Beer

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What is it?

Beer is an alcoholic drink.

Beer is used for preventing heart disease and stroke. It is also used to reduce the chance of death from heart attack, for preventing decline of thinking skills later in life, for Alzheimer disease, and for many other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.

It is effective?
Natural Medicines rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

Possibly Effective for …

  • Heart disease. There is some evidence that drinking alcohol can benefit the heart. Drinking one alcoholic beverage per day or drinking alcohol on at least 3 to 4 days per week is a good rule of thumb for people who drink alcohol. But don’t drink more than two drinks per day. More than two drinks daily can increase the risk of over-all death as well as dying from heart disease. Here is what researchers have found:
    • Drinking alcoholic beverages, including beer, by healthy people seems to reduce the risk of developing heart disease. Moderate alcohol use (one to two drinks per day) reduces the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), and heart attack by approximately 30% to 50% when compared with nondrinkers.
    • Light to moderate alcohol use (one to two drinks per day) reduces the risk of having the type of stroke that is caused by a clot in the blood vessel (ischemic stroke), but increases the risk of having the type of stroke caused by a broken blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke).
    • Light to moderate alcohol consumption (one to two drinks per day) in the year before a first heart attack is associated with a reduced risk of death from the heart attack or any other cause compared with non-drinkers.
    • In men with established coronary heart disease (CHD), consumption of 1-14 alcoholic drinks per week, including beer, doesn’t seem to have any effect on the risk of death from heart disease or any other cause, compared with men who drink less than one drink per week. Drinking three or more drinks per day is associated with increased likelihood of death in men with a history of heart attacks.
    • However, some early research suggests that drinking about 11 ounces of a specific type of beer (Maccabee beer) 330 mL daily for 30 days does not seem to reduce blood pressure or improve cholesterol in people with heart disease.
  • Memory and thinking skills (cognitive function). Elderly men who have a history of drinking one alcoholic drink per day seem to maintain better general thinking ability during their late 70s and 80s compared to non-drinkers. However, drinking more than four alcoholic drinks per day during middle age seems to be linked with significantly poorer thinking ability later in life.
  • Heart failure and fluid build up in the body (congestive heart failure or CHF). There is some evidence that consuming one to four alcoholic drinks per day reduces the risk of CHF in people aged 65 years or older.
  • Diabetes. People who drink alcohol, including beer, in moderate amounts seem to have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. People with diabetes who consume alcohol in moderate amounts seem to have a reduced risk of coronary heart disease compared with non-drinkers with type 2 diabetes. The risk reduction is similar to that found in healthy people who consume light to moderate amounts of alcohol.
  • A digestive tract infection that can lead to ulcers (Helicobacter pylori or H. pylori). There is some evidence that moderate to high consumption of alcohol (more than 75 grams) per week from beverages such as beer and wine can reduce the risk of H. pylori infection.
  • Death from any cause. There is some evidence that light to moderate consumption of alcoholic drinks can reduce the risk of death from any cause in people who are middle-aged and older.

Insufficient Evidence to Make a Determination for …

  • Alzheimer disease. Early evidence suggests that one to two alcoholic drinks per day can reduce the risk of Alzheimer disease in both men and women compared to non-drinkers.
  • Anxiety. The effect of alcohol on anxiety is complicated and may be affected by the psychological state of the user. Alcohol sometimes reduces anxiety, sometimes increases it, and sometimes has no effect.
  • Cancer. Although drinking wine has been linked with reduced cancer mortality, drinking beer does not always have this effect. In fact, there is some evidence that drinking beer slightly increases cancer-related death. Moderate beer intake has been linked with a reduced risk of developing some cancers, but not others.
  • Airway infections caused by exercise. Early research shows that drinking non-alcoholic beer before and after a marathon seems to decrease how many upper airway infections runners get.
  • Low bone mass (osteopenia). There is some developing evidence that suggests moderate alcohol consumption in women who have passed menopause is linked with stronger bones. Alcohol intake of one-half to one drink per day seems to have the greatest effect on bone strength compared with non-drinkers and heavy drinkers of alcohol.
  • An autoimmune disorder that causes widespread swelling (systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE). Drinking alcoholic drinks, including beer, at least 2 times per week has been linked with a reduced risk of SLE in women.
  • Gallbladder disease.
  • Kidney stones.
  • Stimulating appetite and digestion.
  • Other conditions.

