Beer: it's good for you

Posted on September 20, 2016

Swiss scientists have spent time and money 'discovering' what everyone already knew: if you drink beer, it makes you more relaxed, more sociable and even a little more open to the idea of sex. A team from University Hospital in Basel tested 60 healthy people, with an equal number of men and women drinking alcoholic and non-alcoholic beer, then gave them a series of tests to complete. They took part in a range of tasks, including a face recognition test, empathy test and sexual arousal test.

After a beer, drinkers - particularly women - picked up on happy faces more quickly, had enhanced emotional empathy and a stronger desire to be in a more open, talkative environment. The lead researcher, Professor Matthias Liechti, said: 'Although many people drink beer and know its effects through personal experience, there is surprisingly little scientific data on its effects on the processing of emotional social information.'

We can chuckle at the fact that somebody thought this was research worth funding and doing. As Liechti says, personal experience of drinking quickly reveals these positive benefits from having a tipple. The fact that it became national news can be in part be explained by the modern media desire for a 'quirky' story. But it also tells us something else: that the benefits of alcohol are so rarely discussed that scientific evidence of them because something of a shock.

Among the interlocking circles of public health, politics and the media, alcohol is routinely condemned. Releasing revised drinking guidelines earlier this year, the chief medical officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, claimed that she seriously weighed up every glass of wine, balancing how much she wanted a drink versus the increased risk of breast cancer. The fact that she can seriously claim that 14 units per week - about six pub measures of wine per week - should be our upper limit for drinking shows how out of touch she is.

The puritans in public health can't see what is staring them in the face: that alcohol is a great source of enjoyment and pleasure for billions of people around the world. There is even plenty of research evidence to suggest that moderate drinking - including levels of drinking way above Davies's guideline level - will help us to live a little longer. Yes, consumed to excess, alcohol has downsides, too. But that is no justification for trying to regulate normal drinkers or even try to price the poor out of drinking, as the SNP wants to do in Scotland with its minimum unit pricing policy.

Yes, it's true: beer is good for you. Public health? Not so much.