Czech Beer Is Designed for Cancer Patients' Tastes

Beer Helps With Return to Normalcy

Nick Mulcahy

July 13, 2018

A brewing company in the Czech Republic has developed a nonalcoholic beer that is specially formulated so that cancer patients receiving chemotherapy and experiencing impaired taste can still enjoy their national beverage, according to various news reports.

Mamma Beer is brewed with fewer hops to be less bitter than regular beer, because bitterness can be a component of dysgeusia, the altered sense of taste that is common during cancer treatment. The beer is also diluted with apple juice for sweetening.

Mamma is Latin for breast. The beer is the brainchild of a breast-cancer advocacy group, Mamma HELP, a nonprofit organization that operates counseling and support centers in multiple cities in the Czech Republic.

Jana Drexlerová, the group's chief executive officer, is a breast cancer survivor who enjoys beer. In 1999, the organization commissioned a pink lager for a fundraiser. In early 2018, they had another idea: a nonalcoholic beer with potassium and vitamin B added.

"I wanted the beer to boost nutrition and improve health during treatment," Drexlerová recently told National Public Radio.

"It was also important for me to give these women back a sense of normalcy in their lives," she said.

Beer is considered a healthy tonic by some Czech clinicians, including Karolína Hovorková, MD, an oncologist who distributes Mamma Beer samples to her patients at her clinic in Prague.

Regular beer with alcohol can boost vitamin intake, aid digestion, and stimulate the appetite, said Hovorková, who recommends small amounts to patients before and after treatment.

Nonalcoholic Mamma Beer is currently a limited edition brew, according to thedrinksbusiness.com, a trade journal. The specialty drink has been distributed to oncology practices and pharmacies throughout the Czech Republic and is served at beer and food shows.

Mamma Beer is produced by Zatec Brewery, in the town Zatec, which is known for a 700-year-old tradition of growing a special type of hops.

Nathan Schober, RD, a clinical dietitian at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Atlanta, Georgia, was cautious about Mamma Beer's sugar content, which is potentially proinflammatory and thus would not advisable for cancer patients. "Maybe it's not very high in sugar — I don't know because I can't get their nutritional facts," he acknowledged to Medscape Medical News.

Beer with alcohol is commonly consumed in the Czech Republic, which even has a slogan — "Beer is medicine."

Schober countered that all the major guidelines, including those of the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Health Organization, recommend against alcohol consumption for cancer patients.

Cultural beliefs are a big part of treating the whole patient. Nathan Schober, RD

But he added: "Cultural beliefs are a big part of treating the whole patient." Furthermore, Schober believes cancer patients need "wiggle room" in their diet.

He advises his patients to follow the "80/20 rule." That is, cancer patients should consume a healthy diet 80% of the time and then allow for comfort foods, which may not be recommended, 20% of the time. These generally forbidden foods and beverages "allow for quality of life to go up," he observed.

In treating patients who experience changes in taste, Schober examines the tongue, looking for a white film that indicates dry mouth. Biotene, an over-the-counter mouthwash that is alcohol free, is recommended for use four to five times a day to dissolve the film, which can retain food particles and distort taste.

Schober observed that cancer is a proinflammatory state that diminishes the body's quantity of zinc, a mineral that helps with the growth of taste buds and thus regulates taste. "Some clinicians supplement with zinc, up to 30 mg a day," he said.

Water and other fluids will taste metallic to some chemotherapy patients, Schober said. Infusing water with sliced fruits and mint leaves may help.

Some patients have the opposite palette problem — things taste too sweet. Schober, who is currently being treated for Hodgkin's lymphoma, has had this problem, along with everything tasting bland. He has found comfort and satisfactory taste in foods from childhood that coincidentally are healthy: brown rice, canned vegetables, and ground turkey.

Schober also has used the protein beverage Boost: "I drank the diabetic version because it was lower in sugar, so it was more palatable to me."

iFollow Medscape senior journalist Nick Mulcahy on Twitter: @MulcahyNick

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