Falling down drunk might the cause of some people’s neck pain but research suggests that non-alcoholic beer might offer relief from pain related to inflammation and upper respiratory tract infections, in addition to reducing the likelihood of inebriated mishaps.
A paper published by Scherr and colleagues looked at the effect of non-alcoholic beer on inflammation and the incidence of upper respiratory tract illness in men who ran marathons and their results could point to a novel way to manage neck pain.
The researchers looked at 277 male runners with an average age of 42 who were set to run the Munich Marathon. They tested the men’s blood 4 weeks and 1 week before the marathon and then immediately after the race, 24 hours after and 72 hours after. The men were randomly assigned to receive either a placebo beverage or non-alcoholic beer (1-1.5 litres per day) for 3 weeks before and 2 weeks after the marathon. The study was double-blinded, meaning that neither the participants nor the researchers knew which men were receiving the placebo or the non-alcoholic beer.
Why is Non-Alcoholic Beer Beneficial for Inflammation?
You might be asking why this study was carried out at all, given that beer is not considered a healthy component of the diet for the most part, regardless of its alcohol content. The reason is that non-alcoholic beer is actually a source of polyphenols that have antioxidant, antipathogenic, and anti-inflammatory activity in the body, suggesting that it may help prevent infection and inflammation.
Indeed, the researchers found that those drinking the non-alcoholic beer did have reduced levels of interleukin-6, an inflammatory marker, compared to those receiving the placebo drink, immediately after the race. Total blood leukocyte (white blood cell) counts were also lower in the beer drinkers, with counts 20% lower 24 hours after the race, suggesting better immune function.
Reduced URTIs with Non-Alcoholic Beer
The most significant benefit found was that the marathon runners who drank non-acloholic beer had a 3.25-fold reduced incidence of upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) during the 2 weeks after the marathon, compared to placebo. As symptoms of URTI can include coughing and sneezing, both of which put pressure on the structures of the cervical spine, reducing the occurrence of these infections and inflammation in general could help prevent neck pain or reduce existing symptoms. Coughs and sneezes can even, in extreme cases, result in disc herniation as they increase spinal pressure.
Unfortunately for those who like a tipple now and then, these benefits of non-alcoholic beer are not shared by beer itself as alcohol can reduce immunity to infection, increase inflammation, and dehydrate the body, increasing the risk of spinal disc rupture and compression in the cervical spine. Alcohol also increases the risk of oral cancer, of which neck pain may be an early symptom. For marathon runners and anyone engaging in strenuous physical activity it may be that drinking non-alcoholic beer, or other beverage that is rich in polyphenols, is a good way to reduce inflammation, infection risk and subsequent neck pain.
Scherr J, Nieman DC, Schuster T, Habermann J, Rank M, Braun S, Pressler A, Wolfarth B, Halle M., (2012). Nonalcoholic beer reduces inflammation and incidence of respiratory tract illness. Med Sci Sports Exerc, Jan;44(1):18-26. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182250dda.