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Beer Prevents Osteoporosis

(whoda thunkit)

Beer Bones and Hops
Jacob Schor
March 2010

The online version of this article contains abstracts of all papers referenced and may be found at:

What does an 18th century British brewery have to do with our current osteoporosis treatments, particularly for women with breast cancer? There is a connection but it’ll take some explaining.

Beer does not travel well. Even with modern refrigeration, shipping is still problematic. Back in the late 1700s, it was almost impossible. The desire to ship beer to the far-flung corners of the English Empire presented British brewers a major challenge. They wanted to ship beer to India and also supply sailors on His Majesty’s ships during their long voyages. The Suez Canal was yet to be built; to reach India, ships sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, and then north into the tropics. Beer could not survive the heat and motion of the journey. On arrival in India it was undrinkable.

Toward the end of the 18th century, a British brewer named George Hodgson solved the India problem. He created a special style of beer, brewing it to a higher alcohol content and using far more hops than was customary. This formula protected the beer from spoilage and masked any stale flavors that developed in transit. Hodgson’s recipe and method of brewing beer became known as India Pale Ale or IPA, a name that has survived until today.

To understand this story we also need to talk about hops. Hops are the female flower clusters of Humulus lupulus. Hops are used in beer making, imparting a bitter, tangy flavor. Hops are also used in herbal medicine as a soporific similar to valerian. Beer making though has driven cultivation of this plant for thousands of years. Pliny the Elder (23 CE –79) mentioned hops in his Naturalis Historia nearly two thousand years ago. Due to centuries of careful cultivation for the purpose of producing better beers, hundreds of distinct hops cultivars exist. Measures to maintain the purity of these cultivars go back centuries, at least to 1603, when an act was passed in England entitled “An Acte for avoyding of deceit in selling, buying or spending corrupt and unwholesome Hoppes”. Rules strictly prohibit male plants in the hops fields that might accidentally cross pollinate any plants

Hops contain several chemicals that are of great interest to us. First, they contain significant quantities of bioavailable silicon. Second, they contain chemicals that are converted into phytoestrogens in the intestine. Third, they contain chemicals that trigger apoptosis in cancer cells. Fourth, some of these chemicals are aromatase inhibitors that inhibit progression of hormone dependent cancers.

Silicon has become an important nutrient over the last few years for treating osteoporosis. An early hint that beer might offer health benefits appeared in Kondo’s 2004 review paper written by the Kirin Brewing Company of Japan that examined the non-alcoholic components of beer. “A series of studies using animal models have shown that beer may prevent carcinogenesis and osteoporosis;”

An April 2009 paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that compared to nondrinkers, both male and female drinkers had denser bones. Men who consumed 1-2 drinks a day of alcohol or beer had 3.4-4.5% greater hip bone mineral density (BMD.) Postmenopausal women consuming more than 2 drinks per day had even greater hip and spine BMD (5-8.3%). Drinking more than 2 drinks a day did not appear to convey added benefit to men, it actually lowered their BMD. After adjustment for silicon intake, all intergroup differences for beer were no longer significant.”

An October 2009 article in the journal Nutrition reported on a Spanish study. Data were collected on “1697 healthy women… 710 were premenopausal, 176 were perimenopausal, and 811 were postmenopausal. The women recruited completed a questionnaire that contained detailed sections on current cigarette, alcohol, caffeine, and nutrient consumption.” The researchers used ultrasound transmission speeds through bone to judge density. The found, “Quantitative bone ultrasound values were greater in the beer drinkers compared with the no beer and/or wine drinkers.”

We’ve long known that silicon was essential for strong connective tissue. Just look at all the silicon containing products at Vitamin Cottage and their promise to improve brittle fingernails and hair as well as erase facial wrinkles.
A double blinded, placebo controlled human clinical trial using silicon in the form of orthosilicic acid (OSA) in postmenopausal women was published in June 2008. “Over 12-months, 136 women … completed the study and received, daily, 1000 mg Ca and 20 mcg cholecalciferol (Vit D3) and three different ch-OSA doses (3, 6 and 12 mg Si) or placebo. … Overall, there was a trend for ch-OSA to confer some additional benefit to Ca and Vit D3 treatment, especially for markers of bone formation, …. Combined therapy of ch-OSA and Ca/Vit D3 had a potential beneficial effect on bone collagen compared to Ca/Vit D3 alone which suggests that this treatment is of potential use in osteoporosis.”

Free text: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/utils/fref.fcgi?PrId=3494&itool=Abstract-nondef&uid=18547426&nlmid=100968565&db=pubmed&url=http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pubmed&pubmedid=18547426

A June 2009 rat study also suggests silicon may be of use, “… Si[licon] supplementation produced positive effects on bone mineral density in Ca-deficient OVX [ovariectomized] rats by reducing bone resorption.” Nevertheless, these results should be considered with caution as the doses they used were quite high, 500 mg/Kg body weight.

