What are Hops?
When you think of hops, you will almost certainly associate the word with beer. Hops which are known scientifically by the name Humulus lupulus are flower clusters which grow on the Hop plant.
Hops have been used in the beer brewing industry for centuries. They were first discovered way back in the 11th century and have since become a staple in the beer making business. What fewer people are aware of is that hops have also long been used for their health benefits and you do not need to slug down on beer to get their medicinal goodness.
These days, hops are available in various supplementary forms including tablets, capsules, liquid extract and tincture. Hops can be used to remedy a surprising range of illnesses including digestion, headaches and anxiety while preliminary research suggests they could help in the fight against certain types of cancer.
Hops also go by several other common names including pliny the elder, asperge sauvage, common hop and European hops.
Hops are clusters of flowers or seed cones that grow on the hop species of plant which is a vigorous, perennial climbing species. Hops are native to many parts of Europe but are now widely cultivate in many temperate regions the world over. The plant has hairy stems which help it to climb over 7 meters in height.
The flowers grow out of the axils of the plant’s dark green leaves and grow to a length of between 6 and 12 centimeters. It is only the female flowers that are used for medicinal reasons.
Why are Hops Good for you?
Hops contain a variety of essential oils as well as various minerals and vitamins that give them their therapeutic benefits. The essential oils found in hops are myrcene, caryophyllene, farnesene and humulene. The oils have several potent therapeutic properties including anti-inflammatory and antiseptic actions.
The vitamins found in hops include vitamins C, E and B6. These nutrients have powerful antioxidant properties which can help protect the body from disease, boost the immune system and slow down the body’s aging process.
Hops also contain a type of flavonoid compound called xanthohumol which is believed to have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-tumor and anti-clotting properties.
Health Benefits of Hops
1) For stress Anxiety
Anybody that enjoys a glass or two of rich, hoppy beer will be familiar with the way that the tension seems to ease from your body. While alcohol may well have something to do with this, hops themselves may also play a part. Hops have been traditionally used for their sedative abilities and may help to ease feelings of anxiety and stress.
Several studies have demonstrated that hops have sedative effects on the body’s nervous system (1) It is believed to work because it modulates the GABA receptors in the brain. Studies have also showed that hops are more effective as a sedative when used in combination with valerian. (2)
2) For Improved Sleep
There is a growing body of scientific evidence that hops could help people improve their quality of sleep and even help treat sleep conditions like insomnia.
Hops have traditionally been used to help with sleep issues and several studies have analyzed its effectiveness as a sleep aid. Several studies have found that hops were effective in promoting sleep in combination with another herb – valerian. (3)
A study published in 2012 set out to examine the effects of hops in female nurses chosen because of their stressful jobs and their poor sleep patterns. The study found that the participants who drank non-alcoholic beer containing hops experienced much improved quality of sleep compared with the control group. (4)
3) For the Menopause
Studies have found that hops have chemicals that act like estrogen. These chemicals may help relieve some of the symptoms of hormonal changes which occur because of menopause.
A study done on 100 post menopausal women found that a vaginal gel using hops as one of the major ingredients reduced dryness in the vagina. It also helped relieve painful intercourse, burning, itching and vaginal inflammation.
One study published in 2006 examined the effects of a phytoestrogen extracted from hops (8-prenylnaringenin) on menopausal discomfort. The results of the study indicated that a daily intake of hop extract had beneficial effects on many of the discomforts associated with menopause including hot flashes. (5)
4) To Relax the Muscles
Hops can also be used alone or in combination with valerian to help relax your overly stressed muscles, ease stiff joints and prevent spasms and twitching. According to experts when these herbs are used on combination, they are even more effective than when used alone.
5) Cognitive Health
Recent research carried out in China suggests that xanthohumol – a compound found in hops may help protect the brain’s cells from oxidative stress. According to the researchers, this type of oxidative stress can lead to degenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers at Lanzhou university concluded that xanthohumol may protect the brain from damage and reduce the risk of various brain disorders. (6)
Research conducted in the laboratory at Oregon State University has found that the xanthohumol present in hops may also have applications against certain types of cancer.
So far, they have found it was effective against colon, ovarian and breast cancer cells. (7) There are also indications that the compound may help prevent the development of prostate cancer.
Although many people are actually allergic to the ingredients of beer like yeast and hops, many people say that it can help to treat allergies. Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence that hops have any sort of antihistamine effect.
8) For your Hair
It certainly sounds a little odd but washing your hair with hop extract or beer can help add shine to your locks and reduce dandruff. According to proponents, the antioxidants found in hops can help strengthen the scalp and hair and reduce the amount of hair loss.
If you would like to give it a try, first rinse your hair with a gentle shampoo then add some liquid hop extract or beer to your scalp and massage it in thoroughly. Leave for a while before rinsing it out and washing your hair as normal.
9) Weight Loss
A study published in 2012 reported that the flavanoid – xanthohumol – extracted from hops helped reduce body weight and fasting glucose levels in obese rats. The researchers also concluded that the results demonstrated the extract may have a beneficial effect on some of the symptoms of metabolic syndrome. (8)
10) Heart Health
Another potential benefits of the xanthohumol found in hops is the effect it may have on heart health. A study published in 2012 found that it possessed powerful antiplatelet activity. The researchers concluded it may have a role to play in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease. (9)
How to Use Hops
Hops are available in several different forms including liquid extract, tinctures, tablets and capsules. They are available these days in many drug and health stores and also in numerous online stores including amazon.
You can also prepare a hops tea by adding two teaspoons of hops for each cup of water. Allow your tea to steep for at least 10 minutes before you drink it.
Precautions and Side Effects
- Hops are not recommended for children, pregnant women or nursing mothers.
- They are considered safe for the majority of healthy adults provided you do not exceed the recommended dose.
- Hops can cause certain side effects including upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.
- Hops can exacerbate feelings of depression.
- Some people may be allergic to hops. Frequent contact may result in a rash.