Nearly everyone has heard claims that drinking red wine in moderation can provide benefits such as lowering cholesterol and reducing your risk of heart disease. Far fewer people, however, are aware of the potential health benefits of sake, Japan's signature alcoholic beverage.
Is sake healthy?
It's counter-intuitive to think that drinking alcohol of any type could be healthy. Research, however, points to a different conclusion.
When consumed in moderation, it appears that sake might not be so bad after all.
In particular, there's a large swing in the sugar content of sake, which changes not just the flavor but the calorie content.
Overall, sake doesn't have much nutritional value. There's only a handful of trace minerals like iron, magnesium, potassium, and selenium. Certainly not enough to write home about!
In any case, despite its nutritional deficiencies, there may be other potential sake health benefits. Let's look at a few, shall we?
What are the main sake health benefits?
Reduced risk of cancer
Of course, the claim that sake may reduce cancer risk isn't one to be taken lightly. Here's the science behind it...
Sake offers a relatively high concentration of amino acids, especially for an alcoholic beverage, which are often believed to slow or prevent tumor growth.
Research published in 1994 in Public Health by Takizawa showed that the amino acids in sake were responsible for shrinking and killing off cancer cells. It also concluded that sake drinkers had a lower mortality rate from lung cancer than drinkers of other alcoholic beverages like beer and shochu.
Other studies by the National Cancer Centre in Japan also confirmed that sake drinkers had a lower mortality rate from cancer than non-sake drinkers.
Increased bone density
One of the benefits of the amino acids in sake is that they can help improve bone density and even prevent osteoporosis.
The amino acids valine, leucine, and isoleucine, in particular, aid in the recovery and building of skeletal muscle. (That's why you'll find these amino acids in many post-workout recovery drinks.)
The healthy koji mold used in sake production also contains Cathepsin-L inhibitors that can minimize the risk for osteoporosis.
Reduced risk of heart disease
Like its fermented cousin wine, sake is known as a heart-healthy drink. Studies in Japan in Makino Shuppan and the Journal of the Brewing Society of Japan show that when consumed in moderation sake can reduce the risk of developing blood clots and can reduce bad cholesterol.
Sake is also claimed to lower blood pressure thanks to the presence of nine peptides that inhibit the enzymes associated with high blood pressure.
Improved digestive health
Knowing it's a fermented beverage, it might be less of a surprise that sake could be beneficial for your gut health.
A recent study in Free Radical Biology and Medicine concluded that the anti-inflammatory peptides present in sake can help ease auto-immune-related digestive issues such as IBS and colitis.
Compared to other alcoholic beverages, sake is also low in sulfites. This will not only reduce your chance of experiencing an unpleasant hangover but reduce the likelihood of digestive distress due to drinking.
Improved quality of sleep
If you've ever woke up in the middle of the night after pounding back a bottle of wine, you'll appreciate an evening of sipping on some sake.
Even though the alcohol content of sake is higher than wine, sake doesn't contain any sulfites or tannins, the two culprits of many-a wine hangover. It also features a lower sugar content.
Additionally, the yeast used in sake has been shown to improve the quality of sleep. A 2016 study in the Journal of Sleep Research showed that sake yeast contains compounds that activate adenosine A2a receptors, resulting in a natural deep sleep.
Improved brain health
I know you probably think you're smarter after a round of beverages. In the case of sake, it may actually be true.
Sake contains 3 different types of peptides that are shown to inhibit prolyl endopeptidase (PREP).
This enzyme is suspected to be associated with various brain-based disorders including Alzheimer's disease, autism spectrum disorders, dementia, and depression.
Improved skin appearance
Aside from the internal benefits of drinking sake, there's some evidence that sake can also have skin-beautifying benefits.
As you already know, sake contains a number of amino acids. In addition, sake features a multitude of other organic acids, vitamins, nucleic acids, saccharides, and esters.
Many of the ingredients found naturally in sake are found in some of the most expensive beauty products out there.
Taken as a whole, sake appears to have the ability to moisture the skin. Thanks to its ability to inhibit the production of melanin, the natural pigment responsible for age spots, sun spots, and freckles, sake may even have anti-aging effects including the prevention of wrinkles!