An Idaho chemist closes in on synthesizing the acids in hops in an effort to confirm early research suggesting the ingredient may have anticancer properties.
First wine went from dietary taboo to something similar, in small doses, to medicine.
Now it may be beer’s turn.
At a meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) today in San Diego, Kristopher Waynant, Ph.D., an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Idaho, presented work showing that he and undergraduate student Lucas Sass are close to synthesizing acids in hops, which are strongly linked to anticancer properties.
The hops are what make beer taste like beer, and they have long been known to inhibit bacteria growth as the brew ferments.
Acids in the hops, called humulones and lupulones, have been shown to kill cancer cells and block leukemia cells from clinging to bone in petri dish experiments. They may also act as anti-inflammatory agents.
Synthesizing the acids is an important step in documenting any health effects so researchers can be sure their ingredients are pure.
Scientists have successfully synthesized one type of humulone, and Wyanant and Sass are now close to synthesizing two others.
“We believe we have a rapid and efficient route to get there,” Waynant told Healthline.
Some of the existing research on beer’s health benefits don’t define clearly enough which element of hops drives their effects, according to Waynant.
“The first few studies of biological activity were of hop extracts and alpha or beta acid extracts respectively,” he said.
Waynant still cautioned against using health as a justification for drinking more beer.
“We certainly don’t think that beer should be viewed as a medicine,” he said. “We are of the impression that many pharmaceuticals are derived or originate from nature and that perhaps there is a derivative in our synthetic routes that will also be active or more active.”
With alcohol, a little bit may be a good thing, but too much can be an express ticket to many major chronic diseases.
One in 14 U.S. adults abuses alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and nearly 88,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes every year.
Although he’s careful not to give Americans permission to drink more, Waynant acknowledges that his research is related to the boom in craft beer and home brewing.
“That’s why I picked it as a topic to research. It’s something that students would know and could relate to,” Waynant said.
Sales of craft beers have grown as a share of total beer purchases in recent years. Smaller brands now account for a fifth of all sales in the United States, according to the Brewers Association.
The number of home brewers, meanwhile, has tripled in the past decade, according to the American Homebrewers Association.
“Being able to synthesize and have available precise analytical standards of these molecules would be beneficial to both brewers and medicinal biologists as reference materials,” Waynant said of the hops acids his work focuses on.