Research on the cardiovascular benefits of moderate alcohol consumption has shown that alcohol's protective effects may be due to not only its ethanol content, but also its nonalcoholic constituents. For example, moderate drinking may lower the risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) through alteration of an individual's cholesterol profile. New findings published in the May issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research indicate that nonalcoholic beer may also be able to impart cardiovascular benefits without the negative effects of alcohol, by inhibiting blood coagulation and platelet activation.
"Some research suggests that the positive effects of alcoholic beverages on cardiovascular disorders is not due to alcohol alone but also, at least in part, to other so-called confounding factors such as resveratrol, a compound present in red wine," said Steffen Bassus, a senior scientist at the Deutsche Klinik fuer Diagnostik in Germany and first author of the study. "The mechanisms which underlie the protective effects of wine and beer consumption on CHD risk are not fully understood, but there is substantial evidence that the effects on hemostasis play a key role." "Hemostasis" refers to the arrest of bleeding or circulation.
Bassus and his colleagues examined the hemostatic effects of consuming three liters of regular beer, nonalcoholic beer, or alcohol mixed with water (v/v 4%) during a three-hour period on 12 young, healthy male volunteers (19 - 36 years of age). Blood samples were drawn for analysis before and at 1.5, 3.5 and 24 hours after the beginning of consumption.
All three fluids – regular beer, nonalcoholic beer, and the alcohol/water mixture – reduced the expression of activated aggregation receptor on platelets and the degranulation of platelets as well as the formation of monocyte-platelet-aggregates. In other words, nonalcoholic beer reduced platelet activation and blood coagulation just as well as the alcoholic beverages.
"The secretion and aggregation of platelets are key events in the development of intima thickening and atherosclerosis," said Bassus. Atherosclerosis is characterized by irregularly distributed lipid deposits in the arteries, which can provoke fibrosis and calcification, impede blood flow, and/or eventually shut off blood flow. "Anti-platelet drugs are often used to reduce intima thickening, for example, restenosis is used after angioplasty. Perhaps a different method of inhibiting platelet activation would be to drink dealcoholized beer."
Another finding of the study concerned only the nonalcoholic beer, which caused a significant decrease in thrombin generation.
Thombosis refers to clotting within a blood vessel, which may cause the death or decay of tissues supplied by the vessel. "Less thrombin means less thrombosis and less intima thickening," said Bassus. "Conversely, the acute consumption of alcohol beverages causes an increase of thrombin generation, suggesting a thrombotic risk in case of acute alcoholic intoxication. But this is only an assumption that has to be investigated in further studies."
Bassus said the study's findings underscore the importance of exploring all of the confounding factors associated with alcoholic beverages. "Until we know more," he said, "perhaps nonalcoholic beverages can serve as an alternative, providing health benefits without the negative implications of alcohol use and abuse."