The female flowers of the hop plant, Humulus Lupulus L., have long been used as a preservative and flavoring ingredient in beer. Based on written records, the cultivation of hops dates back to at least 860 A.D. when the therapeutic use of hops is first noted in Europe. Hops, as an herbal remedy, were introduced in England in the sixteenth century, but were banned by King Henry VIII who believed they “spoiled the taste of drinks and endangered the people.” Fortunately for us, Henry VIII eventually died (as kings often do) and with him, the “hop ban.”
Historically, hops have been used as an herbal remedy for a plethora of ailments. They’ve been used in hop pillows for the relief of insomnia, in wound salves as an anti-inflammatory and as herbal antibiotics. Hops have also been used as treatment for:
• Appetite Loss
• Digestive Problems
• Gynecological Complications
• Intestinal Cramps
• Nervous Tension
• Tension Headache
• Urinary Tract Difficulties
• Travel Sickness
• Kidney Stones
• Sexual Dysfunction in Males
• Muscle Spasms
The list goes on, but I won’t.
With so many cures credited to one plant, it is easy to see why many viewed these remedies as ‘old wives’ tales.’ However, over the last several years there has been a major change in attitudes regarding the therapeutic use of hops. Modern technologies allow the rapid and fairly inexpensive testing of chemicals (both synthetic and natural) as cures for chronic diseases. As a result, pharmaceutical manufacturers today are showing an increased interest in herbals in their search for new medications – including, of course, hops. In fact, hops and the product in which they are currently used, beer, has quickly gained interest as a micronutrient that may help prevent many types of cancer and hormonal imbalances in women.
Researchers at Oregon State University first discovered the cancer-related properties of a flavonoid compound, xanthohumol, about eleven years ago. “Xanthohumol is one of the more significant compounds for cancer chemoprevention that we have studied,” said Fred Stevens, a researcher with the Linus Pauling Institute; an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry in OSU’s college of pharmacy; and co-author of a recently published paper regarding the prevention of prostate enlargement and prostate cancer. “The published literature and research on Xanthohumol’s properties are just exploding at this point, and there’s a great deal of interest.” Quite a bit is now known about the biological mechanism of action of Xanthohumol and the ways it may help prevent cancer or have other metabolic value. It also appears to have a role as a fairly powerful antioxidant – even more than vitamins C, E and Beta-Carotene. It has also shown the ability to reduce the oxidation of LDL, or bad cholesterol.
The production of estrogen in women in and around menopause is greatly reduced. The ‘change’ is often accompanied by a variety of ailments such as hot flashes, mood swings, sleep disturbances, structural changes in the bladder and vagina, greatly reduced libido, increased risk of cardiovascular disease and reduced bone density, with osteoporosis or decalcification of the bones and increased risk of fracture. Almost everyone knows of someone (usually a geriatric female) who has fallen and broken her hip. Actually, in many cases, the hip fractures first, then comes the fall. For females, hormone replacement therapy using synthetic hormones is often used to combat these symptoms of menopause. However, two studies from the United States and England have demonstrated that synthetic hormone therapy increases the risk of breast cancer, coronary disorders, strokes and pulmonary embolism. The English study, incorporating one million menopausal women, estimated that the 20,000 additional cases of breast cancer recorded among British women 50 to 64 years of age over the past ten years could be attributed to long-term administration of synthetic hormones. Now that the remedy seems worse than the symptoms themselves, doctors and patients are extremely cautious about using hormone replacement therapy. Menopausal women seem to be crossing over, in increasing numbers, to alternative preparations using a base of phytoestrogens with a superior safety profile. Hops, of course, are a natural source of these phytoestrogens. Hop-containing herbal preparations are already being marketed as a remedy for menopausal and post-menopausal symptoms as well as breast enlargement in women.
How does this pertain to beer drinkers, like us? Well, most beer styles (pale lagers, English bitters, etc.) have low levels of these cancer fighting and hormone boosting compounds, but many porters, stouts and pale ales have much higher levels.
Also, “health beers” with enhanced levels of xanthohumol are currently being developed in a handful of countries including Germany and the United States. Hey, Adam Avery, what was it you mentioned a while back regarding your desire to someday create a non-alcoholic IPA? Better get cracking before you’re beaten to the punch!
If you have any questions about, diet, exercise or beer (as it relates to both), feel free to beer-mail me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, as always, everything in moderation… including moderation.
ACE Certified Personal Trainer
Thanks go out to the following for the knowledge:
Brewing Research International;
Oregon State University;
The authors of Rational Psychotherapy: A Physicians Guide to Herbal Medicine;