Beer Promotes Gut Microbiota Diversity
As if you needed a reason for that chill
In the matter of gut microbiome ecology, scientists still don’t know precisely what is a healthy microbiota. Everyone has a different setup, some bacteria can be good markers or bad markers depending on the rest of the environment and their quantity. However, specialists agree on one thing: diversity is a marker of good health.
Why is that? Well, imagine that your gut ecosystem is like a forest. If there are many plant species attracting many insects, your rainforest will also be characterized by many birds eating these insects and other animals, which will participate in the spread of the plants’ seeds. Now if the environment faces a challenge, say a drought, the species most sensitive to the lack of water will suffer and possibly die. But there are many other species offering refuge and food to the biosphere. You may lose the few coleopterans specialist to that plant, but you will retain diversity and there will still be an abundance of insects to eat for the birds. On the contrary, if you look at a monoculture of one species on many hectares, it does not offer refuge to wildlife — like the almond plantations in California, that flourish one week in the year, making these fields a desert for pollinators and birds for the 51 remaining weeks in the year. The arrival of just one pest, disease, or environmental challenge could decimate this one species and leave you with barren land.
The microbiota is like the forest: when diverse, the ecosystem is resilient. If it’s not species A which will degrade your food into precious short chain fatty acids like butyrate, it is species B, in association with species C and D.
Claudia Marques and her team from the NOVA University in Lisbon just published a randomized, double-blind controlled trial on the impact of beer and non-alcoholic beer on the gut microbiota. They gave 22 men a daily 330 mL drink of either non-alcoholic beer or normal beer (5.2%) for 4 weeks and looked at the impact on their weight, metabolism, and gut microbiota.
The researchers found no impact of either drink on weight, fat mass, or glucose/triglycerides metabolism.
Regarding the effects on the ecosystem, they observed no significant difference in the individual phyla or composition of the microbiota but found a general increase in diversity for both drinks. They also identified a trend towards increased fecal alkaline phosphatase activity, a marker of intestinal barrier function.
The authors conclude that the positive effects of beer on the microbiota are independent of alcohol and may be mediated by beer polyphenols. Note that this is not saying that beer is healthy.
Questions and limitations
The study only used 11 men in each group, and the short duration of the study — less than a month — is probably insufficient to see impacts on weight, the formation of a beer belly, and metabolic response. It is also unclear how the caloric intake of the drink was compensated for. And what about women?
Since red wine has long been identified as a contributor to gut biodiversity, also through the delivery of polyphenols, it would be useful to compare what is best between a glass of wine and a pint of beer for your aperitive.
A great take-home message is that you can get the benefits of the polyphenols without the downsides of alcohol with alcohol-free beer.
Last consideration you will hate me for bringing up: according to Mike Berners-Lee, the carbon footprint of a local, bottled pint of beer is about 780g (1650 g/L) compared to roughly 1400 g per bottle of wine (1 866 g/L). But a glass of beer is usually 330 mL, over double the volume of a glass of wine (150 mL), so if you’re going to have a daily glass and consider that the health of the environment is ultimately your health (#OneHealth), well, consider wine, water, and possibly kombucha. More to come on that.
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