Beer Brain Study: Is Just A Taste Of Beer Enough To Increase Dopamine Levels In Brain?

By Philip Ross on April 17, 2013 11:37 AM EDT

beer brain study
New study shows that just a tablespoon of beer is enough to trigger the release of the mood-elevating hormone dopamine in the brain. (Photo: Flickr/Hari Hamartia)

A beer and brain study, conducted by neurologists at the University of Indiana, found that just a tablespoon of beer was enough to trigger the release of the mood-elevating hormone dopamine in the brain. The amount of beer used in the study was small enough that the taste of the beer, not its alcohol content, was the only variable.

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Special Report: Fraternities across the U.S. resort to O'Doul's, a non-alcoholic beer made by Budweiser, to "rage," citing no hangovers the following day as reason for switching from Coors and Natural Ice. (This report has yet to be verified.)

Just A Spoonful Of Pilsner Helps The Dopamine Go Up

AFP reports that researchers gave 49 men 15 milliliters of beer every 15 minutes and scanned their brains for dopamine. The test subjects, averaging 25 years in age, showed a spike in dopamine with just a spoonful of brewski. Researchers used Positron Emission Tomography, which maps the radiation from radioactive chemicals, to create 3D images of the men's brains.

According to the study, published Monday in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, the taste of alcohol alone, and not its intoxicating effects, can elicit a dopamine response.

Dopamine is the body's pleasure and reward center, according to Psychology Today. The neurotransmitter regulates emotional responses, and allows us to see how our actions provide us with rewards - and encourages us to pursue them, as well.

They also gave test subjects Gatorade, and discovered that, although the men preferred the taste of the sports drink, its effect on dopamine levels was far less than that of the beer.

"This is the first human demonstration ... that flavor alone, without any significant amount of alcohol, is able to induce a dopamine response," study author David Kareken told USA News.

Alcoholics, Beware

One notable piece of the study indicated that test subjects who had a family history of alcoholism showed a significantly greater increase in dopamine than the others. Previous studies have demonstrated that even the smell of alcohol can trigger alcoholics to relapse, according to Live Science, and that dopamine is closely linked to the disease.

"[W]e know that exposure to such conditioned rewards is sometimes the trigger that induces abstaining addicts to relapse," Dai Stephens, a professor of experimental psychology at Britain's University of Sussex, told AFP.

Of course, the study was not without its faults. For one, the test subjects were all men - although researchers did control for right-handedness, as left-handed people have slightly different brain chemistry. Also, the men were given samples of their "favorite" beer, but what would happen if they were given a beer sample of their least favorite? Would dopamine levels still increase?

Furthermore, the dopamine effects of food are already well-documented, with a number of foods, especially proteins, ratcheting up dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a reward response; food keeps our bodies in motion. Doesn't it make sense that our brain rewards us for providing our bodies with fuel?

Read more:

Barley Used in Craft Beer, Aztec Amaranth, and Tajikistan Wheat Sent to Arctic Seed Vault

Parkinson's Disease Patients Can Become More Creative When They Take Dopamine

Red Meat And Heart Disease: What Does New Study Tell Us About Carnitine Chemical?

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