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What a way to end a Friday: alcohol and its impact on immune health

Posted Jun 04 2010 8:22am

I’m no teetotaler. (Where did that word “teetotaler” come from anyway? My brief research showed it originated in the

"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."  Ben Franklin.

"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." Ben Franklin.

British temperance movement in the 1830s.)  I do like to prudently imbibe from time to time. With summer now here, the imbibing opportunities seem to grow exponentially: Friday after-work get-togethers, the summer holidays, baseball games at my local Triple A club, the Iowa Cubs. But, as good sense dictates, one must be selective and responsible in how he or she chooses to partake.

For the past few years, I’ve tried to steer toward quality vs. price in my beverage selections.  I’ve had this general understanding that rich and dark is the way to go, vs. light and clear spirits. Now, my hunch has been validated! And on two fronts.

First, on the broad research front. A 2007 paper in the Journal of Nutrition suggests that lite (ooops, I mean “light”) to moderate consumption of alcohol, especially polyphenol-rich beverages like dark beer or red wine may have a beneficial impact on overall health and immune health. At the same time, regular, chronic over-consumption of alcohol negatively overwhelms any health benefit and can damage immune health, not to mention liver function, brain function and the like. So let’s not get carried away with this.

But back to the good part. Above I mentioned “polyphenol-rich” drinks. What are polyphenols? They are plant-originated micronutrients that exhibit anti-inflammatory and possible indirect, antioxidant-like properties in the body. EpiCor supplements are full of them. So are fruits and veggies. And, certain beers, wines and spirits contain polyphenols. Many have termed polyphenols a class of antioxidants, but researchers might not agree with that definition . Either way, they seem to be really good for you.

In fact believe it or not, I just found a Web-based tool called the Phenol Explorer, managed by the French equivalent of our U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. The site lets you look up foods and see their polyphenol content, broken out in a million different ways. And, in the fine French tradition, wine, beer and Scotch are listed.

Red wine and dark beer appear to be chalk full of polyphenols. Scotch also has some polyphenols, but not as many or as large of amount as the former. You can even select from among 5 assay methods to view differing analyses, although not all foods/beverages have data available for all assays. Basic chromatography seems to be the one standard used for all.  God, I love the French.

So, go forward and choose your aperitif wisely. And remember, drinking a Guinness is not a substitute for eating spinach, apples and nutrient-dense nuts and grains. And it won’t, by itself, cure what ails ya. But it’s still a pretty good choice when 5 p.m. Friday rolls around. Which, here, is now about 4.5 hours away!

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