As a home-brewer and hop plant grower, I found the latest news regarding this plant to be simply amazing. The health benefits of the hop plant have been known for centuries since the early Romans used it. Researchers at Oregon State University first discovered the cancer-related properties of this flavonoid compound called xanthohumol about 10 years ago. Now this aspect of the hop plant is being pursued for even more detailed study.
“Xanthohumol is one of the more significant compounds for cancer chemo-prevention that we have studied,” said Fred Stevens, a researcher with OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute and an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry in the College of Pharmacy. “The published literature and research on its properties are just exploding at this point, and there’s a great deal of interest.”
In the 1990s, researchers at OSU, including Stevens and toxicologist Don Buhler, began to look at the compound from another perspective — its anti-cancer properties. It showed toxicity to human breast, colon and ovarian cancer cells, and most recently has shown some activity against prostate cancer in OSU studies.
“Its every man’s dream to hear that beer and pizza can prevent cancer,” said Richard Atkins, head of the US National Prostate Cancer Coalition, noting that a chemical found in tomato pizza sauce is another believed cancer fighter.
It’s possible, scientists say, that hops might be produced or genetically engineered to have higher levels of xanthohumol, specifically to take advantage of its anti-cancer properties. Some beers already have higher levels of these compounds than others. The lager and pilsner beers commonly sold in domestic U.S. brews have fairly low levels of these compounds, but some Porter, Stout and Ale brews have much higher levels. India Pale Ale (IPA) is noted for its hoppiness, and Extra Special Bitters (ESB) even more so.
Ideally, researchers say, cancer chemo-prevention is targeted at the early stages of cancer development and prevented by long-term exposure to non-toxic nutrients, food supplements or drugs that prevent the formation of cancers. With its broad spectrum activity, presence in food products, and ability to inhibit cancer at low concentrations, xanthohumol might be a good candidate for that list, experts say.
Xanthohumol also appears to have a role as a fairly powerful antioxidant – even more than vitamin E. And it has shown the ability to reduce the oxidation of LDL, or bad cholesterol. It just keeps getting better all the time!
I harvested my small crop of Cascade hops in September, dried them out and then put them in a zip log bag in the freezer. During this past winter, I would grab a few hop cones, put them in a loose-tea infuser and put that into one of my usual green tea varieties. Depending on the green tea I used, e.g., Lemon, Cranberry, etc., it added an element of slight bitterness but not in a bad way. In addition to the beneficial effects on certain types of cancer, the powerful antioxidants have also been found to help alleviate winter colds.
If you don’t grow your own, you can easily find whole hops for sale at home-brewing companies. Do a Google search for
“whole hops”, or buy them locally if you are lucky enough to have a brewing store in your neighborhood. To your health!