Silicon is found in clinically relevant amounts in a number of foods but absorption varies. For example 64% of the silicon found in alcohol-free beer is absorbed while only 4% of the silicon in bananas is.
Beer, it turns out, is an excellent source of silicon. A 2004 article in The British Journal of Nutrition analyzed silica content of 76 different regional English beers and absorption. They found little variation in silicon content, they averaged about 19.2 mg/L and about 55% of the silica was absorbed, an absorption comparable to a liquid solution of orthosilicic acid (OSA).
A recent article by Bamforth and Casey published online in February 2010 found a greater variation in beers in the United States. The researchers analyzed 100 commercial beers and found the silicon content ranged from 6.4 mg/L to 56.5 mg/L, with an average of 30 mg/L. Two beers are the equivalent of just under a half-liter; a person could easily get a substantial dose of silicon from drinking just a few beers. Drinking beer for your health requires a careful balance. While a beer or so may be good, more than two drinks a day is considered bad for your health. So one would want to choose a beer with a high silicon content. India Pale Ales as a group have the highest silicon contents of any commercial beer.
• Indian Pale Ale (IPA): 41.2 mg/L
• Ales: 32.8 mg/L
• Pale Ale: 36.5 mg/L
• Sorghum: 27.3 mg/L
• Lagers: 23.7 mg/L
• Wheat: 18.9 mg/L
• Light lagers: 17.2 mg/L
• Non Alcoholic: 16.3 mg/L

The high silicon content may explain at least in part why beer drinkers have stronger bones but it isn’t this simple. Other chemicals found in hops act as phytoestrogens.

In fact hops may be useful in reducing menopausal hot flashes because of these phytoestrogens. A 2005 paper compared the in vitro extrogenic effects of hops with those of red clover (Trifolium pratense) predicting that both might be useful to alleviated symptoms.

A 2006 paper found the phytoestrogen, 8-prenylnaringenin, isolated from hops useful in preventing hotflash like symptoms in animals with surgically induced menopause. The first prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study using a hop extract to alleviate menopausal symptoms in women was published in May 2006.

January 2006: The pharmacognosy of Humulus lupulus L. (hops) with an emphasis on estrogenic properties.
free text: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1852439/?tool=pubmed

These phytoestrogens may contribute to greater bone density.

These chemicals found in hops may also lower risk of breast cancer. It appears that some of them act as aromatase inhibitors lowering levels of estrogens. An April 2006 paper tells us that both the prenylflavonoids isolated from hops and from various beers that the researchers tested had significant effect inhibiting aromatase action. This action would account for some of the anticancer effect of hops.

Studies have focused mainly on xanthohumol, the most abundant prenylated chalcone in hops extract. However, during beer brewing and after drinking, the xanthohumol breaks down into different metabolites, including isoxanthohumol and 8-prenylnaringenin. When these three chemicals, xanthohumol, isoxanthohumol and 8-prenylnaringenin were tested on breast cancer cells, all three chemicals inhibited aromatase activity and thus, estrogen formation. Additionally, the three compounds decreased breast cancer cell line proliferation and induced apoptosis. Adding estrogen to the cells neutralized the anti-proliferative effect of these compounds, suggesting that their mechanism of action involved estrogen depletion. These same chemicals are apparently effective against a wider range of cancers.

A quick literature search suggests chemicals could play an active role in treating colorectal adenocarcinoma, hepatocellular carcinoma, melanoma, prostate cancer, and Burkitt lymphoma.

Of note is a February 2007 article in Cancer Letters that tells us that xanthohumol, derived from hops, not only induces apoptosis in prostate cancer cells but it also inhibits NF-kappaB activation. We could extrapolate from the NF-KappaB inhibition to create a long list or potential uses.

There are situations where we might argue in favor of regular consumption of India Pale Ale, for example a menopausal, osteoporotic patient at high risk for breast cancer. The potential benefit of this prescription needs to be balanced by the increased risks posed by the alcohol consumed, but then again those alcohol free beers are increasingly drinkable. Conceivably a high hops, high silicon, high xanthohumol and low alcohol beer could be developed. With simple manipulations in the brewing process xanthohumol levels of beer can be increased up to 10 mg/L.

Silicon is now one of the many tools we consider for treating osteoporosis. Past articles have featured the benefit of unipedal standing, or what is now referred to as Flamingo Therapy. This program may need updating. Instead telling people to stand on each foot for a minute twice a day, perhaps we should say, “Stand on one foot while drinking a bottle of India Pale Ale, then switch feet and open another bottle.”
Granted that last paragraph was written tongue in cheek. We aren’t quite ready to suggest this yet. That is because the frequency of falls is a far stronger predictor of osteoporotic fractures than bone density is. Drinking beer will most likely increase falls far more significantly than it will increase bone density. In the end, beer drinkers will not come out ahead. That is unless they develop a taste for non-alcoholic brews. What this research does point to is the potential benefit that might be derived from concentrates isolated from beer and not that we should encourage unhealthy habits in ourselves and others.

The online version of this article contains abstracts of all papers referenced and may be found at:


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