To your health: Beer is good for you

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News item: Laboratory tests show hamsters that drink the equivalent of two beers a day have less heart disease than teetotaling hamsters.

OK, so that’s good news for us health-conscious boozers. But the question I’ve got for Mr. Science is:

Where’d they find the tiny frosted mugs?

I’m picturing a bunch of furry little critters sitting around, hoisting brewskis inside their cages, maybe watching TV (reruns of “Rat Patrol”?) and snacking on beer nuts. It’s not a bad life. Occasionally, the energetic one tries to work off the load on the exercise wheel. But after a few weeks, they’re all just lying around in a drunken stupor, waiting for the guy in the white lab coat to serve the next round.

Remarkably, Joe Vinson – the University of Scranton chemistry prof who conducted the hamster study – does not hang up the phone when I ask him about the frosted mugs. He’s still psyched over the study, which he presented at an international conference last week in Honolulu.

“Beer is full of antioxidants,” says Vinson, who favors Yuengling Porter. “We need antioxidants to prevent bad cholesterol from being oxidized. “

That’s LDL – the low-density lipoproteins your doctor is always ragging you about. Oxidation of LDL is believed to be the first step in the development of heart disease.

“The average bottle of lager beer has about 45 milligrams of antioxidants. And dark beer has even more,” Vinson says. “That’s comparable to what you get from the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C. Not only that, but the quality of antioxidants in beer is better than what you get from vitamins. “

Cut to the chase, Doc.

“It turns out,” he says, “drinking beer is good for you. “

Right, we knew that. But what about those hamsters?

Well, it turns out there were no mugs. There weren’t even any beer nuts.

The researchers just mixed the beer into their water supply.

But at least it was good beer. Very good beer.

No, it wasn’t Rodentbach.

The study was funded by Pilsner Urquell, the Czechoslovakia brewery that originated the clear lager in 1842. Vinson’s lucky hamsters were drinking what beer critic Michael Jackson has called the world’s greatest golden lager.

I suppose that’s only right. If you’re going to give your body to science, you’d at least like your last drink to be something better than Pabst Blue Ribbon.

The lucky hamsters also sampled a dark beer, which Vinson found contained even more antioxidants.

A control group of nondrinkers stayed sober, while another set of hardcore hamsters guzzled straight ethanol. “They love alcohol even more than water,” says Vinson.

Then the researchers fed them a diet of cholesterol and coconut oil and watched their test subjects go woozy. Actually, the hamsters never got Schlitz-faced – they don’t process alcohol the way humans do, and their blood-alcohol level never reached high levels.

In 10 weeks, the nondrinkers showed early signs of atherosclerosis – hardening of the arteries. “It’s like rusty pipes,” Vinson says.

Alcohol alone had no effect on the amount of disease.

Same for the dark brew. Even though it contains more antioxidants, it had little effect on the hamsters’ arteries.

The pilsner drinkers, meanwhile, were clean. “Lager beer inhibited atherosclerosis by 50 percent,” Vinson says.

He’s not certain why pilsner is better than porter. It could be that roasting the malts in dark beers somehow affects the performance of its antioxidants. Maybe it’s the hops.

“It’s going to take more research,” Vinson says. “By the way, there’s a human study under way in Canada. “

If you’re interested in signing up, that one’s serving Labatt’s.

Beer radar

Maybe you’ve heard that George W. has tapped New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. What you may not know is Whitman’s dog is a Scottish terrier named Coors.

Not sure if it’s a sign of things to come, but Coors Brewing is one of Colorado’s biggest corporate polluters. Environmentalists say the brewery dumps about 123,000 pounds of ammonia into the supposedly pristine Clear Creek every year. Last August, a beer spill killed 50,000 fish.

New Year’s Eve

Joe Sixpack’s not a preacher, and most of you are responsible adults. But allow me to remind you: It’s amateur night out there. Don’t be the first fatality of 2001.

A sixpack of suggestions:

  1. If you’re going to drink all night, don’t drive. Find a warm place and wait for the Mummers Parade.
  2. Eat something.
  3. If you’re hosting a party, you are obliged to protect your drunken friends from themselves. Grab their keys, call a cab.
  4. Don’t mix alcohol. I’m not a chemist, so I don’t know the reason, but the worst drunks come after downing beer, then wine, then gin, then a bottle of lousy champagne. Stick with one.
  5. Take a break before splitting. Go alcohol-free for the last 90 minutes of the party – if nothing else, it sobers you up just enough to realize how drunk you really are.
  6. Avoid lampshades and your boss’s spouse.

So, what are beer lovers drinking this New Year’s Eve?

At O’Neal’s (611 S. 3rd St, near South), they’ll be celebrating “2001: A Belgian Beer Odyssey. ” Look for LaChouffe and Chimay to be pouring.

If you’ve got a taste for champagne, Joe Sixpack suggests a lambic. Lindemans’ Kriek uses real cherries to produce a sparkling, dry brew that, at 12 bucks a bottle, is cheaper than champagne and tastes a lot better.

Around the same price, you might find Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus, a 2-year-old lambic that is aged in oak with raspberries and sour cherries. I love the sour tang from a mouthful of this stuff.

Both of these brews are classic Belgian ales – they won’t remind you even remotely of a Rolling Rock. But that’s the great thing about beer – there’s one for every occasion.

Down your usual lager while the Eagles toast Tampa Bay in the afternoon, then toast the new year with a lambic at midnight.

Hair-of-the-dog note: Dock Street Terminal Brewpub (12th and Filbert) will be among the handful of city taprooms open on New Year’s Day.

Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a bottle of Scaldis Noel.

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