Mice that drank non-alcoholic beer while exposed to cancer-causing chemicals had 85 per cent less DNA damage to their liver, lung and kidneys than those given water, the study found.
The researchers at Okayama University in Japan said there may be unknown compounds in beer that stop the cancer-causing heterocyclic amines from binding to DNA and causing damage.
In their report, released on the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry online on 31 December, the authors note that their findings cannot be extrapolated to benefits in normal beer with alcohol.
But if the contents of non-alcoholic beer thought to be protecting the mice are identified they could be added to functional foods and drink.
Researchers at Japan's Kirin Brewery have previously found that components in beer protect against development of colon cancer in rats. Red wine has also been linked to cancer protection, with studies associating moderate consumption to reduced risk of prostate and breast cancer.
There has however been some debate about whether alcohol is conferring the benefits in these studies. The new experiments on non-alcoholic beer rule out this option.
Both beer and red wine contain numerous polyphenols, natural compounds thought to protect against heart disease and have anticancer, antiviral and antiallergic properties.