More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of beer for these uses.

How does it work?
Beer is thought to help prevent heart disease by increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as “good cholesterol.” Also, the vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) contained in beer can help lower homocysteine levels, a chemical considered to be one of the risk factors for heart disease.

Is there concern for the safety of its use?
When taken by mouth: Beer is LIKELY SAFE for most people when used in moderation. This translates to two or fewer 12-ounce glasses a day. Drinking more than this is POSSIBLY UNSAFE. Drinking higher amounts of beer can cause many side effects including flushing, confusion, trouble controlling emotions, blackouts, loss of coordination, seizures, drowsiness, trouble breathing, hypothermia, low blood sugar, vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding, irregular heartbeat, and others.

Long-term use can lead to alcohol dependence and can cause many serious side effects, including: malnutrition, memory loss, mental problems, heart problems, liver failure, swelling (inflammation) of the pancreas, cancers of the digestive track, and others.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Alcohol is LIKELY UNSAFE to drink during pregnancy. It can cause birth defects and other serious harm to the unborn infant. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy, especially during the first two months, is associated with significant risk of miscarriage, fetal alcohol syndrome, as well as developmental and behavioral disorders after birth. Don’t drink alcohol if you are pregnant.

Alcohol is also LIKELY UNSAFE to drink when breast-feeding. Alcohol passes into breast milk and can cause abnormal development of skills that involve both mental and muscular coordination, such as the ability to turn over. Alcohol can also disturb the infant’s sleep pattern. Despite a rumor to the contrary, alcohol also seems to reduce milk production.

Asthma: There have been occasional reports of asthma triggered by drinking beer.

Gout: Using alcohol can make gout worse.

Heart conditions: While there is some evidence that drinking beer in moderation might help to prevent congestive heart failure, beer is harmful when used by someone who already has this condition. Using alcohol can make chest pain and congestive heart failure worse.

High blood pressure: Drinking three or more alcoholic drinks per day can increase blood pressure and make high blood pressure worse.

High levels of fats called triglycerides in the blood (hypertriglyceridemia): Drinking alcohol can make this condition worse.

Insomnia: Drinking alcohol can make insomnia worse.

Liver disease: Drinking alcohol can make liver disease worse.

Neurological conditions: Drinking alcohol can make certain disorders of the nervous system worse.

Swelling (inflammation) of the pancreas (pancreatitis): Drinking alcohol can make pancreatitis worse.

Stomach ulcers or persistent heartburn: Drinking alcohol can make these conditions worse.

A blood condition called porphyria: Alcohol use can make porphyria worse.

Mental problems: Drinking three or more drinks of alcohol per day can make mental problems worse and reduce thinking skills.

Surgery: Beer can slow down the central nervous system. There is a concern that combining beer with anesthesia and other medications used during and after surgery might slow the central nervous system down too much. Stop drinking beer at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.

Are there any drug interactions?

Antibiotics (Sulfonamide antibiotics)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

The alcohol in beer can interact with some antibiotics. This can lead to upset stomach, vomiting, sweating, headache, and an increased heartbeat. Do not drink beer when taking antibiotics.

Some antibiotics that interact with beer include sulfamethoxazole (Gantanol), sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), sulfisoxazole (Gantrisin), trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim, Septra), and others.

Aspirin

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

Aspirin can sometimes damage the stomach and cause ulcers and bleeding. The alcohol in beer can also damage the stomach. Taking aspirin along with beer might increase the chance of ulcers and bleeding in the stomach. Avoid taking beer and aspirin together.

Cefamandole (Mandol)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

The alcohol in beer can interact with cefamandole (Mandol). This can lead to upset stomach, vomiting, sweating, headache, and an increased heartbeat. Do not drink beer while taking cefamandole (Mandol).

