Science Is Settled: Beer Makes You Happier

Life & Culture Writer
09.28.17


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The October 3rd end date of Oktoberfest is rapidly approaching, but that doesn’t mean we all stop drinking beer. Hopefully, it means you have less of a need for Adidas that are resistant to beer and vomit, but no judgement if it doesn’t. You do you. Most people enjoy a good beer because of both the taste and the effects. Now, scientists have identified a component in malted barley that makes anyone who quaffs a cold one feel good. It’s not just the alcohol at work.

We all have certain foods and drinks that make us feel good; these are the ones we keep shoveling into our Hungry, Hungry Hippo mouths after we are full. Though you and I might call eating an entire tray of nachos “Tuesday,” scientists call it hedonic hunger (when you eat for pleasure, rather than to fuel your bod). Like most things that feel good in our bodies, these actions are driven by dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter. Yummy foods and drinks stimulate the reward center of the brain, where the dopamine D2 receptor is situated. Scientists observed this pattern and decided to look into whether foods contain specific substances that trigger that receptor in the same way dopamine does.

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Researchers of the Chair of Food Chemistry at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) worked with their Computer Chemistry Centre to create a virtual screening approach (like that used in pharmaceutical research) to examine 13,000 food components. They were looking for ones that stimulate the brain’s reward center. Out of the initial 13,000 molecules tested, 17 options were selected for continued analysis in the laboratory in cooperation with the Division of Medicinal Chemistry at FAU.

Of all the molecules that made it to the lab stage, the most promising results were associated with hordenine, which is found in malted barley and beer. Hordenine stimulates the D2 receptor but it does so via a different pathway. It uses G proteins to activate the receptor, which can lead the effect to be more prolonged. All that stimulation and longer lasting? Yes, please.

Though researchers are now investigating whether or not the levels of hordenine in beer are sufficient to have a substantial effect on the reward center, it seems likely that hordenine is contributing to some beer-induced giddiness.

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