Dec. 18, 2000 HONOLULU, Dec. 17 - When you're planning for that Super Bowl party next month, be sure to include a six-pack of your favorite antioxidants. That's right, antioxidants! Turns out that beer - in moderation, of course - is chock-full of healthy stuff that can reduce the risk of cataracts and heart disease, according to research presented here today at the 2000 International Chemical Congress of Pacific Basin Societies.
The weeklong scientific meeting, held once every five years, is hosted by the American Chemical Society, in conjunction with its counterparts in Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand.
Researchers in Canada and the United States presented results of animal studies showing that beer, especially the darker ales and stouts, may reduce the incidence of atherosclerosis and cataracts by as much as 50 percent.
Darker beers have more antioxidants than the lighter lager beers, according to Canadian researchers John Trevithick, Ph.D., and Maurice Hirst, Ph.D., of the University of Western Ontario, and Joe Vinson, Ph.D., of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. The Canadian team focused on determining why antioxidants in beer seem to help reduce the risk of cataracts, especially in diabetics. Vinson investigated beer's beneficial effect in reducing the risk of heart disease.
In tests with rat lenses, Trevithick's laboratory found that antioxidants that act similarly to those in beer protect special parts of cells in the eye - called mitochondria. Damaged mitochondria can lead to an increased incidence of cataracts.
The scientists discovered that putting the eye's lens under high glucose stress - similar to what happens to diabetics when their glucose levels rise - damages mitochondria in the lens' outer cells. Mitochondria are responsible for converting glucose to energy.
"What often happens with diabetes is that the people don't get diagnosed until they've had one or two episodes of really high blood glucose for a period of time, like a day or two," Trevithick said. "That may be enough to damage the lens."
"Antioxidants protect the mitochondria against this damage," according to Trevithick. "We think that may be one of the factors that's contributing to the lower risk of cataracts in people who have one drink a day."
The cost-benefit aspect of antioxidants and cataracts is very important, Trevithick believes. He says cataract operations cost the U.S. Medicare program about $4 billion a year. "If you could cut that by 50 percent, you're saving over $2 billion a year. And that's just in the states."
Trevithick's daughter, Colleen Trevithick, now pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles, is also involved in the beer antioxidant studies. She is investigating which part of the brewing process may contribute the antioxidants to beer and will present some of her findings at the meeting.
At the University of Scranton, Vinson, a professor of chemistry, found that giving hamsters the human equivalent of two beers a day halved their rate of atherosclerosis. "This is a significant effect," he noted.
"Beer has a fair amount of antioxidants compared to other beverages," Vinson said. "There is a definite benefit from the antioxidants in the beer."
Previous research by others has shown similar health benefits from antioxidants in wine. Likewise, the alcohol in beer and wine has been shown to have beneficial effects against heart disease. But Vinson believes his study is the first to specifically show that antioxidants in beer can add to the alcohol benefit. "If you have an antioxidant in a beverage, like beer, then you're getting an added benefit, in my opinion, at least from the animal model." Vinson also is presenting the results of several other studies at the meeting that show antioxidants in tea and grape juice can help reduce atherosclerosis.
More than 8,000 research papers will be presented during this year's International Chemical Congress, which is sponsored jointly by the American Chemical Society, the Chemical Society of Japan, the Canadian Society of Chemistry, the Royal Australian Chemical Institute and the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry.
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