The Healing Power of Beer

As noted here in the past, I had horrible stomach problems for a good chunk of last year. This was diagnosed as “Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease” or “GERD,” which basically amounts to “Your stomach hurts.” After a number of deeply unsatisfactory appointments with a gastroenterologist, and some tests about which the less said the better, it eventually got better, and I haven’t had serious problems with it for a while now.

Wednesday, I aggravated an old shoulder injury playing basketball. I separated both shoulders (at different times) playing rugby, back in the day, and every now and then I do something to re-aggravate one of them. This was another deeply unsatisfying medical experience. Actual conversation with the orthopedic specialist at the college health center:

Me: What do I do about this?

Doctor: Well, when does it hurt?

Me: It hurts if I lift my arm above about here. demonstrates

Doctor: Try not to do that.

And people wonder why I say snarky things about pre-med students.

Anyway, I hurt my shoulder again on Wednesday. Thursday night, it was pretty sore, so I decided to take something for the pain. Kate has also been having horrible reflux problems, and has a much more classic set of symptoms than I do, and she mentioned that she had been given some prescription Naproxen, which didn’t upset her stomach. That’s what they gave me, back when I first injured my shoulder, so I said “Perfect,” and took one.

Big mistake.

Within a couple of hours, my stomach was right back to being as bad as it’s ever been. And really, I had almost managed to forget just how bad that was. Back when Nirvana was big, I remember some Cobain fanboy writing for a magazine attempting to excuse his heroin use by saying that he had terrible stomach pain, and nothing else helped. I thought that was the stupidest excuse ever for addiction, but you know, after a few months of my own stomach problems, I began to see the attraction.

(My shoulder did at least feel a little better. Or, at least, it hurt less than my stomach…)

The irritation didn’t really let up Friday, so I had to go the self-medication route, though I didn’t go all the way to heroin. The thing that works for me– one of two methods I found (no thanks to the medical profession) that consistently help– is beer.

You wouldn’t think that beer would help, given that both alcohol and carbonated beverages are on the list of forbidden foods that accompanies the GERD diagnosis, but it does. I have a beer or two, and it calms my stomach down. I discovered this by accident, when I went to a bachelor party for a friend from college at the very worst point of last year’s problems, but it’s worked consistently as long as I’ve had the problem. I drink beer, and I feel better, and that continues into the next day, as well– it’s not like I’m drinking myself insensible, only to pay the price for it later.

It didn’t completely fix things, but I felt a whole lot better last night, and while my stomach is worse this morning than it was Thursday morning, it’s worlds better than it was yesterday. I’m at least functional, which couldn’t really be said yesterday morning– I still can’t believe I made it through six months of feeling like that every day.

If the talking-to-the-dog thing doesn’t pan out, maybe I’ll try writing a diet book for heartburn sufferers… I suspect, though, that this is an idiosyncratic property of whatever is wrong with my stomach, and not something that generalizes well.

(The other reliable method for calming my stomach down, for those who care, is physical exercise– if I go for a bike ride, or play basketball for an hour, I feel better. This is also not really what you would expect from the GERD diagnosis, but it’s also been very consistent over the last year and a half.)


  1. #1 dr. dave
    October 6, 2007

    too bad about the Naproxin… it’s an awesome pain med… it’s the only thing that works for me when my arthritis kicks into high gear.

  2. #2 Ahcuah
    October 6, 2007

    I assume that at some point they put you on the antibiotics that knock out H. pylori, the stomach ulcer bug?

    Regardless, here is something that works for me: inflating my stomach. When I was a kid, I learned how to swallow air so that I could initiate and control some really awesome belches. Who knew that as an adult, the technique would come in handy.

    It feels to me that when I add the extra air it provides just a bit of extra space in my stomach so that whatever is causing the pain gets separated from the sensitive area.

  3. #3 Chad Orzel
    October 6, 2007

    too bad about the Naproxin… it’s an awesome pain med…

    Yeah, it was my fallback painkiller for years. Whenever my shoulder or back would act up, I’d take Aleve, and it worked great. The only problem with it was that it tended to cut off like somebody flipped a switch– over half an hour, I’d go from feeling great, to being in agony.

    I assume that at some point they put you on the antibiotics that knock out H. pylori, the stomach ulcer bug?

    No. They didn’t test for it either, despite me explicitly asking them to do so. They did an endoscopy, and saw no ulcers, and said that the only thing H. pylori has been shown to do is to cause ulcers, so there wasn’t any reason to do anything else.

    This is one of the reasons why I am dissatisfied with the gastroenterologists.

    As far as the stomach-inflating goes, the pain that I get is as much a gas sort of thing as a heartburn thing– I feel a lot of pressure, and blenching helps relieve it somewhat. I doubt that adding more gas to that would really help matters.

    Eating something does often help, though. Not always, but a lot of the time.

  4. #4 Left_Wing_Fox
    October 6, 2007

    I have moderate and continuing Acid Reflux; generic ranitidine usually works as advertised. A year ago, on a flight without antacids or pills though, my seat-mate suggested a club soda.

    That was the fastest acid relief I ever had, bar none. I keep a case of it in the fridge now on a regular basis. and find that I go through Rolaids much less than I used to, and it’s available at pretty much any restaurant with a bar if I get an attack without medication or antacids.

    But I’ve also found that beer usually doesn’t affect my stomach unlike hard liquor, wine or ciders. Might make for a useful high school science test regarding the relative pH and buffer characteristics of various beers.

  5. #5 Scott Spiegelberg
    October 6, 2007

    Could the beer effect be due to yeast? You might try either yogurt or brewer’s yeast to see if that helps.

  6. #6 arby
    October 6, 2007

    The beer could be inflating the stomach like the swallowing air trick does. As would the club soda, though it’s probably the soda doing most of the work. Baking soda would probably work as well, and as quickly, and it too makes gas in the stomach, but I expect the neutralizing of the acid is the important part. You can do a rough diagnostic using baking soda (or Rolaids, etc). If it brings immediate relief, it’s likely acid pain. If bismuth (Pepto) relieves the pain, it’s more likely to be an ulcer. Or stomach cancer or something, see a doctor. I think I will ‘spand my stomach now with something from Germany. Just in case. rb

  7. #7 Hohn
    October 7, 2007

    Ouch man, sorry to hear about the stomach/shoulder double whammy. Do you have an exercise bike? I’ve found that working out at home allows for all kinds of efficiencies, especially if you can find a way to surf the web (jeez, do people even use that phrase any more) while you’re exercising.

  8. #8 Unistrut
    October 8, 2007

    I used to wake up with heartburn on a semi-regular basis and found that sleeping on my left side (thus putting the inlet of the stomach up) helped alleviate the problems.

  9. #9 Nat
    January 6, 2012

    When I was a child I had a stress-induced gastritis and duodenal ulcer. After doctors failed to heal me ( and kill me lol ) , I was sent to a resort in the mountains and taken off all the medicAtions and part of my total recovery therapy was drinking yeast cocktails 3 days a week. After strict program of rest, walking, mud baths , mineral water, oxygen cocktails and special diet I was cured of every illness in just 2 months and remained healthy until 33.
    I can imagine beer has some healing powers!

  10. #10 Nicole
    February 22, 2012

    yeah man, i was googleing beer & acid reflux, exactly because last time i had beer, reflux got better for a few days. fact is that i kind of hate beer (i had beer that night cause spirits were waaay overpriced)! Every time I have spirits it´s a sure thing that i´ll have a sore throat for days due to acid reflux. Now i´m considering drinking a can of beer every day as medicine hehehehehe

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