If you enjoy a beer at the end of the day, it may do more than just relax you after a long day at work. Researchers are finding that there are many ways beer can be beneficial — when it's consumed in moderation, of course. These health and social benefits of beer may surprise you.

Beer is brain food

growing-hops The xanthohumol in hops benefits the brain. (Photo: Vaclav Mach/shutterstock)
Researchers found a compound in hops called xanthohumol might help to fight free radical damage in the brain and also slow down the onset of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. The idea, according to the study published in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, is that xanthohumol might guard brain cells from damage, preventing or slowing down diseases associated with the brain degeneration.

Beer makes you happy and friendly

friends-beer-smiling Want to be happier in social situations? A beer can help. (Photo: g-stockstudio/Shutterstock)

Again, moderation is the key to this benefit. Researchers studied what consuming enough beer to raise your blood alcohol to .4 grams per liter (amount of beer consumed varied by each person's weight) did to people's emotions. Half of the people in the study were given alcoholic beer, and half were given non-alcoholic beer, according to Science Daily.

Those given the beer with alcohol were more likely to recognize happy faces more quickly, want to be with others in a happy social situation, and "has a surprising effect on sexual perception," according to researchers from the University Hospital in Basel, Switzerland.

The subjects (30 men and 30 women) took a range of tasks, including a face recognition test, an empathy test and a sexual arousal test. What researchers learned is that all the tasks were easier after drinking about half a liter of beer, especially for those who were more socially inhibited to begin with.

Beer is rehydrating

Friendships bloom when you pound the pavement together. If ending your run with a beer is appealing, go ahead. (Photo: dotshock/Shutterstock)

Philadelphia's Fishtown Beer Runner's Club ends its group runs at a local bar with a beer. While that may seem like it might cancel out the good a run does, science says differently, according to Drink Philly. A study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition compared how well beer rehydrated someone after exercise to how well water did. The conclusion? If you're healthy, beer in moderate amounts will hydrate as effectively as water.

Beer provides iron

dark-light-beers Choose the beer on the left if you want the benefits of iron. (Photo: Bernt Rostad/flickr)
Beer is rich in iron, and dark beer has more of the mineral than light beer, according to Science Daily. Iron helps carry oxygen from your lungs to muscles and organs. Without it, you will feel more tired and cranky. Researchers from University of Valladolid in Spain looked at 40 brands of beer and found that dark beer has more free iron than light or non-alcoholic beers.

Beer aids in digestion

digestion-good Beer helps to digest food better. (Photo: Syda Productions/shutterstock)

This one may come as a surprise since drinking too much beer can leave you feel bloated, but beer may make it easier to digest food, according to Everyday Health. University of Vienna researchers found that the bitter acids in beer trigger the release of gastric acid in the stomach, and that acid is important for food digestion. It also curbs the growth of bad gut bacteria.

Of course, the detriments of drinking too much alcohol far outweigh the benefits of moderate drinking. If you're going to drink beer for its benefits, do so lightly.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.