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Beer Without the Bummer

Thu, 08/29/2013 - 11:44am
Cynthia Fox

A magical hydrating beer that minimizes hangover has been brewed, Australian researchers say. By adding electrolytes, which are natural body chemicals (and sports-drink additives), the merry Aussies say they have quashed one of The Cold One's main side effects.

The paper was published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism earlier this summer. Since then, "there have been many articles on our study," says co-author Michael Leveritt, now a University of Queensland senior lecturer, contacted via email. Indeed, the study has been a major hit on the internet and in the mainstream media. Everyone wants in on the bibulous debate, from Time magazine and ABC news, to Reddit.com—where it generated 21,216 upvotes, 18,450 downvotes, and 1,279 comments in a matter of weeks.  

The product contains less alcohol than standard ales. It is a light beer. Its inventors, a Griffith University's Health Institute group, toyed with four different beers. The taste of none was affected by the addition of electrolytes.

But the “augmented light beer was by far the most well retained by the body, meaning it was the most effective at rehydrating the subjects," said lead author and Griffith associate professor Ben Desbrow in a prepared statement. It was one-third more efficient at hydrating its drinkers than average beers. 

Ben Desborw BSc, GradDip Nutrition and Diet, GradDipSc, MHSc Human Nutrition, PhDHangovers are caused in part by dehydration.

For the study, seven men biked on a cycle ergometer until a body mass loss of about two percent occurred. Participants were then randomly offered a different beer on four different occasions.

Drinks included a low alcohol “light” beer (2.3 percent alcohol); a low alcohol “light” beer with added sodium (an electrolyte); a full strength beer; and a full- strength beer with added sodium. Participants drinking the light beer with added sodium replaced the most fluids, and urinated the least.

Indeed, the scientists wrote, “reducing the alcohol concentration and raising the sodium content of beer resulted in significantly greater post exercise fluid retention compared to drinking a commercial full strength beer.”

The group noted further that, when sodium is added to completely non-alcoholic drinks, even more fluid is retained. An exact dose-dependent measurement has yet to be done.

But the scientists cautioned: “All beverage treatments failed to completely restore fluid balance across the four-hour observation period suggesting that beer, irrespective of ingredient profile, is an undesirable post-exercise fluid.”

Not all response has been positive to the study, which was provocatively entitled, “Beer as a sports drink? Manipulating beer's ingredients to replace lost fluid.” Other researchers noted that more than electrolyte loss is involved in hangovers. For example, some noted that acetate, which results from alcohol metabolism, is a big cause of next-day headaches.

Indeed, the very process of metabolizing alcohol distracts the body from more important endeavors, such as generating glucose for the brain. And many clinicians view the hangover as providing a natural, needed disincentive to over-drinking, which can lead to addiction, immune disorders, liver failure, massive social problems, and death.

Regardless, many beer devotees were less than impressed with the study, period.

“Anti-hangover beer is a swing and a miss,” complained Geek.com.

“Hangover-free Beer Has Been Invented, and it Sounds Awful,” cried policymic.

“Why bother then?” noted one Reddit.com commenter, in response to the “lowered alcohol content” trade-off.

Agreed another disenchanted Reddit analyst:  “So you're saying, if I drink less alcohol, I'll have less of a hangover? Go figure.”

Still, The Atlantic called the researchers “heroic” for at least….trying. Hangovers cost the American economy, in lost work alone, $160 billion a year, the magazine noted. It said the researchers valiantly persevered in their quest after they realized that beer drinking after work is never a great idea—but it is an eternal one. “Alcohol in a dehydrated body can have all sorts of repercussions, including decreased awareness of risk. So, if you're going to live in the real world, you can either spend your time telling people what they shouldn't do, or you can work on ways of reducing the danger of some of these socialized activities."

And Salon.com noted the study was the natural next step for a nation whose former prime minister, Robert James Lee Hawke, “broke a world record for sucking down a yard glass of ale.”

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