Many a beer drinker has heard about the health benefits of red wine over the past few years. In fact, there have been so many studies on the supposed elixir of life that there’s a good chance some beer drinkers, looking to confer the same benefits, have converted into wine connoisseurs. But convert not my fellow beer drinker, for beer also confers some health benefits, according to a new study, which found a compound within can ward off dementia and other cognitive decline.
There are a number of paths that lead to cognitive decline, from tau proteins and amyloid plaques, which are suspected to cause Alzheimer’s disease, to aging. Regardless of which path a person finds themselves on, they all lead to the death of brain cells from oxidative stress — a biological imbalance that occurs during the metabolism of oxygen, and results in an excess of reactive oxygen species (ROS, byproducts of this metabolism), which damage cells. Oxidative stress has been implicated in all sorts of health problems, from Alzheimer’s and cancer to heart failure and infection.
Researchers from the University of Lanzhou, China, however, found in their new study that the flavonoid xanthohumol (Xn) may delay or even prevent the onset of dementia and other cognitive decline. The antioxidant, which is found in beer’s hops — those flowers that are added to beer for flavor, giving it its bitterness and tanginess (think most new, dark craft beers) — has been shown to have anti-cancer, anti-oxidation, and heart-protective properties, as well as the ability to prevent inflammation, Healthline reported. For the study, the researchers isolated Xn molecules and tested them on the brain cells of lab rats, finding they were able to neutralize ROS by encouraging the production of neuroprotective molecules.
“Hops from dried female clusters of the hop plant are widely used in beers and a few types of soft drinks,” said Dr. Jiangou Fang of Lanzhou University, according to the Daily Mail. “In traditional Chinese medicine, hops have been used to treat a variety of ailments for centuries. The presence of a high concentration of Xn in beers might be linked to the epidemiological observation of the beneficial effect of regular beer drinking.”
Previous studies have shown moderate — emphasis on moderate — drinking to be beneficial to a person’s memory. One study from last year found people who drank moderately had larger hippocampuses and better episodic memory. With roughly five million Americans suffering from the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, the findings of Fang’s study as well as others offer new insight into ways we can prevent dementia at a younger age. Of course, not all of us are drinkers; if you’re not, Xn can also be found in soft drinks like Julmust (from Sweden) and Malta. Either way, there’s no better time than now to drink up!
Source: Yao J, Zhang B, Ge C, Peng S, Fang J. Xanthohumol, a Polyphenol Chalcone Present in Hops, Activating Nrf2 Enzymes To Confer Protection against Oxidative Damage in PC12 Cells. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. 2015.