Could Hops Be A The Next Big Treatment For Metabolic Syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is is the name given to a group of conditions that occur simultaneously, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess belly fat, and high cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. It affects more than one-third of American adults, putting them at risk for heart disease, a stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Knowing this, it will come as no surprise to learn that researchers are on the hunt for better treatments for metabolic syndrome. And according to a new study, a compound found in hops—yes, the same ingredient that's in beer—may provide some answers.
Hops, also known as Humulus lupulus, has been used for centuries as a preservative and flavoring agent in beer. It's also a medicinal herb that's historically been used to treat a range of health woes (including insomnia and menopausal symptoms).
From Oregon State University, the researchers were looking into one compound in particular, called xanthohumol (XN), that contributes to the strong, bitter flavor of hops. Since metabolic syndrome is linked to a diet high in fat, they separated laboratory animals into two groups; the first was give a high-fat diet and the second was given a high-fat diet that included XN, and two of its derivates called TXN and DXN. The researchers measured the effect of the compounds on the animal's bile acids, tissue inflammation, and gut microbiome status.
The findings, published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, showed that XN and both of its derivates led to a reduction in secondary bile acid production and an increase of conjugated bile acids. This sound complicated, but really, it just means that hops changed the way fat was metabolized (since bile is a fluid produced in the liver that helps with the digestion of fats). The results also showed changes in the diversity of gut microbes and reduced inflammation in the animal's tissues.
The results indicate that the hops compounds led to improved energy metabolism, glucose metabolism, and cholesterol metabolism—which could also make a significant impact on the pathology of metabolic syndrome.
The researchers suspect this relationship has everything to do with the gut microbiome. As Adrian Gombart, one of the study's authors explained: "Changes in gut microbiota and bile acid metabolism seem to explain at least partially why XN and its derivatives lead to improvements in obesity and other aspects of metabolic syndrome." That said, they need to know more before they make any conclusions. "...This is not necessarily cause and effect - we need to know which changes to the microbiota are beneficial," he continued.
Surprisingly, the results showed the hops compounds led to a decrease in gut bacterial diversity, which is typically a bad thing. But hops and its derivates have natural antibacterial properties and as Gombart explained, "they may be killing off certain bugs that aren't beneficial and preserving other ones that are."
Previous research by the same group of scientists showed that XN, DXN, and TXN improve glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, and sensitivity to leptin, which is a hormone that's in charge of hunger signaling. Next, the researchers plan to figure out exactly how the hops compounds are interacting with the gut bacteria and the rest of the body, in order to explain their beneficial effects on metabolic syndrome.
Unfortunately, this study is no license to drink all the beer you want, but it could be the beginning of a new area of research that brings hops to center stage as the next big herbal remedy to know.
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