Healthy Living

Cognitive Function Boosted With Flavonoid Supplement Found In Hops And Beer

beer
The flavonoid xanthohumol may protect young brains' ability to recall memories and perform certain tasks. Reuters

Dietary supplements of xanthohumol, a type of flavonoid found in hops and beer, have been found to boost cognitive function in young mice, a new study reports. The findings could potentially help people with metabolic syndrome, who battle obesity and hypertension in addition to problems of working memory.

Flavonoids don’t just appear in beer. They’re also in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, from the anthocyanidins in red, blue, and purple berries to the flavonols found in yellow onions, kale, broccoli, and apples. The family of compounds support heart health in the form of antioxidants, and mounting research suggests they help deter cancer metastasis and decrease inflammation.

The researchers, a group of biomedical scientists at Oregon State University, offer a forewarning: Just because beer contains xanthohumol, downing a few cold ones one Sunday afternoon isn’t going to make you any smarter. “A human would have to drink 2,000 liters of beer a day to reach the xanthohumol levels we used in this research,” said Kathy Magnusson, lead researcher and professor in the OSU Department of Biomedical Sciences, in a statement.

Magnusson and her colleagues analyzed the health of 49 mice who were fed a diet with or without xanthohumol for a period of eight weeks. They were given a series of tests involving a water maze to gauge their relative reference memory, cognitive flexibility, and associative memory. Given the compound’s history with lowering rats’ bodyweight and overall fat composition, in addition to the natural processes of fat redisposition within the brain during aging, the team theorized introducing a supplement of xanthohumol would promote better cognitive function.

While older animals did not show any significant improvement, younger brains did. When they consumed more of the supplement, the scientists saw lower levels of palmitoylation — a normal process of aging where synaptic plasticity begins to degrade. This is why memory recall tends to get slightly harder around age 50. You might have more trouble “connecting the dots” or “putting the pieces together.”

“Xanthohumol can speed the metabolism, reduce fatty acids in the liver and, at least with young mice, appeared to improve their cognitive flexibility, or higher level thinking,” said co-author Daniel Zamzow. “Unfortunately, it did not reduce palmitoylation in older mice, or improve their learning or cognitive performance.”

They  may have liked to see more robust findings, but the team concedes their study upholds what science has already hinted at when it comes to pediatric nutrition: Early introduction is key. And the conventional wisdom on fruits and vegetables is true, that a food’s color typically indicates an abundance of a specific nutrient. As for xanthohumol, Magnusson said, “this flavonoid and others may have a function in the optimal ability to form memories.”

So, you may not be able to guzzle your way to a healthier brain (to say nothing of a healthier heart). But many foods can offer protective effects. Cocoa powder, for instance, ranks as the fourth-greatest source for polyphenols, another rich source of brain-preserving, cancer-fighting compounds. Dark chocolate, blueberries, and sweet cherries also fall near the top.

Source: Zamzow D, Elias V, Legette L, Choi J, Stevens F, Magnusson K. Xanthohumol improved cognitive flexibility in young mice. Behavioural Brain Research. 2014.

Loading...