It’s relatively safe to say that while most people are kicking back enjoying a frosty IPA that their attention is not focused on whether the brew’s hops content—which provides beer its bitter notes and floral aromas—is preventing them from developing cancer. Yet, that is exactly what a team of scientists from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) spent time researching. Specifically, the UIC team investigated whether an extract from the hop plant could also help fend off breast cancer.
Hops is a flower cone not only used in beer brewing but also has been a popular botanical dietary supplement used by women as a sleep aid and for postmenopausal symptom relief with moderate efficacy for some years. Moreover, hops extracts have been shown previously to modulate chemical estrogen carcinogenesis pathways—leading the researcher to hypothesize the potentially protective effects toward breast cancer.
In the U.S., breast cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in women. Exposure to estrogen has long been considered one of the risk factors associated with developing the disease, particularly in postmenopausal women. Women experiencing menopause often use hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, to alleviate symptoms such as hot flashes. However, HRT has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and heart disease. Unsurprisingly, many women are turning to hops supplements, which contain phytoestrogens, as a natural alternative. Yet the hop plant's effect on cancer risk remains unclear.
Early lab studies suggested that certain active compounds from hops could have protective properties. Building on this lead, the UIC team used an enriched hop extract to test its effects on estrogen metabolism, one of the processes in the development of breast cancer.
“In the present study, an enriched hop extract and the key bioactive compounds [6-prenylnarigenin (6-PN), 8-prenylnarigenin (8-PN), isoxanthohumol (IX), and xanthohumol (XH)] were tested for their effects on estrogen metabolism in breast cells,” the authors wrote. “The results…showed that hop extract and 6-PN preferentially enhanced P450 1A1 mRNA expression and increased P450 1A1/1B1 activity.”
The findings from this study were published recently in Chemical Research in Toxicology in an article entitled “Hop (Humulus lupulus L.) Extract and 6-Prenylnaringenin Induce P450 1A1 Catalyzed Estrogen 2-Hydroxylation.”
The investigators applied the extract to two different breast cell lines to see how they would affect estrogen metabolism. One particular hop compound, 6-PN, boosted the cells' detoxification pathway that studies have associated with a lower risk for breast cancer. Thus, the results suggest that 6-PN could have anticancer effects. However, the researchers suggest that more studies would be needed to investigate this possibility further, and they advise against overinterpretation of their results.
“These data show that the hop extract and 6-PN preferentially enhance the nontoxic estrogen 2-hydroxylation pathway through AhR [aryl hydrocarbon receptor] mediated up-regulation of P450 1A1, which further emphasizes the importance of standardization of botanical extracts to multiple chemical markers for both safety and desired bioactivity,” the UIC team concluded.