Happy St. Patrick’s Day! The world has a lot of ways to celebrate this day each year on March 17th. In Chicago the river is dyed green. In Sidney Australia, the famous opera house is lit with green lights. New York celebrates with an annual parade dating back to 1762. No matter what the city, no matter whether you are are Irish or not, one St. Patrick’s Day tradition that unites us all is beer. Ireland is known for the stout Guinness and on St.Patrick’s Day, an estimated 3 million pints of the popular beer are consumed. And believe it or not-there are actually health benefits to beer-when consumed in moderation!
Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in the world. Rich in phenols and amino acids, it has a number of positive effects. While the media has often focused on red wine as the healthy alcohol recommended in moderate consumption, it turns out that other alcoholic beverages, beer, red wine, white wine and spirits, all have beneficial effects. Among women 1 drink of alcohol per day and in men 1-2 drinks of alcohol a day, regardless of whether its in the form of wine, beer or spirits, can have many beneficial effects.
In moderation, beer and other alcoholic drinks:
- Increase high density lipoprotein (HDL) levels (the “good” cholesterol)
- Lower the risk of heart disease
- Lower future death risk among people who have had heart attacks
- Lower the risk of developing diabetes by 36%.
- Lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
- Lower the risk of developing stroke
- Are associated with lower rates of benign prostatic hypertrophy
- Are associated with a lower risk of osteoporosis.
Alcohol can increase the risk of breast cancer in women, however it is thought this may be due to its impact on folic acid levels. Women who have good folic acid intake (600mcg/day through diet or supplements) who consume alcohol in moderation have not been found to have this increased risk of breast cancer. However it is best to talk to your doctor about alcohol use, especially if you have a history or family history of breast cancer. It is also important to make sure you have a good diet to get the most benefits from alcohol use.
While there are many health benefits to alcohol, it’s not for everyone. In particular, in someone with a history of alcoholism or liver disease and in pregnant or nursing mothers, it is safest to avoid drinking alcohol (or drink carefully in the case of nursing mothers as alcohol can be excreted in breast milk for 3 hours after drinking in a 120 lb woman-longer in thinner women).
Also, to reiterate, the key is moderation! That’s 1 drink a day in women and 1-2 drinks a day in men. What is considered a drink varies on the alcoholic beverage of choice as well as the exact alcohol content of the drink. In general, a rule of thumb is that one drink is considered:
- A 12-ounce can or bottle of regular beer
- A 5-ounce glass of dinner wine
- A shot (one and one-half ounces) of 80 proof liquor or spirits such as vodka, tequila, or rum either straight or in a mixed drink.
Fun Facts About St. Patricks Day
- St. Patricks Day commemorates the death of the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, who died in 461 AD.
- St. Patrick is actually British. He was kidnapped as a boy and taken to Ireland as a slave. He later escaped but returned to Ireland as a priest bringing Christianity to the country.
- The original color associated with St Patrick’s day was blue not green.
- St. Patrick’s as an official Roman Catholic feast day was being celebrated as early at the 9th century.
- It was made an official public holiday in Ireland in 1903.
- The first St. Patrick’s Day parade did not occur in Ireland but in Boston in 1737.
- It is now celebrated all over the world in Japan, Montserrat and even in the International Space Station.
Javier Romeo*, Julia Wa¨rnberg, Esther Nova, et al. British Journal of Nutrition. 2007; 98: S1. S111-S115