Treat your next cold with a frosty beer

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
common cold, pneumonia, RS virus, beer, humulone, zinc, treatment, Cold-EEZE

When I dine at my favorite sushi restaurant, I accompany the meal with a bottle of tasty Sapporo beer. In addition to enhancing a dining experience or providing refreshment, beer has been found to have some medicinal properties. A new study released on December 5 has found that beer contains an ingredient that can protect against the common cold as well as some serious childhood illnesses. Sapporo Brewers cited the study that was conducted by researchers at Sapporo Medical University (Sapporo, Japan).

The researchers noted that a chemical compound in hops, the plant brewers use to give beer its bitter taste, provides an effective guard against a virus that can cause severe forms of pneumonia and bronchitis in youngsters. The compound, humulone, was found to be effective in curbing the respiratory syncytial (RS) virus. The virus tends to spread in winter and can also cause cold-like symptoms in adults. “The RS virus can cause serious pneumonia and breathing difficulties for infants and toddlers, but no vaccination is available at the moment to contain it,” explained Jun Fuchimoto, a researcher from Sapporo Brewers.

Before you pick up a six pack of your favorite brew when you feel a cold coming on, here’s the bad news. Fuchimoto said that such minute quantities of humulone were present in beer that someone would have to drink around 30 cans, each of 350 milliliters (12 ounces), for it to have any virus-fighting effect.


Despite that shortcoming, researchers affiliated with the brewery and the medical university are researching the use of humulone in medications that can protect against the RS virus. Fuchimoto explained, “We are now studying the feasibility of applying humulone to food or non-alcoholic products. The challenge really is that the bitter taste is going to be difficult for children.”

In addition to finding that humulone was protective against the RS virus, the research also found that humulone alleviated inflammation caused by infection from the virus.

Take home message:
Although downing a can of beer to ward off a cold is a fanciful concept, this research could lead to developing a pharmaceutical containing and effective amount of humulone to combat the RS virus. A multitude of cold remedies are currently available on the marketplace; however, most provide symptomatic relief. These include Robitussin AC and Sudafed. Robitussin AC is an expectorant (a substance that decreases the thickness of mucus secretions). Sudafed is a decongestant, which reduces nasal substances. Many cold remedies contain aspirin or acetaminophen (i.e., Tylenol) to reduce muscular aches. A number of studies have found that zinc is effective in reducing the duration and severity of the common cold. It is available in a product known as Cold-EEZE, which is in lozenge form. A clinical study conducted by researchers from Dartmouth College and the Cleveland Clinic reported that taking up to six lozenges per day for three days yielded statistically significant results.

Reference: Sapporo Medical University