Beer is filled with health benefits and great nutrition, but it’s the beer hops — the flowers of hops plants used to balance beer flavor by adding bitterness to the sweet maltiness — that may be packed with the biggest health punch.
Scientists have been working on harnessing the anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties of beer hops, and they may be getting closer to developing new medicines from it, according to a new study. The research, which will be presented at the 251st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), delved into exploring how these particular hops compounds could be developed in the lab in the most effective ways. The researchers concluded that there is potential to create synthetic compounds to contain the same medicinal benefits as the naturally occurring humulones and lupulones present in hops plants.
Hops have been one of the key ingredients of beer — along with grain, yeast, and water — for centuries. Along with their purpose of balancing flavors, hops have been known to contain antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, which are useful in preventing microbial contamination during fermentation in the brewing process.
But these same antibacterial features so useful in brewing have been linked to medical benefits, too. Hops were used throughout history as a form of folk medicine to treat sleeping problems, hair loss, anxiety, and inflammation. Recently, studies have also found that hops may fight dementia: They contain antioxidants that prevent oxidative stress and cognitive decline. One 2014 study argued that a flavonoid supplement found in hops could boost cognitive function. Not to mention all the health benefits that have been associated with drinking beer in general — including a reduced risk of heart attack in women and lowered risk of kidney stones.
However, there is still not enough evidence to support the notion that hops can treat diseases. In order to unlock their potential, the latest researchers decided to further analyze how to zoom in on the compounds that may be advantageous — and test them in a clinical setting.
In the latest study, the researchers note that there are two compounds in hops that are promising from a medical standpoint: humulones, which are alpha acids with anti-inflammatory and anticancer features; and lupulones, beta acids that may also have some healthy properties. In order to make a medicine from these compounds, scientists would need to properly extract them from the hops — but existing methods are messy, and there haven’t been analytical standards to compare them to. If they could create humulones and lupulones synthetically, however, it would be much easier to turn them into medication.
“When researchers extract healthful chemicals from hops, they first have to determine whether they have separated out the specific compounds they’re interested in,” Kristopher Waynant, lead author of the study, said in a statement. “But if you can figure out how to make these compounds from scratch, you know they are the right ones.”
The researchers plan on developing a “library of humulones, lupulones, and their derivatives as possible biologically active agents against myriad diseases,” they write in their abstract. Currently, they’re still experimenting with creating these synthetic compounds, but they believe it will lead them to ultimately collaborate with medical researchers to combine them into pharmaceuticals.
“It’s been a lot of trial and error,” Lucas Sass, an undergraduate student at the University of Idaho who is assisting Waynant in the research, said in the press release. “But it’s so exciting when an approach finally works.”
Source: Waynant K, et al. American Chemical Society, 2016.