Sit down, relax, and pop open a cold one. Actually, pop open a cold, dark one. It may be better for you; researchers at the University of Wisconsin have recently discovered drinking darker beers may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Researchers compared the results of drinking Guinness Stout, a popular dark ale, and Heineken, a lighter beer, on arterial health. UW professor of cardiovascular medicine John D. Folts and his colleagues fed the two varieties of beer to eight dogs suffering from clogged arteries. Dogs nourished by the dark ale were found to improve more significantly than their light-drinking counterparts.

Folts attributed the improvement to the flavonoid content of Guinness, which contains about three times as much of the substance as Heineken.

Flavonoids, the micronutrients that help give red wine and purple grape juice their color, reduce cholesterol buildup in the arteries by diminishing the amount that blood clots and relaxing cardiovascular pathways.

This and past studies that Folts has conducted suggest that flavonoid content may rival aspirin in its effectiveness at battling heart disease, but Folts said nothing could yet be concluded.

“The flavonoid findings relative to aspirin are an exciting new direction,” Folds said in a press release regarding a 1997 study. “But they are preliminary, and it would be premature and irresponsible to make broad recommendations.”

Some suggest the benefits of dark beer might be outweighed by the weight of the beer itself.

Consumed with the increased amount of flavonoids in darker beers is an increased amount of calories. Because obesity is a major factor in heart disease, critics have said the effectiveness of the beverage at preventing heart attacks is countered by increased weight gain.

When choosing to drink light or dark beer, one UW student said the calorie content of the beverage influences his decision more than its arterial benefits.

“Usually I drink light beer, … [and when choosing a beer] I’m going to be concerned with gaining weight, if anything,” UW graduate student Ryan Kern said.

Though one may only need to consume two flavonoid-rich beverages per day to obtain the substance’s medical benefits, Folts is looking for a way to isolate flavonoids and encapsulate them in an easy-to-swallow pill.

“There are a lot of people who cannot and should not drink alcoholic beverages,” Folts told the Capital Times last week. “And that’s why we tested and discovered that if you take out the alcohol, you get the same protection against heart attacks and strokes.”

Although the increased health benefits of drinking dark beer over light beer seem enticing, many UW students feel a beer’s taste outweighs its potentially beneficial side effects.

“I like light beer because I enjoy the taste of it,” UW junior Jessica Horne said. “[Dark beers] make me feel really full … and I do not drink enough beer to make much of a (health) difference.”

“If I drink dark beer, it is just because I like it or want it. The health benefits are just sort of an added bonus,” UW senior Jen Phillips said.

Kern added that the price of heavier beers also reduces student interest.

“You have to think about what you’re spending, and darker beers are generally more expensive,” he said.