When it comes to health benefits and alcohol, antioxidant-rich red wine is usually the drink drawing all the praise. But beer — carbs and calories notwithstanding — also has its upsides, with studies showing the beverage can help prevent kidney stones, strengthen bones, and aid your digestive system. Now, scientists have discovered another health advantage in your brew: A compound called xanthohumol, a flavonoid naturally found in hops, can be a boon for weight loss and may help scientists create a novel approach to addressing obesity. Tests have also shown xanthohumol can lower cholesterol and blood-sugar levels.
No, drinking beer won’t help you lose weight. A pint of IPA contains only 0.0757 mg of xanthohumol, says Cristobal Miranda, a research assistant professor with Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute and lead author of the study, published in a special issue of Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics. To derive any benefits of xanthohumol from beer, you’d have to do the impossible and guzzle 3,500 pints per day.
But, researchers say, in the future, a concentrated amount of xanthohumol could be packed into a supplement and taken once a day. The supplement could be a low-cost and effective treatment for metabolic syndrome, the set of factors that increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other health problems. About one in three Americans have metabolic syndrome, estimates the American Heart Association, so this could be a welcome innovation.
Studies on the health benefits of xanthohumol so far have been carried out in laboratory animals and in cell culture, Miranda says. The results have shown the compound holds promise, potentially reducing risk of cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes. Before we know its safety and real efficacy for fighting obesity and more, though, studies will have to be conducted on humans.
For the study, lab mice were fed a high-fat diet and given varying levels of xanthohumol. The rats given the highest dosage of xanthohumol cut their LDL or “bad cholesterol” by 80 percent and their insulin levels by 42 percent. Their levels of IL-6, a biomarker of inflammation, was reduced by 78 percent. The lab animals were all fed the same rich diet and given the same amounts of food, leading them to gain weight. But weight gain was 22 percent less in the mice receiving xanthohumol in their diets.
Researchers have long been interested in the health benefits of flavonoids, exploring the compounds found in tea, garlic, chocolate, apples, blueberries, and other foods. Miranda says xanthohumol found in hops is unique because of its potential to address so many health problems, and to do so dramatically.
Xanthohumol is only found in the hop plant, and is not naturally present in any other plant, Miranda says. Any product like beer, hop tea, or a beverage or dietary supplement in which hops, or hop extracts, are used may contain xanthohumol, he says. For now, we'll hang tight until we can apply for a human beer-drinking trial.