Prepared Foods September 20, 2004 enewsletter

Beer drinkers can toast the news that their favorite beverage possesses the same benefits as red wine, the alcohol long celebrated for its antioxidant properties.

Researchers at The University of Western Ontario have found one drink of beer or wine provides equivalent increases in plasma antioxidant activity, which helps prevent the oxidization of blood plasma by toxic free radicals that trigger many aging diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and cataracts.

Biochemistry and kinesiology professor John Trevithick, one of the lead researchers and a long-time expert on the role of antioxidants in human health, says, "We were very surprised one drink of beer or stout contributed an equal amount of antioxidant benefit as wine, especially since red wine contains about 20 times the amount of polyphenols as beer."

Polyphenols are the compounds in plants that help prevent UV damage from the sun and make the plant cell wall strong. They are believed to have antioxidant benefits when consumed by the human body. Even though red wine contains more polyphenols than beer, this study showed the body absorbs about equally effective amounts of bioactive molecules such as polyphenols from beer and wine. Beer, wine, stout and matured spirits (rum, whisky, sherry and port), which extract tannins from the oak casks they are matured or stored in, all contain significant amounts of polyphenols.

While studies have shown one daily drink of almost any alcoholic beverage can help reduce the risk of many aging diseases, Trevithick cautions larger daily intakes (three drinks per day) actually increase the risk of these diseases. His study suggests the risk is increased because three drinks result in the blood becoming pro-oxidant. This phenomenon is known as "hormesis," the concept that small doses of a toxic substance can have beneficial effects while a large amount is harmful.

The study will be published in the journal Nonlinearity in Biology, Toxicology and Medicine this December.