Beer as Medicine?

The bitter-tasting chemical found in hops could be used in treating diabetes, inflammation and some types of cancer. ->

Hops give beer its pungent flavor, but a substance derived from hops may do more than make your favorite beer taste great.

New research finds there's potential for incorporating humulones - the bitter-tasting chemical compound found in hops - into drugs. But, before you get too excited, this isn't an excuse to crack open that 2-4 pack daily.

"Excessive beer consumption cannot be recommended to propagate good health," the authors said in a press release. "Isolated humulones and their derivatives can be prescribed with documented health benefits."

Potential new drugs could be used to treat diabetes, inflammation and some types of cancer, the researchers wrote in the study published this month in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition and funded by a Seattle pharmaceutical firm.

The researchers discovered the configuration of humulones with a process called X-ray crystallography, a technique developed in the early 20th century. The molecules are rearranged during the brewing process to contain a ring with five carbon atoms instead of six.

By mapping out the process, the researchers were able to determine which molecule matches the bitter taste of beer - and should help determine which arrangement of atoms is most effective in treating specific illnesses. That's important because some of the compounds have been shown to affect specific illnesses, while slightly different arrangements have been ineffective.

"Now that we have the right results, what happens to the bitter hops in the beer-brewing process makes a lot more sense," said Werner Kaminsky, a University of Washington research associate professor of chemistry.

Researchers could use the results to figure out how to combine the molecules with other chemicals to develop a diabetes-fighting drug, for example. Such medicines, however, are still a ways off.

Photo: Corbis