5 January 1999

Drink Up And Keep The Carcinogens Away

Beer drinkers everywhere could be toasting the latest scientific findings about their brew. Tests by Japanese researchers show that beer may inhibit the action of mutagens caused by some suspected cancer-causing compounds.

The research, scheduled to appear in the January print issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, was done by scientists at Okayama University near Hiroshima. The article was initially published Dec. 15 on the journal's website. The peer-reviewed journal is a publication of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

Twenty-four different beers, including 17 lagers, four stouts, two ales and one nonalcoholic, from 11 countries were examined. Nearly all of the beers showed "potent inhibitory effect" against mutagens found in several types of heterocyclic amines (HAs), according to Sakae Arimoto-Kobayashi, Ph.D., lead author of the report. The stout beers were the most potent, claims Arimoto. The nonalcoholic beer and one of the lagers had no effect. The beers tested were from England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Russia, Scotland, South Africa and the United States. Produced during the cooking of food, HAs are known carcinogens in animals and are believed to contribute to cancer in people.

Beer also suppressed DNA-carcinogen adduct formation in the livers of laboratory mice, according to Arimoto. "This adduct formation is a 'biomarker'for the cancer-causing action of a compound," she notes. Red and white wines, brandy and Japanese sake also were effective in inhibiting mutagens, the report states, but whiskey had no effect. It is still unclear what actually inhibits mutagen action but "there is a possibility that the plant components originating from hops might be responsible," according to the report.