When it comes to healthful beverages, beer is unlikely to be top of the list. A new study, however, suggests that some compounds in the popular drink could offer significant health benefits for people with metabolic syndrome.
Researchers reveal how a form of xanthohumol (XN) — a flavonoid found in hops, an essential ingredient in beer — and two hydrogenated derivatives of the compound may help to improve insulin resistance in people with metabolic syndrome, as well as reverse learning and memory impairments induced by the condition.
Study co-author Fred Stevens, of the College of Pharmacy at Oregon State University (OSU) in Corvallis, and colleagues recently reported their findings in the journal Scientific Reports.
Metabolic syndrome is a condition whereby a person has at least two of five metabolic disorders. These include high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, high triglyceride levels, low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol, and high fasting blood sugar.
It is estimated that around 23 percent of adults in the United States have metabolic syndrome.
Not only does the condition put these individuals at risk of other health conditions — such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke — but previous research has found that people with metabolic syndrome may be at greater risk of cognitive impairment.
The new study, however, suggests that beer compounds could help to combat the latter, by reducing the effects of one the biggest causes of metabolic syndrome: a high-fat diet.
In a previous study, Stevens and team pointed to XN as a possible treatment for metabolic syndrome, but there is one major barrier to its clinical use: in the human body, XN is converted into an estrogenic metabolite called 8-prenylnaringenin (8-PN), which can promote the growth of breast cancer.
“We were always criticized about the potential side effects because 8-PN is one of the most potent phytoestrogens known in nature, and that’s not good news,” Stevens explains. “If someone took XN over longer periods of time, it could lead to estrogenic side effects, potentially.”
The researcher notes that in order for 8-PN to be metabolized, a specific “double bond” is required in the XN molecule. “[…] I thought if I could get rid of that double bond by hydrogenating the molecule, then that metabolite cannot be formed anymore,” says Stevens. “I thought maybe this is the solution to the problem.”
He and his colleagues tested this theory in their new study. They assessed the effects of XN and two hydrogenated derivatives of XN — α,β-dihydro-XN (DXN) and tetrahydro-XN (TXN) — on mice with obesity caused by a high-fat diet.
The team found that all three compounds — especially TXN — were effective in reducing insulin resistance among the rodents, which is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
Interestingly, DXN and TXN were found to be more effective than XN, and, importantly, they produced no adverse effects.
“Probably the bioavailability of the hydrogenated derivatives is better than for XN itself – that would explain why they work better,” Stevens speculates.
“Now we have compounds that still have the original beneficial effects but not the side effects,” he adds. “There are no adverse estrogenic effects, and the liver toxicity induced by the high-fat diet is mitigated. Our mouse study showed that XN, DXN, and TXN are not hepatotoxic.”
But the benefits of XN and its derivatives do not end there.
On assessing the obese mice in a water maze, the researchers found that all three compounds led to improvements in spatial learning and memory.
Study co-author Jacob Raber, of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at OSU, says this finding “could be important” for people who experience cognitive impairments as a result of metabolic syndrome.
“Our findings with rodents suggest that it may be possible to reduce or even prevent learning and memory impairments through a derivative of the same chemical compound found in beer.”
As interesting as these findings are, it should be noted that — sadly — you are unlikely to reap the same rewards by guzzling a pint of your favorite ale.