Beer for your brain? Hops in lagers and light ales may prevent Alzheimer’s disease

WASHINGTON — Could drinking beer in your 20s and 30s protect you from the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in your 60s? A new study finds that hops, which give many varieties of beer their bitter flavor, are also capable of preventing harmful proteins from clumping together in the brain.

That said, don’t go running off to the local brewery with empty growlers and expect that having nightly IPA benders will improve your brain health. Let’s get into exactly how beer hops are linked to a lower Alzheimer’s disease risk.

Amyloid beta proteins accumulate into plaques which disrupt the communication between neurons in the brain. Scientists say this is one of the hallmark signs of Alzheimer’s development. One of the biggest problems doctors face when it comes to treating the disease is the time lag between the start of underlying biochemical processes and the onset of symptoms.

Specifically, patients suffer irreversible damage to their nervous systems years before they begin to see symptoms such as memory loss and personality changes. This makes the search for preventative treatments which people can use long before brain dysfunction begins vitally important.

With that in mind, a team in Italy started looking at “nutraceuticals,” foods that serve a medicinal or nutritional function. They focused on hop flowers used to flavor beer after previous studies suggested that the plants could interfere with the buildup of amyloid beta proteins in the brain.

Researchers Cristina Airoldi, Alessandro Palmioli, and their team examined four common varieties of hops using a similar method brewers use to create beer. During their experiments, they discovered that the extracts had antioxidant properties and were able to block amyloid beta proteins from clumping around nerve cells.

Results show that the Tettnang hop, used in many types of lagers and lighters ales, had the most success in terms of preventing Alzheimer’s-related brain issues. When the team separated this extract into fractions, the portion containing a high level of polyphenols had the greatest antibiotic and amyloid beta-blocking ability. The team also found that the hop extract boosted the body’s ability to clear out misfolded and toxic proteins.

In a worm model, the scientists discovered that the Tettnang extract could protect the animals from Alzheimer’s-related paralysis — although the effect was very small. The Italian team says this isn’t an endorsement for drinking more beer. However, the research does reveal that there are substances in the popular drink which scientists can use to create new nutraceuticals which could one day prevent Alzheimer’s once and for all.

The Italian Ministry of University and Research (MUR) funded this research.

The findings are published in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience.

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