We’ve all heard the story about red wine and how a glass a day (or something like that) can prevent high blood pressure and heart attacks and all that jazz, but no one seems to want to talk about the potential health benefits of beer. While wine is seen as the “healthy” alcoholic choice because of its antioxidants, beer is seen as a fattening, unhealthy drink. It does have its own type of belly, after all. But beer might actually be healthier than is commonly perceived, our next several Beer Facts OTW will discuss the potential health benefits of beer, and we’ll start right now with possibility that beer may help prevent breast and prostate cancer.
To begin, let’s talk a little bit about how cancer is formed in the prostates of men and the breasts of women. In either case, it seems that overactive hormones are to blame. There have been studies that show that increased levels of testosterone in bloodstream are associated with the formation of prostate cancer. Similarly, high levels of estrogen in women are known to elevate the chances of a tumor forming in the breast tissue. Why are these hormones, that appeared to be so harmless when we first learned about them in Sex Ed, the main culprits in a couple of the most feared types of cancer? Not due to any fault of their own. In fact, they’re just doing their job – promoting cell growth. In men, testosterone helps with the growth of hair a muscle, while in women, estrogen is involved in things like uterine growth. When something goes wrong and your body fails to automatically balance these levels of hormones is when you start to get into trouble. That’s when estrogen calls for the production of too much breast tissue, or testosterone overworks the prostate glands. In both cases, rapid cell growth leads to a tumor.
What does beer have to do with any of this? If you know anything about beer, you know that one of the most important ingredients is hops – that cute little green pinecone-esque seed thingy that makes beer taste oh so delicious. Well it turns out that there’s a naturally-occurring chemical compound in hops called xanthohumol. After doing a whole bunch of tests on the chemical in both rats and humans, German scientists were able to conclude that xanthohumol blocks the effects of both testosterone and estrogen, meaning any problems that are caused by abnormal hormone levels could potentially be avoided. The whole chemistry behind it is super confusing, but as far as I can tell the xanthohumol attaches itself to the hormone and acts like some sort of mute button, preventing the hormone from communicating with cells, thus avoiding the problem of the kind of hyperactive cell activity that would lead to cancer.
The information coming out of these studies so far is extremely exciting, but the scientists over at the Division of Epigenomics and Cancer Risk Factors in Heildelberg, Germany are still hard at work trying to figure out whether or not that beer you’re holding could actually save your life. It could be a while until they find out for certain, but I’m already pretty convinced.
So next time your wife or girlfriend bugs you for having that beer before bed, tell her you’re only doing it to stay healthy so you can be with her longer. While you’re at it, get her to have one too. We wouldn’t want cancer to take away your favorite part of her body.