Beer and bones, marriage in a bottle

[Photo illustration by William M. Dowd]

Country singer-songwriter John Michael Montgomery knew the connection early. In his song "Beer & Bones" he lamented:

"I ain't nothin' but beer and bones
Honey since I lost you.
I ain't ate a bite
Since the night
That you said we're through."

Now comes scientific word of the connection between beer and bones, from the Department of Food Science & Technology at the University of California-Davis, no less, which suggests beer is a significant source of dietary silicon, a key ingredient for increasing bone mineral density.

Researchers studied commercial beer production to determine the relationship between those methods and the resulting silicon content. They then concluded that beer is a rich source of dietary silicon. The study also tested 100 commercial beers for silicon content.

Pardon me while I go technical on you for a moment, or skip the next paragraph.
As I understand it, silicon is present in beer in the soluble form of orthosilicic acid (OSA) which makes beer a major contributor to silicon intake in the average Western diet. Dietary silicon, in the form of soluble OSA, may be important for the growth and development of bone and connective tissue, and beer appears to be a major contributor to its intake, according to earlier research by the National Institutes of Health. Based on this, there is growing scientific agreement that moderate beer consumption may help fight osteoporosis.

"The factors in brewing that influence silicon levels in beer have not been extensively studied," said lead author Charles Bamforth. "We have examined a wide range of beer styles for their silicon content and have also studied the impact of raw materials and the brewing process on the quantities of silicon that enter wort and beer."

The researchers found little change in the silicon content of barley during the malting process. The majority of the silicon in barley is in the husk, which is not affected greatly during malting. The malts with the higher silicon contents are pale colored because they have less heat stress during the malting process. The darker products, such as the chocolate, roasted barley and black malt, all have substantial roasting and much lower silicon contents than the other malts for reasons that are not yet known.

Details of the study are contained in the February issue of The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.

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