John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Why let stupid biology dictate our beer drinking, when we can just switch to an experimental hydrating brewski?
There comes a time in adulthood when having a few beers too many comes back the next day with a stomach-wringing, head-hammering vengeance. People confronted with this change must rein it in a bit or face the consequences, like calling in sick with a lame excuse. That seems to happen a lot in America, where ruined workplace productivity due to hangovers costs the economy $160 billion a year.
But over in Australia, a brave team of scientists are refusing to let stupid biology dictate their alcohol consumption. They're working on a new type of beer that keeps a person hydrated, dehydration being one of several suspects behind raging hangovers. The thinking is that it's almost impossible to get people who drink to stop drinking, so why not minimize the harm alcohol causes by crafting a smarter beer?
Ben Desbrow, a sports-nutrition expert at the Griffith Health Institute in the eastern city of Gold Coast, is helping forge this beery alchemy, presumably in the institute's new "research kitchen." (Desbrow's body of research will interest anyone who enjoys a tipple, as he's previously investigated how hangovers alter reaction times and social attitudes toward post-work imbibing.) He recently explained the concept behind the Frankenbrew to the Australian Associated Press:
"This is definitely not a good idea, but what we've found is that many people who sweat a lot, especially tradesmen, knock off work and have a beer," associate professor Ben Desbrow said.
"But alcohol in a dehydrated body can have all sorts of repercussions, including decreased awareness of risk.
"So, if you're going to live in the real world, you can either spend your time telling people what they shouldn't do, or you can work on ways of reducing the danger of some of these socialised activities."
So how's it work? In a word, it's electrolytes, because everyone knows they are what the body craves. Desbrow and company had their study participants perform heavy exercise and quaff commercial beers with electrolytes added; they then studied how quickly their bodies soaked in water lost during sweating. A salt-enhanced beer made people pee less, they found, and was a third more effective at rehydrating the body than your typical Foster's or Emu Bitter.
A few caveats are in order. Even the most effective brewski the team was able to whip up was not significantly better than some less-alcoholic commercial beers in terms of hydration. The scientists say "more research" is needed to fine-tune their recipe. And for diehard devotees of full-bodied suds – to the deepest pits of hell with that less-filling stuff – the best-performing laboratory liquid turned out to be light beer. Rather than put up with that swill, roughnecks in need a post-workout beverage might as well just go with Everclear mixed with Gatorade.