Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hey Barkeep! I Hear Unpasteurized Beer Gives Me More Breast Milk

I am a person of a certain age. And that age is about when all of your f-ing friends start to have kids. It's all fun and games until someone gets pregnant. Then the next thing you know everyone in your whole damned circle of influence has bread in the oven. Eating for Two. In the family way. Profaning Jesus and all the angels in heaven by shamelessly advertising the fact that you have HAD SEXUAL INTERCOURSE YOU TROLLOP.

Of course, beer and pregnancy are not exactly two things that go together. I've had friends, and have heard actual, real, live doctors encourage pregnant women to have a glass of wine or beer on occassion while pregnant (note: not carte-blanche to go out and get hammered every night). Heck, in just my parents' generation, it was not uncommon for women to drink and/or smoke while pregnant and I turned out OK. In other words, moderation has rarely killed too many people (born or otherwise).

But the other day I get a phone call from a friend of mine. He was clearly sheepish calling me - hesitancy in his voice, skirting the subject, etc. And this is a dude that I have known for, essentially, eternity. There is not much that this guy need to be sheepish in asking or telling me. He is my brother from another mother. Yet here he is, reduced to mawkishness by a simple request from his wife : what is a good unpasteurized beer?

"So," I posit, "why do you care if the beer is unpasteurized?"

"Well," he goes on, "[insert friend's wife's name here] was told that drinking unpasteurized beer aids in breast milk production."

"Um." Awkward. I gave him the name of a few local breweries likely to not pasteurize their beer and hung up. I quickly related this story to Mrs. MBR who quickly said "horseshit" or something similar.

So, here we are. At the precipice of research. Does drinking unpasteurized beer aid in breast milk production? I have to admit, I never saw this coming.

On April 20, 1862 Louis Pasteur and Claude Bernard wrote completed the first tests on pasteurization. [ed note: that is really weird. Aside from the "haha 4-20" jokes, April 20 happens to be this friend's birthday.] Pasteurization was predicated on germ theory. Germ theory says that many illnesses and phenomenon such as the spoiling of beer, wine, and milk were caused by the growth of micro-organisms. These micro-organisms are not particularly tolerant of heat.

The process of pasteurization is fairly simple: heat the thing up very quickly for a specific period of time then cool it very quickly. We pasteurize dozens of things: milk, beer, wine, eggs, maple syrup, orange juice, just to name a few. Its effect is to neutralize (kill) a number of organisms that lead to illness and the spoliation of products.

Most larger-scale breweries (i.e., above about 10,000 bbls or so) pasteurize their beer because it aids in shelf-stabliziation. Most smaller breweries do not - most breweries that bottle-condition their beer do not - and some larger breweries do, and re-introduce new yeast after pasteurization. For many small breweries, they simply do not have the cash to spend on pasteurization equipment.

Pasteurization has saved the world from diseases that raged in the 1860s like diptheria, salmonella, strep, scarlet fever, typhoid fever, and listeriosis. All bad, nasty things that the world is better off for taming, right? Definitely, all things that we would want to prevent from getting into a baby's system through breast milk, right?

Like anything in our god-forsaken universe, pasteurization is not without debate. According to the Campaign for Real Milk, pasteurization destroys destroys nutrients and immune system components found in milk. For example, Vitamin A is degraded, and other proteins and enzymes are denatured. Numerous studies have shown that pasteurized breast milk is not as healthy for newborns as the stuff straight from the tap. Of course, it's much harder to get a hold of donated breasts than donated breast milk. If you happen to find someone willing to donate their breasts, please let me know.

So, that's, in a terribly lax and general way, the debate about pasteurization. What about pasteurized beer? What the heck does unpasteurized beer have to do with producing healthier breast milk?

After researching this article, I assure you Google has all the wrong impressions about me and my purchasing habits. Nonetheless, online baby sites such as iVillage and Babycenter.com have some rumor-based recommendations. iVillage says "An ingredient in beer has been shown to increase maternal prolactin levels, but this is with non-alcoholic beers as well (DeRosa et al. 1981). There is a lot more involved in establishing an abundant milk supply than merely increasing a mother's prolactin level." Rather unhelpful.

A commenter at Babycenter has this bit of wisdom: "I have owned a natural food store for 20 years and nursed 3 babies. It is the hops plant that flavors the beer that acts as a galactagogue - a term that means 'encouraging abundant breast milk.' Hops can be used as a tea as can raspberry leaves, stinging nettle, oatstraw, and red clover blossoms OR hops can be taken as an additive free, stronger hops flavored beer like a stout and low alcohol or alcohol free beer can be sourced. Hops is calming, inducing sleep and is a natural carminative (reducing cramping and colic as it relaxes the digestive system as well) so is especially good before nighttime feedings." Very authoritative.

Childfun.com gets us in the right direction, though: "Beer is preferable to other alcoholic drinks, because it contains vitamin B, which helps prevent dehydration. You might want to ask your doctor about taking extra vitamin B if you want to drink other drinks. ... It's best to drink unpasteurized and unfiltered beer. Unpasteurized beer contains live yeast, which manufactures more vitamin B, and helps prevent dehydration."

So, under this theory, beer yeast produces Vitamin B and prevents dehydration. University of Maryland has something to say about the nutritional value of brewers yeast: "Brewer's yeast is often used as a source of B-complex vitamins, chromium, and selenium. The B-complex vitamins in brewer's yeast include B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid), and H or B7 (biotin). These vitamins help break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, which provide the body with energy. They also support the nervous system, help maintain the muscles used for digestion, and keep skin, hair, eyes, mouth, and liver healthy. However, brewer's yeast does not contain vitamin B12, an essential vitamin found in meat and dairy products; vegetarians sometimes take brewer's yeast mistakenly believing that it provides B12, which can be lacking in their diet."

Finally, Livestrong provides a good summary: "There is no scientific evidence to support the notion that brewer's yeast stimulates breast milk production. Kelly Bonyata considers brewer's yeast to be of 'questionable' efficacy when it is used by nursing women. However, Bonyata notes that it is generally safe and a good source of necessary nutrients for nursing mothers. Other natural galactagogues, such as fenugreek and fennel, may be more effctive alternatives."

In other words, yeast in beer is not terribly effective and there are better ways to get your milk flowing. But, if you're going to drink, it might as well be moderate levels of unpasteurized beer. So, who will be the first craft brewery to use that as their tagline?

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