Claims that Beer can Protect Against Liver Disease
WHAT IS THE TRENDING NEWS STORY
An online article claims that, according to a new study, switching from lager to pale ale may improve your chances of keeping your liver healthy due to hops protecting against the build up of hepatic fat. This research may help to explain why people who drink spirits tend to be more likely to develop a liver disease than those who normally stick to the amber nectar, while also suggesting that beers with more hops are probably the healthiest.
WHY THE STORY HAS MISINFORMATION
There is limited evidence from this one animal study on mice suggesting that hops (Humulus lupulus) may lower the formation of free radicals, which can cause damage to liver cells. The study showed that the liver of the mice who received beer with hops had significantly less buildup of damaging fat than the mice given beer without hops or plain alcohol.
The article in question mentions that switching from lager to ale will improve the chances of keeping the liver healthy, but the study specifically mentions that the mice were fed beer with hops and beer without hops. Lager and ale both have hops in them, albeit that ale has a higher hop content. Hops are the spice of beer and there is not any commercially available beer that doesn't contain hops.
A limitation of the study is also the fact that it's the first of its kind, so further studies need to be performed in order to validate and verify their findings. The study was also performed on mice, and these results cannot be extrapolated to humans. For that to happen, human studies need to be performed to assess the effects of beer, with and without hops, and ethanol on the liver of humans, and to determine if these effects are long-lasting or not.
According to European Medicines Agency, hops have been used in beer primarily for their bitter taste and preservative action for over 1000 years; however, their medicinal properties are still under investigation. The Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC) conclusions on the use of hops-derived medicines are that they may be used for the relief of mental stress and to aid sleep. This is based on their ‘traditional use’ which means that, although there is insufficient evidence from clinical trials, the effectiveness of these herbal medicines is plausible and there is evidence that they have been used safely in this way for at least 30 years (including at least 15 years within the EU). Moreover, the intended use does not require medical supervision. The point of this statement is that no mention is made on the use of hops-derived medications of formulations for managing or preventing liver disease.
There is also no mention, in the initial study, about the amount of hops that are needed to prevent liver disease from occurring. It is only mentioned that the alcohol content of the fluids given to the mice contained 6 grams of ethanol per kilogram of weight. This would be problematic in making a solid conclusion on hops being effective against preventing liver disease, because there's no mention of the dosage of hops needed to achieve this health benefit.
William Kerr, a senior scientist at the Alcohol Research Group, part of the nonprofit Public Health Institute in Emeryville, California, said that, in some countries, consumption of hard liquor is more strongly linked to death from liver disease, compared to beer consumption. He states that beer does cause liver damage, but there seems to be a weaker association between beer consumption and death from liver disease, as the mechanism is not known. Kerr says, "It's possible that people who drink spirits are more likely to be heavy drinkers than those who drink beer. It's also possible that something about beer, like the ingredient hops, is protective against liver damage". However, and this is pertinent to the initial study, Kerr said, "The amount of hops in beer can vary quite a bit. The study tested only a single beer, a type of German pilsner, so it's not clear what level of hops in beer is needed to have the effect seen in the study.