For thousands of years, man has poured litres of beer down his neck. The after-effects of the excessive consumption are supposedly beer-bellies, beer-noses, beer-eyes, beer-arms and similar odd images, which no-one knows quite so much about how to recognise. This forces us to ask the question: is beer in any way healthy?
Regulars at the pub have often concerned themselves with this question, like philosophical discussions on the death rate of humans. A Swedish miracle healer tried to solve both puzzles in a radical way using a report from the year 1408 – and failed miserably:
A man slipped by accident and fell in the river. Helpful citizens were able to drag the non-swimmer out of the rapids with united force, but the rescuers came too late. The man was no longer moving. An approaching miracle doctor wanted to be sure, so he gave his patient warm beer. When the expected re-awakening didn't occur before the eyes of the agape village inhabitants, the master doctor, who had unintentionally assisted in euthanasia, took to his heels.
Despite this tragic incident, the negative side-effects of beer on people's health were kept to a limit over the following centuries. In fact quite the opposite happened – it became evident that beer was actually healthy, since it contains every type of trace elements, many vitamins and minerals. And in any case, whoever claims to drink beer for health reasons will find themselves in the midst of sneering laughter.
The doctors have known more for thousands of years. It began in summers 4000 years ago, when beer was a permanent element of doctors' prescriptions – it enabled bitter herbs and dry powders to be swallowed more easily. It was also used the other way round: beer that tasted so bad it could not be drunk was used by doctors to induce vomiting when someone had been poisoned.
The Egyptians used beer for enemata, as an anti-worming substance, for stomach-ache, constipation, against skin impurities, even for washing hair and – what is particularly interesting – together with a "magic herb" for scorpion bites.
The Romans, well-known critics of beer, even rejected the drink for its medicinal properties. They thought "beer caused Elephanthiasis" (a thickening of the skin) – and were possibly referring to the alarmingly thick stomachs of some "barbarians".
"Beer makes you fat!" claim some people even today. It is nevertheless only indirectly true that you get a beer belly from excessive drinking. The hops-water-malt drink encourages your appetite and makes you hungry. This means you will likely eat something good. The fact that beer is guilty for an enlarged waistline is really an excuse, since one litre of beer (roughly 438 calories) contains as many carbohydrates as 150 grams of bread and much less that in the same quantity of white wine (about 640 calories).
Beer does not always have to be drunk with food. It is also a tangy enrichment for meals themselves. The old home recipes of numerous grandmothers attest to this, including the classic beer soup (beef stock, beaten egg, beer) and the hefty roast pig in beer sauce or with beer cream which have appeared even in the noblest kitchens around the world.
It is not only thousands of years ago that doctors and scientists experimented with beer; even today doctors find astonishing results.
In endurance tests among 7700 elderly people on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu carried out by Dr. Abraham Kagan found that "beer drinkers, and the majority of the elderly that were observed belonged to this category, have the best chances of escaping a heart attack" (Dr. Kagan).
The Parisian doctor Professor Gulpin, after scientific research, came to the conclusion that beer, above all after sporting activity, improved the oxygen intake in the lungs and the exhausted body regenerates more quickly.
As opposed to wine, beer encourages the liver and helps to reduce the alcohol provided. Statistics have also shown that the number of liver diseases in wine-growing districts (e.g. Burgenland) is much higher that in areas where beer is drunk (e.g. Tyrol, Salzburg).
Vitamin deficiency through poor diet can considerably slow down the healing of injuries and diseases. Beer, rich in vitamins, is thus recommended by many doctors. For renal diseases, beer has been a fixed part of the dieting programme for a long time.
The effect of the drink must really have worked wonders sometimes in the Middle Ages. No more need be said than that beer was used to fight against the plague.
Who knows, perhaps beer is the raw material, the life elixir of the future, without us having suspected it. An artisan, who lived long before our time, laid the foundation stones for this, when he found out that ivory can be much more easily cut if it is soaked in beer beforehand.
Ingenious! – Or, as is so often the case, perhaps simply a coincidence, whereby Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of insobriety, had her shaky finger in the pie?