Cefoperazone (Cefobid)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

The alcohol in beer can interact with cefoperazone (Cefobid). This can lead to upset stomach, vomiting, sweating, headache, and an increased heartbeat. Do not drink beer while taking cefoperazone (Cefobid).

Chlorpropamide (Diabinese)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

The body breaks down the alcohol in beer to get rid of it. Chlorpropamide (Diabinese) might decrease how quickly the body breaks down alcohol. Drinking beer and taking chlorpropamide (Diabinese) might cause a headache, vomiting, flushing, and other unpleasant reactions. Don’t drink beer if you are taking chlorpropamide (Diabinese).

Cisapride (Propulsid)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

Cisapride (Propulsid) might decrease how quickly the body gets rid of the alcohol in beer. Taking cisapride (Propulsid) along with beer might increase the effects and side effects of the alcohol in beer.

Disulfiram (Antabuse)

Interaction Rating=Major Do not take this combination.

The body breaks down the alcohol in beer to get rid of it. Disulfiram (Antabuse) decreases how fast the body breaks down alcohol. Drinking beer and taking disulfiram (Antabuse) can cause a pounding headache, vomiting, flushing, and other unpleasant reactions. Don’t drink any alcohol if you are taking disulfiram (Antabuse).

Erythromycin

Interaction Rating=Major Do not take this combination.

The body breaks down the alcohol in beer to get rid of it. Erythromycin can decrease how quickly the body gets rid of alcohol. Drinking beer and taking erythromycin might increase the effects and side effects of alcohol.

Griseofulvin (Fulvicin)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

The body breaks down the alcohol in beer to get rid of it. Griseofulvin (Fulvicin) decreases how quickly the body breaks down alcohol. Drinking beer and taking griseofulvin (Fulvicin) can cause a pounding headache, vomiting, flushing, and other unpleasant reactions. Don’t drink any alcohol if you are taking griseofulvin (Fulvicin).

Medications for pain (Narcotic drugs)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

The body breaks down some medications for pain to get rid of them. The alcohol in beer might decrease how quickly the body gets rid of some medications for pain. Drinking beer and taking some medications for pain might increase the effects and side effects of some medications for pain.

Some medications for pain that might interact with alcohol include meperidine (Demerol), hydrocodone, morphine, OxyContin, and many others.

Medications that can harm the liver (Hepatotoxic drugs)

Interaction Rating=Major Do not take this combination.

The alcohol in beer can harm the liver. Drinking beer and taking medications that can harm the liver can increase the risk of liver damage. Do not drink beer if you are taking a medication that can harm the liver.

Some medications that can harm the liver include acetaminophen (Tylenol and others), amiodarone (Cordarone), carbamazepine (Tegretol), isoniazid (INH), methotrexate (Rheumatrex), methyldopa (Aldomet), fluconazole (Diflucan), itraconazole (Sporanox), erythromycin (Erythrocin, Ilosone, others), phenytoin (Dilantin) , lovastatin (Mevacor), pravastatin (Pravachol), simvastatin (Zocor), and many others.

Medications that decrease stomach acid (H2-Blockers)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

Some medications that decrease stomach acid might interact with the alcohol in beer. Drinking beer and taking some medications that decrease stomach acid might increase how much alcohol the body absorbs, and increase the risk of side effects of alcohol.

Some medications that decrease stomach acid and might interact with alcohol include cimetidine (Tagamet), ranitidine (Zantac), nizatidine (Axid), and famotidine (Pepcid).

Metformin (Glucophage)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

Metformin (Glucophage) is broken down by the body in the liver. The alcohol in beer is also broken down in the body by the liver. Drinking beer and taking metformin might cause serious side effects.

Metronidazole (Flagyl)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

The alcohol in beer can interact with metronidazole (Flagyl). This can lead to upset stomach, vomiting, sweating, headache, and an increased heartbeat. Do not drink beer while taking metronidazole (Flagyl).

NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

NSAIDs are anti-inflammatory medications used for decreasing pain and swelling. NSAIDs can sometimes damage the stomach and intestines and cause ulcers and bleeding. The alcohol in beer can also damage the stomach and intestines. Taking NSAIDs along with beer might increase the chance of ulcers and bleeding in the stomach and intestines. Avoid taking beer and NSAIDs together.

