How Beer Could Help Diabetes
If you’re wondering how beer could help diabetes, and perhaps even some types of cancer and other serious health problems, scientists at the University of Washington (UW) have an answer. The answer lies in the beer making process.
Brewing beer is serious business
Brewing beer involves using the right ingredients, a dose of chemistry, and some creativity thrown in for brewmasters to come up with a taste that pleases the public. One of those ingredients is hops (Humulus lupulus), which are the flowering (and female) cone of a vining plant that is related to the cannabis.
Hops might be considered the “age old seasoning of the beer,” and they play several important roles, such as acting as a filter to keep beer clear, protecting against spoilage, and providing the beverage’s unique flavors. The actual molecules in hops that are responsible for giving beer its flavor are called humulones, and they were the focus of the current UW study.
Researchers have now identified the exact structure of humulones, and according to Werner Kaminsky, a UW research associate professor of chemistry and the study’s lead author, “Now that we have the right results, what happens to the bitter hops in the beer-brewing process makes a lot more sense.”
Specifically, the investigators believe their new understanding of hops opens the door for finding which humulones might be helpful in preparing new treatments for diabetes and other diseases. To arrive at that understanding, Kaminsky and his team used X-ray crystallography to determine the exact structure of humulone molecules that are produced during brewing.
As beer is being made, the humulone molecules rearrange themselves and can result in four different configurations. It’s critical to know which form the molecule takes—referred to as its “handedness”--because then researchers will know how a particular humulone will react with another substance when it joins it.
If the humulone molecule does not pair correctly with another substance, the result could be dangerous or even deadly. However, recognizing which form of the molecule fits well with another substance could lead to important drug treatments.
Health benefits of beer
The authors point out that previous research has already indicated that beer and humulones and their derivatives may have a positive effect on diabetes, cancer, inflammation, and even help with weight loss. For example, research from Japan showed that isohumulones significantly reduced blood glucose and hemoglobin A1c levels in both mice and patients with type 2 diabetes.
Another study, published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, noted that beer may help support strong bones because it is a significant source of silicon, a mineral necessary for bone health. It’s also been suggested that drinking a moderate amount of beer can help make you creative, and that beer may help the prostate.
Until now, researchers did not understand the exact structure of the compounds in hops that provided these potential benefits. This lack of information prevented them from verifying the specific species responsible for potential beneficial activities.
Now, with this new information on hops and its compounds “future work on their biological activities should be greatly accelerated,” according to the UW scientists. That means we may soon hear more about how beer can help diabetes and other serious health problems.
University of Washington
Urban J et al. Absolute configuration of beer’s bitter compounds. Angewandte Chemie International Edition 2013 Jan 28; 52(5): 1553-55
Yajima H et al. Isohumulones, bitter acids derived from hops, activate both peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha and gamma and reduce insulin resistance. Journal of Biological Chemistry 2004 Aug 5; 279(32): 33456-62