Researchers are synthetically reproducing anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-Cancer compounds found in hops.

By James Oliver Cury
Updated May 24, 2017
Credit: © Chloe Johnson / Alamy

When early beer makers added hops to the recipe, they did so to stop spoilage, not to give it that yummy bitterness. It was an accidental win-win, good for beer makers and for drinkers. Now the medical community has found a few more reasons to be impressed with hops: It turn out they are anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and may be part of the solution to fight cancer.

Scientifically speaking, hops are flowers, or seed cones, of the hop plant Humulus lupulus. For years, researchers have been able to extract certain medicinal elements from hops, namely humulones (alpha acids that kill cancer cells and block leukemia cells from attaching to bones) and lupulones (beta acids that fight bacteria). The challenge has always been to synthetically recreate these medicinal properties and to build a compound that makes the disease-fighting elements as effective as they can be.

At yesterday's national meeting and exposition of the American Chemical Society in San Diego, Kristopher Waynant, of the University of Idaho, described the work his team has been doing to harness these cancer-fighting properties (you can watch him get quite technical in this Youtube clip).

Ultimately, the goal is to hand off a library of information to biologists, medical researchers, and pharmaceutical companies—and they are close. The research may also benefit beer makers. "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," adds Waynant.

Should we all just drink a whole lot more beer in the meantime? "No no no no no," says Waynant (9:26 in the video). "Even if you're getting hops in a medicinal way [by drinking beer], you're not getting it in the best way."