The Chemical That Makes Beer Bitter May Help Cure Cancer

Senior Contributor
02.04.13 6 Comments

It’s not a big secret that hops have antimicrobial properties. Many breweries in the Middle Ages produced weak beer, and used hops, because it was safer than drinking the local water.

Turns out they might have been onto a lot more than just being able to stay deliciously semi-buzzed at work.

Beer tastes deliciously bitter because of a chemical called a humulone. In addition to sounding like the punchline to a dirty joke, humulones help keep the beer fresh; this is why India Pale Ales are so incredibly bitter.

It turns out that the beer brewing process creates a chemical structure that’s unique, and even one atom off makes it ineffective:

Humulone molecules are rearranged during the brewing process to contain a ring with five carbon atoms instead of six. At the end of the process two side groups are formed that can be configured in four different ways – both groups can be above the ring or below, or they can be on opposite sides. …If they are paired correctly, they will fit together like a nut and bolt.

Unfortunately, beer is not a guaranteed cancer cure: The humulones in it are in such tiny amounts that there’s no possible demonstrable effect.

That said, this research potentially opens the door to vast new possibilities of pharmaceutical research, especially in the areas of treating diabetes and cancer.

Of course, it’s worth noting that beer in moderation has a whole host of health benefits, so even if it won’t stop cancer, you should keep drinking it. And your boss should get off your back about having one at lunch.

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