Anti-cancer Compound In Beer Gaining Interest
A chemical compound detected only in hops and the main product they are used in - beer - has quickly acquired interest as a micronutrient that may help prevent many kinds of cancer.
Researchers at Oregon State University first noticed the cancer-related properties of this flavonoid compound named xanthohumol about 10 years ago. A recent issue by an OSU researcher in the journal Phytochemistry outlines the range of findings done since then. And several other scientists in programs across the globe are also starting to look at the value of these hops flavonoids for everything from preventing prostate or colon cancer to hormone replacement therapy for women.
"Xanthohumol is one of the more substantial compounds for cancer chemoprevention that we have examined," 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.".
Quite a bit is now known about the biological mechanism of action of this chemical compound and the means it may aid prevent cancer or have other metabolic value. But even before many of those studies have been finished, efforts are under way to isolate and commercialize it as a food supplement. A "health beer" with enhanced levels of the compound is already being built up.
"We can't say that drinking beer will help prevent cancer," Stevens cited. "Most beer has low levels of this compound, and its absorption in the body is also minimal. But if means can be developed to significantly increase the levels of xanthohumol or use it as a nutritional supplement - that might be different. It clearly has some interesting cancer chemopreventive properties, and the only way people are getting any of it right now is through beer consumption.".
Xanthohumol was actually first found in 1913, isolated as a yellowish substance detected in hops. Researchers began studying its molecular construction in the 1950s, but for many years the only people who expressed any real interest in it were brewers, who were looking to learn more about how hops aid impart flavor to beer.
In the 90's, researchers at OSU, including Stevens and toxicologist Don Buhler, started to look at the chemical compound from another view - its anti-cancer properties. It exhibited toxicity to human chest, colon and ovarian cancer cells, and most lately has shown some activity against prostate cancer in OSU reports.
Xanthohumol seems to have various mechanisms of action that relate to its cancer preventive attributes, scientists say. It, and other related flavonoid compounds detected in hops, suppress a family of enzymes, commonly called cytochromes P450 that can trigger cancer. It also encourages the activity in a "quinone reductase" process that aids the human body cleanse carcinogens. And it suppresses tumor growth at an early stage.
In current years, it has also indicated that some prenylflavonoids found in hops are potent phytoestrogens, and could ultimately have worth in prevention or treatment of post-menopausal "hot flashes" and osteoporosis - but no accurate clinical trials have been done to study this.
Information about these chemicals compound seems to be spreading. Hop-containing herbal formulations are already being commercialized for breast enlargement in women, the OSU research study said, without waiting for trials to confirm their safety or efficacy. And a supposed "health" beer is being formulated in Germany with more levels of xanthohumol.
It's possible, scientists say, that hops may be produced or genetically engineered to have eminent levels of xanthohumol, specifically to take advantage of its anti-cancer attributes. Some beers have already got higher levels of these compounds than others. The lager and pilsner beers usually sold in domestic U.S. brews have fairly low grades of these chemical compounds, but some porter, stout and ale brews have much more levels.
Ideally, researchers say, cancer chemoprevention is targeted at the beginning of cancer development and avoided by long term contact with non-toxic nutrients, food supplements or drugs that keep the cancer formation. With its wide spectrum activity, presence in food product , and power to suppress cancer at minimal concentrations, xanthohumol might be a good prospect for that list, experts say.
Xanthohumol also seems to have a role as a fairly potent antioxidant - even more than vitamin E. And it exhibited the power to minimize the oxidation of LDL, or bad cholesterol.