Just in time to potentially justify all of that drinking on St. Patrick’s Day, a researcher reveals that a key ingredient in beer may also be a key ingredient in the fight against cancer, inflammatory diseases and other things that can kill you. And no, it’s not green food coloring.
The work is being done at the University of Idaho (because college is where the beer is) by assistant professor of chemistry Kristopher Waynant, Ph.D. and undergraduate student Lucas Sass. Their goal is to synthesize the chemicals in hops – the flowers of the hop plant that give beer its bitter flavor – that also kill bacteria in the brewing process and fight disease when consumed in herbal tea. The challenge is to isolate the right compounds in the hops to synthesize.
Two compounds do the medicinal work of hops. Alpha acids, or humulones, have been shown in experiments to kill cancer cells and block leukemia cells from attaching to bone. Beta acids, or lupulones, appear to be the anti-bacterial agents. To create them in the lab, Waynant and Sass started with a keg of Coors. Just kidding … they stared with phloroglucinol, an organic compound that can cause chemical reactions. Using that, they were able to synthesize one humulone and are close with two others.
Are you pouring yourself a cold one in the name of good health? Not so fast, says Dr. Waynant.
We certainly don’t think that beer should be viewed as a medicine. 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.
In other words, there’s much work to be done before he can provide active synthetic humulones and lupulones to pharmaceutical companies to be made into anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory drugs.
However, their work can provide more immediate benefits to the home brewing and craft beer industries, said Waynant at the latest meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), where he presented his findings.
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.
It sounds like we are well on our way to making this Homer Simpson musing about beer a reality:
Here’s to alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.