Saturday, October 30, 2010

Beer, Anemia, Lactation, Copper - and of course, Galactagogue

Last week, a mother wrote to say that she drinks a pint of Guinness beer every day to help with her anemia. Never having heard of beer as a remedy for anemia, I did a little internet searching.

An article called "Beer: it does a body good" on Prospectus News relates how Guinness beer has been wrongly promoted as a good source of iron in Ireland for pregnant women. Hm. Talk about a country standing behind its national product, regardless of medical truth or consequences for their vulnerable population. Read more.

Studies from Africa reporting on the medical condition called iron overload, point to people's high consumption of home-made beer. Read more. It turns out that materials used in brewing increases the iron content of some beer, but also that certain people of African descent carry a gene that predisposes them to iron overload. Read more.

So is Guinness different from other beers? Yes, not because it contains more iron than other beers, but because it contains more beta-glucan, an immune-boosting and lactation-boosting sugar that unfortunately is reduced to a minimum in normal commercial beer brewing. Beta-glucan is the secret ingredient that makes Guinness and similar dark stout beers special for breastfeeding mothers. To learn more, read The Best Beer for Breastfeeding and other related posts about beer and malt as a galactagogue on this site.

So what was going on with the mother who drinks Guinness for her anemia? 

That search lead me to a website describing something called "copper-deficiency anemia." Beer is actually a good source of copper. Read more.

I contacted the mother and she reports that she does indeed fit the description of copper-deficiency. She also finds that while Guinness makes her feel less fatigued by providing copper, it also supports her very fragile milk supply.

Could copper be crucially involved in milk supply? 

Something new to investigate... and after a quick search, there seems to be something to it. This study on rodents concludes: "lactation markedly enhances the avidity of the mammary gland for copper, diverting most of it from liver and kidney to that tissue" Here is the entire study. Any thoughts? I am reminded of all the copper-rich seafood traditionally recommended to increase lactation: oysters, octopus, eel, fish.

Good news: blackstrap molasses is an easily available and good source of both iron and copper, and this may be behind its use as a galactagogue -- two tablespoons a day. 1 Tablespoon mixed into very hot water with a bit of milk tastes a bit like coffee.


  1. Why not put some blackstrap molasses in your lager? It tastes great, like a stout, and definitely is cheaper and you probably get the same health benefits.

  2. Sure, one can fiddle. I don't believe that the two would be equal, but that's for moms to find out and tell me with their feedback.

  3. I've had a hard time finding the copper content of blackstrap molasses. Some labels list 0% copper, others don't mention it.

  4. How very odd. Why would there be such variability? I suppose it's not legally required to provide that info so it's likely not reliable. I doubt that true molasses would not contain copper, esp organic.