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Drink that beer ladies, it's good for your bones?

February 8, 2010 | 12:46 pm

Everyone knows the role that calcium plays in healthy bones, but many may be surprised to learn that silicon also is crucial. Studies by the National Institutes of Health have suggested that dietary silicon may be important for the growth of bone and connective tissue, and some studies have suggested that beer in moderation may be a good dietary source of the element. Silicon is present in beer in the form of soluble orthosilicic acid, which is about 50% bioavailable — that is, about half of it can be absorbed and used by the body. But which beers are best?

Food scientists Charles Bamforth and Troy Casey of UC Davis surveyed brewing techniques and more than 100 commercially available beers to determine which have the most silicon and reported their results today in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.Beer

Among their findings:

-- Beer made from barley has more silicon than that made from wheat because barley husks are high in the element. Hops have much more silicon than barley, but much less of them are used in making beer. Highly hopped beers, however, would be expected to have larger amounts of silicon.

-- Darker beers, such as the chocolate, roasted barley and black malt beers, have less silicon because of heat stress during the brewing process. Pale ales, which undergo less heat, have higher amounts.

-- Light beers and non-alcoholic beers, which include grain from corn, have the least silicon of all.

Overall, the category called India pale ales, which have large amounts of hops and less heat treatment during brewing, had the highest average silicon levels and pale ales were close behind. Non-alcoholic beers had the lowest levels of all.

They did not study any of the health effects of the beers.

But should you drink beer to increase your bone density? Most experts say no. Dr. Tim Byers of the University of Colorado Cancer Center is widely quoted today saying, "To conclude any bone health benefits from this study would require a great leap." Other researchers noted that heavy consumption is more likely to lead to bone damage when you fall over and break a leg or arm and that heavy alcohol consumption has a variety of deleterious effects.

If you would like to get more silicon into your diet but don't want beer, try oat bran, granola and dates.

— Thomas H. Maugh II

Credit: Bloomberg / Luis Enrique Ascui