Beer and Cancer

Beer and Cancer: Hops to the Rescue?

Hops are used to help preserve beer and to give it the necessary bitterness to balance out the sweetness of the malts. It’s long been known that hops have a lot of interesting capabilities. They’re antibacterial, antifungal and can actually offer quite a few health benefits. However, new research indicates that the little cone-shaped buds might actually be capable of something else – fighting cancer. Can you prevent cancer by downing a cold one? 

Folk Remedies and Hops

Hops aren’t new to the medicinal scene. In fact, they’ve been used for hundreds of years in folk medicine as a treatment for everything from insomnia to inflammation. Those uses are now backed up by science – hops do contain powerful anti-inflammatory agents. Hops are also powerful antibacterial agents (one reason they’ve been used in beer brewing for so long is to prevent spoilage). 

Modern Cancer Research

While hops may offer quite a few health benefits, scientists are particularly interested in their potential as a cancer fighter. According to Reuters, “The acids, humulones and lupulones, which are found in the hops used to make beer could halt or prevent cancer and inflammatory diseases.” Humulones are alpha acids with proven anticancer and anti-inflammatory capabilities. Lupulones are beta acids, but their capabilities are not as well understood. 

However, researchers aren’t looking at the effects of hops on beer drinkers. They’re hoping to extract the acids themselves and then synthesize anticancer treatments from those. It’s more challenging than it sounds, though. Not only do researchers have to first determine that they’ve extracted the right acids, but they then must find a way to create those compounds in a laboratory setting, rather than deriving them from natural hops each time.

A new study will be presented at the 251st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, and lead researcher, Kristopher Wayant, Ph.D., will present findings and research to the body. “When researchers extract healthful chemicals from hops, they first have to determine whether they have separated out the specific compounds they’re interested in,” he said. “But if you can figure out how to make these compounds from scratch, you know they are the right ones.”

Ultimately, this research will be key in developing a usable compound in cancer treatments. The end result could be medications that prevent tumors from forming (something humulones have been proven to do), or even shrink existing tumors for cancer patients.

It’s only the beginning of the process, but with trial and error, researchers are progressing to the point that they hope to be able to extract a wide range of alpha and beta acids from hops for testing. With that being said, it will be years yet before anything is clinically proven about hops’ ability to battle cancer. 

Beer’s Other Health Benefits

While hops might one day play a key role in cancer prevention and treatment, beer offers plenty of well-established health benefits right now. Numerous studies have been conducted on beer’s effect on the human body, and some surprising insights have been revealed.

B Vitamins: Beer, particularly unfiltered varieties, is very high in B vitamins. Apparently, it contains quite a bit of magnesium, biotin, potassium, selenium and other vitamins in addition to B vitamins like B6, B12, niacin and riboflavin. In fact, science has proven that beer has more vitamin content than wine.

Protein: Wine has been hailed as a good source of protein, but beer actually has more of it. This is one reason that runners and other performance athletes often drink a cold brew after a workout or a competition. It can replenish protein and vitamin levels far better.

Brain Function: A study conducted back in 2014 proved that the flavonoids in beer can actually play a startling role in boosting brain function, and could possibly help to prevent cognitive decline, oxidative stress and dementia in Alzheimer’s patients. Of course, too many beers at once would definitely combat any benefits in the way of mental cognition.

Other benefits include reducing the likelihood of stroke, improving blood circulation and helping to prevent kidney stones. There are even benefits for bone health, thanks to beer’s high silicon content. 

Of course, the key here is “moderate consumption”. What does that actually mean, though? According to the federal government, you shouldn’t have more than 14 “units” of beer per week (each unit is one 12-ounce beer). Saying that, drinking all 14 of them in one session certainly won’t offer any health benefits, and will actually lead to problems like kidney and liver damage, as well as mental deterioration. Drinking too much has also been linked to an increased chance of developing cancer in the first place, so this is definitely a case of “too much cure being as bad as the disease”.

A Note on Calories

One of the most significant (negative) impacts of beer on your health is to your waistline. Beer packs in a lot of calories, although it’s actually slightly less than wine on an ounce-for-ounce basis. The average beer comes in somewhere around 150 calories per 12-ounce bottle, while just five ounces of wine will give you 120 calories. 

If you’re paying attention to your health, you know that you need to reduce your caloric intake to combat weight gain and help shed pounds, which is important for everything from heart health to easing painfully sore joints. 

So, watch the caloric intake of your beers, and remember that the higher a beer’s ABV is, the more calories it packs. If you’re looking to maximize the health benefits from your drinking, go for one to two per day, and limit it to those on the lighter range of the alcohol spectrum.

What about you? Have you noticed any health benefits from your daily brew? What about the converse – health problems like weight gain from too much indulgence?