Are There Health Benefits to Drinking Sake?

Sake, sometimes spelled saké, is also known as Japanese rice wine. Despite this name, it is produced in a manner that is more similar to the process for making beer than to wine production. Starch from rice is converted into sugars, which then ferment into alcohol.

Sake has been brewed in Japan since time immemorial, but the techniques for modern sake production were developed in the14th century by monks in temples near Nara, Kyoto, and Osaka.

More recently, sake has gained global popularity. Breweries can be found in North America, South America, and Australia, as well as other regions across Asia.

Although sake remains Japan’s national beverage, Japanese production has been in decline since the 1970s.

Nutrition Information

One serving of sake (100 grams) contains: 

  • Calories: 134
  • Protein: 0.5 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 5 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams

In addition, sake contains small amounts of selenium, phosphorus, copper, calcium, zinc, and potassium.

Potential Health Benefits of Sake

Several online articles claim that drinking sake benefits your sleep quality and skin as well as that the drink has anti-inflammatory properties for people with diabetes. However, these articles reference studies conducted on sake yeast, a non-alcoholic supplement, rather than sake wine. More research into the health benefits of sake is needed.

Even though more research needs to be done on sake itself, it may have some health benefits, which include the following:

Digestive Aid

Sake may contain a lactic acid bacteria called lactobacillus. Lactobacillus is a probiotic that can help with digestive problems, particularly diarrhea caused by disease or antibiotic use. 

Unfortunately, sake contains much less lactic acid than it used to. Lactic acid is now primarily found in samhaeju, traditional Korean rice wine, rather than sake. The fermentation process for sake was industrialized by Japanese brewers in the early 20th century, and the contribution of acid-forming bacteria plays a much smaller role in the newer process.

Reduced Risk for Diseases

Drinking alcohol in light to moderate quantities may be good for your health. Moderate drinking consists of an average of 1 drink a day for women and 1-2 for men. This average refers to the amount consumed on any given day rather than an average across days.

Continued

A study on all-cause mortality in Japanese men and women discovered that light drinking resulted in a significant decrease in some cancers and heart disease. Women benefited more with respect to cardiovascular health, and men benefited more with regard to cancer risk.

Light drinking also reduces the risk of ischemic stroke, although it has no effect on other stroke types. However, the incidence of all stroke types increases in heavy drinkers.

Light to moderate drinkers also run a reduced risk of diabetes. People with diabetes who consume small amounts of alcohol may be, themselves, at a lower risk for heart-disease-related complications.

It should be emphasized that the benefits only apply to light drinkers. Alcohol consumption has a U-shaped relationship with heart disease and other health problems, as heavy drinkers actually have an increased risk for these issues.

In addition, more extensive studies are required in order to verify these benefits. No expert recommends that non-drinkers should begin to consume alcohol for their health. Many of the associated benefits are better achieved through healthy lifestyle choices.

Potential Risks of Sake

Drinking any type of alcohol is not free from risk. You should not drink at all if you are driving, under the legal drinking age, trying to conceive or pregnant, or depressed. People with alcohol dependence and other people unable to control the amount they drink should also avoid alcohol.

Complications with Pregnancy

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth as well as fetal alcohol syndrome disorders (FASDs).. 

Medication Interactions

Alcohol may make certain medications ineffective or toxic. The combination of alcohol and medication may also make you nauseous, drowsy, or uncoordinated. More severe complications include, respiratory problems, internal bleeding, or heart problems.

Increased Risk of Some Cancers

Women are particularly susceptible to the increased risk of cancer associated with drinking alcohol. Even moderate alcohol consumption increases the risk of all alcohol-related cancers (including cancers of the colon, oral cavity, throat, liver, and esophagus) in women, but particularly breast cancer. Folate supplements can help reduce the increased risk, which is partly due to decreased folic acid in people who drink.

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Both men and women who drink sake suffer from an increased risk of upper tract urothelial cancer (UTUC), a type of urethral cancer. A typical serving of sake (known as a Go) contains about 23g of alcohol, which is well over the low risk threshold for UTUC (15g/day).

Additional Health Risks

The excessive consumption of any type of alcohol carries a number of health risks. In addition to the risk of certain cancers, heavy drinkers may suffer from the following:

Short-term, incidences of heavy drinking may result in alcohol poisoning and alcohol-related injuries.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 22, 2020

Sources

SOURCES: 

Agora: Journal of International Center for Regional Studies: “‘Tradition’ as a Solution to the Crisis of Japanese Sake Industry.”
Annals of Epidemiology: “Alcohol Consumption and Mortality among Middle-aged and Elderly Japanese Men and Women.”

American Heart Association: “Is drinking alcohol part of a healthy lifestyle?”
BC Dairy Association: “The Probiotic Effects of Lactic Acid Bacteria.”
BMC Medicine: “Differing association of alcohol consumption with different stroke types: a systematic review and meta-analysis.”
Cancer Epidemiology: “Alcohol-consumption and risk of upper-tract urothelial cancer.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Alcohol Use and Your Health.”
Current Cardiology Reports: “Effect of Alcohol Consumption on Cardiovascular Health.”
Current Diabetes Reports: “Alcohol Consumption, Diabetes Risk, and Cardiovascular Disease Within Diabetes.”

Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, and Obesity: Targets and Therapy: “Beneficial effects of Japanese sake yeast supplement on biochemical, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory factors in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats.”

Journal of Sleep Research: “Japanese sake yeast supplementation improves the quality of sleep: a double-blind randomised controlled clinical trial.” 
Journal of The Institute of Brewing: “Sake and Beer Spoilage Lactic Acid Bacteria — A Review.”

Mayo Clinic: “Alcohol Use: Weighing risks and benefits.”

Microbial Cell Factories: “Importance of lactic acid bacteria in Asian foods.”

National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse: “Harmful Interactions.”

The Nutrition Source: “Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits.”

The Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine: “Association between Excessive Alcohol Use and Alcohol-Related Injuries in College Students: A Multi-Center Cross-Sectional Study in Japan.”
Turnbull, S. Japanese Warrior Monks AD 949-1603, Osprey Publishing, 2012.

U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central: “Alcoholic beverage, rice (sake).”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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