Can beer be good for your bones?

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Dietary silicon can help maintain bone strength and keep connective tissues in good shape, and is found in grains such as oats and barley—which also happen to be key ingredients to brewing beer. Previous studies suggest that, as a rich source of silicon, beer, in moderate amounts, might help fight the bone degradation of conditions such as osteoporosis. To see just how much silicon can be derived from a few brews—and determine which types of grains yield the highest amount of dietary silicon—researchers from the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis, tested 100 commercial beers, as well as the raw ingredients used to brew. They found that, in commercial beers, average silicon content ranges from 6.4mg per liter to 56.5 mg per liter. (While neither the U.S. or U.K. governments recommend a certain amount of silicon intake per day, both do advise against excessive silicon consumption—the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency recommends that silicon intake not exceed 700 mg per day.)

In the study, published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, researchers found that barley was richer in silicon than wheat. Testing barley both before and after malting—a process that generates the sugars that will be fermented later in the brewing process—the researchers found that silicon content changed little, and the majority of silicon remained in the grain’s husk. They also found that, likely due to the lower amount of heat stress during the malting process, lighter-colored barley malts tended to maintain higher concentrations of silicon, compared to darker malts. In the next step of the brew process—making of the wort that, after fermentation, becomes the beer—though much of the silicon remains in the grain husk, which is thrown out, a substantial amount is also extracted into the wort, the researchers explain.

Additionally, while hops are a rich source of silicon, and actually have higher concentrations of the mineral than other grains, because they are used in proportionately smaller amounts during brewing, they likely contribute less to the total silicon concentration of a beer. That said, the researchers indicate that very hoppy beers would likely have somewhat more silicon.

(Interestingly, this is hardly the first time beer has been proposed as a health remedy. Because of its high iron content, for example, in the past surgical patients in the U.K. used to be given Guinness after operations.)

So does this mean that a beer a day will keep brittle bones away? It’s not quite that simple. While moderate beer consumption may be an appealing way to get your dose of minerals, though perhaps less enticing, grains, fruits and vegetables are also good sources of dietary silicon.

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