Waking up in a deep state of regret and pain the morning post a heavy-drinking night feels like you’ve soaked your entire mind and body in poison. Well, technically, you have! But apparently, there’s more to the story than just that.
Chinese researchers have recently found that in some ways, beer may actually be protecting your brain from some of the nasty degenerative diseases like dementia and other cognitive decline that can appear suddenly later in life.
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 flavour, 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. 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.
The compound not only helped to repair damaged neurons, but was also shown to be preventative to degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia. There has been a growing scientific belief that these conditions could be caused or exacerbated by oxidative damage to brain cells, and the recent study suggested that xanthohumol has protective antioxidative properties as well as cancer-fighting and cardiovascular benefits.
“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 observed that moderate can be beneficial to a person’s memory. One 2014 study found that people who drank moderately had larger hippocampuses and better episodic memory. With millions of people suffering from the Alzheimer’s in the world, the findings of Fang’s study as well as others offer new insight into ways we can prevent dementia at a younger age.
But again—this doesn’t mean that boozing always does more good to your brain than harm. More research is needed to determine exactly how much xanthohumol is the sweet spot, as drinking the most beer possible probably isn’t the best way to go. Take example of a pizza: The cheese in pizza, after all, contains bone-healthy calcium, but that doesn’t mean that you should eat an entire pizza for every meal.
It could help if in future, the compound can be harnessed and used it to manufacture medications or treatments that could slow the onset of Alzheimer’s or benefit those who are at high risk of developing it. But this also isn’t the first time that research has shown the benefit of this hops-based miracle chemical. Last fall, a study from Oregon State University noted that in very large doses, it improved cognitive function in mice, and in 2010, German researchers found that it may help to prevent the spread of prostate cancer.
Other beneficial types of flavonoids, some said to promote heart health and prevent cancer, are found in red wine, chocolate, and fruit.
So you can feel a little bit better about kicking back with a beer during happy hour—especially if you’re in the older crowd. But before you go on an all-beer diet, hold off for more cues from our friends in the lab.