What Really Happens to Your Body When You Drink Beer Every Night

While researchers are still not sure whether beer is good for your heart and brain health, there's more conclusive evidence around weight and kidney health.
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What Really Happens to Your Body When examines the head-to-toe effects of common behaviors, actions and habits in your everyday life.

We're not surprised that beer's your drink of choice — it's the most popular alcoholic beverage in the United States, making up over 55 percent of all alcohol imbibed, per a September 2018 ​Nutrients​ study.

Having a beer every now and then is OK for some people, and there's even research to suggest the drink has health benefits. There's also research, however, that suggests any alcoholic beverage, even in small amounts, should be avoided.

Just to be clear, drinking moderately is currently defined by the recommendation of no more than two drinks for men per day and one drink per day for women, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Read on to learn the effects of drinking beer every day — and whether it's worth adjusting your nightcap routine.

Your Weight Might Go Up

Let's just get this one out of the way: An average 12-ounce beer has around 150 calories, per the USDA. That's assuming you choose a beer with lower alcohol by volume, or ABV, which is given as a percentage.

The calories in alcohol are slightly different than your run of the mill macronutrients (carbs: 4 calories/gram; protein: 4 calories/gram; fat: 9 calories/gram). Alcohol sits right in the middle, at around 7 calories per gram. As the alcohol percentage in the beer rises, so does the calorie count.

If you keep your beer drinking to or below the recommendation and stick with a beer around 150 calories or less, then your weight will be minimally affected. In fact, moderate drinking as part of an already healthy lifestyle (aka: healthy diet and regular physical activity) doesn't make you destined for weight gain, according to a January 2015 review in ​Current Obesity Reports.

But drinking two, three or more could add more than 300 calories to your diet, and that has the potential to affect the number on the scale in as little as a month.

Plus, drinking alcohol may decrease your ability to remain satisfied with a meal, stimulate your appetite and activate food reward centers in the brain, according to November 2017 research in ​Obesity.​ This means you may find yourself eating more after too many brews — and that could lead to taking in even more calories.

Your Kidneys May Suffer

The kidneys clean out your blood, working kind of like the water filter on your faucet. Alcohol needs to be filtered out — and drinking too much can put you at risk for hypertension, and this can increase your risk for kidney disease, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

Beer is also a diuretic, which means you could be putting some extra strain on your kidneys if you're not sticking with the recommendation. Staying within the recommendations probably won't dehydrate you, but you may lose extra sodium and potassium (electrolytes) that you didn't count on losing. An electrolyte deficiency from dehydration can lead to muscle cramps, weakness or fatigue, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Drinking alcoholic beer could impair your electrolyte balance, but this isn't the case with non-alcoholic beer, according to June 2016 research published in ​Nutrients.​ So, if you're thinking of breaking a sweat and a beer is part of your hydration plan, do your kidneys a favor and skip it — unless it's alcohol-free.

Your Heart Health Could Go Either Way

There is no question that heavy drinking significantly damages the heart. It puts you at risk for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, atrial fibrillation and stroke — and is, without a doubt, harmful to your heart, according to a January 2020 review in ​Nutrients.​ These conditions occur over a lifetime of drinking and vary depending on the quantity of alcohol consumed.

This review indicated that drinking patterns matter, meaning that heavy drinking one to two times a week increases the risk for heart damage, even if the amount is equal to someone who drinks the same amount over the period of a week. This is most likely due to the increased risk of high blood pressure from heavy drinking.

Drinking moderate amounts of beer don't have the same effect. The review concludes that low intakes of beer, not exceeding the recommended amounts, are safe and perhaps even beneficial for the cardiovascular system.

In the 2018 ​Nutrients​ study, the authors found a protective effect of beer, relating to the prevention of LDL (bad cholesterol) oxidation by means of HDL cholesterol antioxidant capacity. They found these benefits in both traditional alcohol-containing beer and alcohol-free beer, suggesting that the polyphenols in beer may help explain some of the benefits.

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The Jury's Still Out on Brain Health, Too

Drinking beer, and alcohol in general, has been studied extensively in the fight against cognitive decline in older adults.

In a study of 360 older adults followed for 19 years, researchers found that those who drank more hard liquor, but not beer or wine, were at risk for a faster rate of cognitive decline, according to 2016 research in Current Alzheimer Research.

Beer, especially beer high in hops (like an IPA), may be a better option for brain health. Beer contains antioxidants, but the hops in beer may help reduce neuroinflammation and cognitive decline, according to July 2019 research in Nutrients. Hops are what give beer its bitterness, and the more hops, the more bitter your beer will be.

A 2017 study out of the United Kingdom, however, did not find the same results: Researchers observed that heavy drinking increased the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's Disease, but they did not find a protective effect of low amounts of drinking on cognition, according to the BMJ. So, more research is needed to conclude whether or not light drinking confers brain health benefits.

The Bottom Line

Be a responsible beer drinker.

While there may be benefits to the occasional brewski, there are times when drinking a beer is always bad for you — drinking underage, drinking and driving and drinking while pregnant.

In addition, there is no evidence to show that if you have never drunk alcohol before, that there are any benefits to starting. Any beneficial effects can come from eating healthy foods as well.

If you think you may be drinking too much beer on any given night and it is affecting how you function, give your doctor a call or for immediate help, the substance abuse hotline is always a good option: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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