Step into any brewery and you'll see the cone-shaped hops flower, or Humulus lupulus, diligently adding flavor and aroma to beer. And it turns out, the plant has applications that far go beyond imparting bitterness to your favorite double IPA. To reap its health benefits, you don’t even have to booze up. Here's what to know about this funky flower.
Health benefits of hops.
The hops flower been used medicinally for more than 2,000 years to help manage a variety of ailments. Modern research, though in early stages, affirms that hops can help improve mood, relaxation, and more.
This is likely because the flower is loaded with antioxidants, polyphenols, and beneficial essential oils such as linalool, which helps with oxidative stress. With all of these compounds at play, emerging research shows hops might be able to help out with the following:
1. It can help you sleep.
First and foremost, hops is known for its calming properties. If you have trouble sleeping or you have a wonky schedule that wreaks havoc on your circadian rhythm, also known as your sleep-wake cycle, hops might be able to help. In one study, researchers found that female nurses who worked rotating shifts were able to fall asleep faster and sleep better after having non-alcoholic beer for dinner in their off-hours when compared to a control group that did not drink the brew.
2. It can promote a better mood.
Hops can help brighten your mood, too. "A recent study showed that mild depression, anxiety, and stress in otherwise healthy young adults was improved with daily supplementation of a hops dry extract over a 4-week period," says integrative gastroenterologist Marvin Singh, M.D.
Functional medicine doctor Amy Shah, M.D. credits hops' mood-boosting properties to the way it interacts with the body's serotonin and melatonin receptors.
3. It can help with hot flashes.
Hops may also help with hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause, according to another study. A flavonoid in hops, known as 8-prenylnaringenin, is a phytoestrogen, a plant-based compound that may behave like estrogen in the body. However, more research is needed on this topic to determine the safety of long-term dosing.
4. It can support immune health.
A review of existing medical data states that the compounds in hops show promise in warding off some disease processes, including those related to metabolic syndrome. "Hops has a flavanoid compound called xanthohumol and this is felt to possibly have antiviral, anti-clotting, anti-inflammatory, and even anti-tumor activity," adds Singh.
How to get your hops fix without boozing.
You don’t have to head to your neighborhood pub or brewery to reap the benefits of hops. You can buy the flower in many forms and use it as a supplement that suits your needs and lifestyle.
Straight-up hops supplements are available both in tincture and capsule form, or hops can be paired with other supplements for a multi-vitamin. Hops pair especially well with full-spectrum hemp oil to promote a sense of chill, since hops and hemp belong to the same plant family, Cannabaceae. They are thought to work synergistically together to support a more positive, relaxed mood.
If you crave a bitter beverage without the buzz, you can also find hops in certain herbal teas and hopped-up kombuchas, or you can buy hops in dried flower form or as a powder and make your own concoctions.
Finally, the dried and crushed flowers can be used as a food seasoning. Sprinkle as you would an Italian seasoning and be prepared for a bitter and tangy bite.
Are there any side effects I should look out for?
Hops are generally considered safe. However, some people do have a hops allergy so be mindful of a runny or stuffy nose, hives, or itching following the flower. If you’ve avoided beer in the past for this reason, hops might be the culprit.
If you’re trying a supplement, follow the directions on the label and start out with a small amount first before increasing if desired. Mild side effects of taking hops may include slight stomach discomfort. However, hops have been known to help manage gastrointestinal issues, as well.
Anyone with a history of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer should avoid using hops as a supplement because it contains a phytoestrogen.
The bottom line
Hops are widely known for giving different beer styles their flavor and aroma profiles, but they can be consumed without having to toast the town. Ongoing research backs up the benefits of hops in supplements meant to promote better sleep, mood, and overall health.
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Jennifer Chesak is a freelance medical journalist with bylines in several national publications, including Washington Post, Healthline, Prevention, Greatist, Runner’s World, and more. Her coverage focuses on chronic health issues, fitness, nutrition, women’s medical rights, and the scientific evidence around health and wellness trends. She earned her Master of Science in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School. In addition to reporting, she also serves as a freelance manuscript editor and medical fact-checker. She teaches copyediting and media studies at Belmont University and several writing courses through the Porch Writers’ Collective in Nashville, and she is the managing editor for the literary magazine Shift.