Beer won’t make you smarter, but a compound found in hops might

Bottoms up!
Bottoms up!
Image: Reuters/Michaela Rehle
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The last thing hedonists participating in Oktoberfest this week need to hear is that beer can make you smarter. While that’s not true—as far as we know—new research suggests that a certain compound found in one of the main ingredients of beer can actually improve cognitive function.

Researchers at Oregon State University discovered that doses of xanthohumol, a flavonoid found in hops, improved memory and thinking in a lucky group of mice. Flavonoids are a class of compounds present in plants, known to have numerous health benefits. Last year, researchers discovered that a flavonoid found in celery and artichokes could potentially fight pancreatic cancer.

The researchers treated the mice with dietary supplements of xanthohumol over the course of eight weeks. Their goal was to determine if xanthohumol could affect palmitoylation, a naturally occurring process in animals (including humans) that’s associated with memory degradation. The mice then went through a series of tests—including the popular Morris water maze—to gauge whether or not the treatments had improved their spatial memory and cognitive flexibility. For the younger mice in the group, it worked. But on the older mice, unfortunately, the xanthohumol didn’t seem to have any effect.

Xanthohumol is a rare chemical compound: Hops are the only known dietary source of it. But lest beer enthusiasts get too excited, it would require drinking 2,000 liters of beer a day (or 5,636 bottles of beer) to ingest the amount of xanthohumol used in the study. Not recommended.

Still, the findings suggest the compound could one day be used medicinally to treat cognitive problems in humans—and that might just merit a toast to xanthohumol.