Some NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Nuprin, others), indomethacin (Indocin), naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprelan, Naprosyn), piroxicam (Feldene), aspirin, and others.

Phenytoin (Dilantin)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

The body breaks down phenytoin (Dilantin) to get rid of it. The alcohol in beer might increase how quickly the body breaks down phenytoin (Dilantin). Drinking beer and taking phenytoin (Dilantin) might decrease the effectiveness of phenytoin (Dilantin) and increase the possibility of seizures.

Sedative medications (Barbiturates)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

The alcohol in beer might cause sleepiness and drowsiness. Medications that cause sleepiness and drowsiness are called sedative medications. Taking beer along with sedative medications might cause too much sleepiness. Do not drink beer if you are taking sedative medications.

Sedative medications (Benzodiazepines)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

The alcohol in beer might cause sleepiness and drowsiness. Drugs that cause sleepiness and drowsiness are called sedative medications. Taking beer along with sedative medications might cause too much sleepiness. Do not drink beer if you are taking sedative medications.

Some of these sedative medications include clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), and others.

Sedative medications (CNS depressants)

Interaction Rating=Major Do not take this combination.

The alcohol in beer might cause sleepiness and drowsiness. Medications that cause sleepiness and drowsiness are called sedative medications. Drinking beer and taking sedative medications might cause too much sleepiness and other serious side effects.

Some sedative medications include clonazepam (Klonopin), lorazepam (Ativan), phenobarbital (Donnatal), zolpidem (Ambien), and others.

Tolbutamide (Orinase)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

The body breaks down the alcohol in beer to get rid of it. Tolbutamide (Orinase) can decrease how quickly the body breaks down alcohol. Drinking beer and taking tolbutamide (Orinase) can cause a pounding headache, vomiting, flushing, and other unpleasant reactions. Don’t drink beer if you are taking tolbutamide (Orinase).

Warfarin (Coumadin)

Interaction Rating=Major Do not take this combination.

Warfarin (Coumadin) is used to slow blood clotting. The alcohol in beer can interact with warfarin (Coumadin). Drinking large amounts of alcohol can change the effectiveness of warfarin (Coumadin). Be sure to have your blood checked regularly. The dose of your warfarin (Coumadin) might need to be changed.

Are there any interactions with herbs and supplements?
Beta-carotene: Drinking alcohol, such as the alcohol in beer, can decrease the amount of beta-carotene in the body.
Herbs and supplements with sedative properties: The alcohol in beer can act like a sedative medication. That is, it can cause sleepiness and drowsiness. Drinking beer and using natural products that also act as sedatives might cause too much sleepiness and drowsiness. Some of these include 5-HTP, calamus, California poppy, catnip, hops, Jamaican dogwood, kava, St. John’s wort, skullcap, valerian, yerba mansa, and others.
Thiamine: Drinking alcohol, such as the alcohol in beer, can decrease the amount of thiamine in the body.
Vitamin B12: Drinking alcohol, such as the alcohol in beer, can decrease the amount of vitamin B12 in the body.
Vitamin C: Drinking alcohol, such as the alcohol in beer, can decrease the amount of vitamin C in the body.

Are there any interactions with food?
There are no known interactions with foods.

What dose is used?
Alcohol intake is often measured in number of “drinks.” One drink is equivalent to a 4 oz or a 120 mL glass of wine, 12 oz of beer, or 1 oz of spirits.

The following doses have been studied in scientific research:

BY MOUTH:

  • For heart disease: one or two 12 oz drinks of beer per day have been used.
  • For heart failure and fluid build up in the body (congestive heart failure or CHF): up to four drinks of beer per day has been used.
  • For memory and thinking skills (cognitive function): up to one drink per day has been used.
  • For diabetes: three drinks per day, or 2-7 drinks per week have been used.
  • For a digestive tract infection that can lead to ulcers (Helicobacter pylori or H. pylori): More than 75 grams of alcohol per week from beverages such as beer has been used.

By what other names is the product known?
Alcohol, Alcool, Bière, Cerveza, Ethanol, Éthanol.

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