also found DNA and liver function testing to be a useful tool. Having recently received test results myself, my liver was found to be working in perfect health.
  • Using smart watches can help track your heart activity, changes in diet, exercise, movement, and recovery. They’re excellent for monitoring the crucial metric HVR (resting heart rate) and for sleep tracking. Plus, they’re really useful for seeing how a night out drinking affects your heart rate and sleep quality.
  • Smart scales now come at many different price points and are good for monitoring changes not only in weight but also in body composition.

    6. Supplement considerations:

    There’s a lot to say about supplements and how they can improve your performance, health, and wellbeing. My advice would be that it’s best to start with diet improvements as a priority before turning to supplements to improve your health or solve issues.

    However, in the context of discussing ways to reduce the impact of beer drinking, I would consider the following to be useful: 

    • Nutritional yeast – Funny how yeast can both hurt and heal us! NY contains a wide range of B vitamins and micronutrients that are often depleted by drinking alcohol. The B vitamins from this source are easily absorbed, unlike their synthetic counterparts.
    • Sulforaphane – This natural chemical present in garlic and green veggies is great for detoxing the liver, mopping up free radicals and protecting our DNA.
    • Omega 3s – Helps prevent liver inflammation, with the added benefit of supporting brain growth. I use Krill oil which is considered a more effective source of Omega 3.
    • Potassium + Magnesium – both vital minerals for energy and sleep. They are depleted by both alcohol and carbohydrates. Consuming the standard Western diet will provide some of these but in far lower amounts than our bodies require.
    • NAC – N-Acetyl Cysteine is helpful for reducing addiction and essential for making Glutathione: a powerful antioxidant that helps prevent liver and kidney damage. It also helps reduce addiction cravings.
    • Vitamin C & D – Both are useful for the liver, detoxification, and general health. Low vitamin D levels are shown to contribute to liver disease.


    So can beer, and alcohol in general, be part of a balanced diet?

    The combination of getting older and becoming a father has made me a more health-conscious person as well as a beer drinker/brewer. It’s at the intersect of these two parts of my life that I have learnt so much about beer’s effect on the body and what people can do to keep beer in their life without seriously compromising their “healthspan”.  

    As we’ve discussed above, it’s not necessarily a black-and-white question of whether you drink it or not. The answer to how to drink beer in a health-conscious way is a nuanced one, and means looking at what you drink, when you drink it, and how you live your life around that one lifestyle choice.

    Sleep well, eat well, move well, and make smart and conscious choices about what you drink – there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy a good quality beer and still live a long and healthy life without having to give it up. Cheers!