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Beer could help protect against Alzheimer’s disease

Beer is one of the oldest and most popular alcoholic beverages in the world. While some people love and other hate the distinct, bitter taste of hops used to flavor beer, new research led by the University of Milano-Bicocca has revealed that particularly “hoppy” brews could have unexpected health benefits. The experts discovered that, in laboratory dishes, chemicals extracted from hop flowers can inhibit the clumping of amyloid beta proteins, which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) – a debilitating neurodegenerative disease, characterized by memory loss and personality changes in older adults.

Part of the difficulty in treating AD is that there is a considerable time lag between the beginning of underlying biochemical processes and the onset of symptoms, often with several years separating them. Thus, since irreversible damage to the nervous system can occur before one even realizes that they might have the disease, preventive strategies and therapeutics which can intervene before symptoms appear are of increasing scientific interest.

One of these strategies involves so-called “nutraceuticals,” or foods which have certain medicinal properties, such as – as the present study argues – the hop flowers used to flavor beers. The scientists created and analyzed extracts of four common varieties of hops using methods similar to those used in the brewing process. Their analyses revealed that these extracts had antioxidant properties and could prevent amyloid beta proteins from clumping in human nerve cells. The most successful extract was from the Tettnang hop, which is found in many types of lagers and lighter ales.

When the researchers separated this extract into fractions, the one containing high levels of polyphenols exhibited the most powerful antibiotic and aggregation-inhibiting activity and promoted processes allowing the body to eliminate misfolded, neurotoxic proteins. By testing the extract in a C. elegans animal model, the scientists found that it protected the worms from AD-related paralysis, although this effect was not extremely pronounced. These findings nevertheless suggest that hop compounds could serve as the basis for the development of nutraceuticals which halt the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our results show that hop is a source of bioactive molecules with synergistic and multitarget activity against the early events underlying AD development. We can therefore think of its use for the preparation of nutraceuticals useful for the prevention of this pathology,” the authors concluded.

The study is published in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience.

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By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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