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10+ Promising Benefits of Hops Plant & Extract

Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Last updated:
Jonathan Ritter
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology), Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Last updated:

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Best known for their role in beer brewing, the female flowers of the hop are being increasingly used in supplements for insomnia, anxiety, and menopausal symptoms. In addition, research on their components has revealed new activities with promising clinical applications. Read below to learn more about hops’ health benefits.

What Are Hops?

Hops are the female flowers of hop (Humulus lupulus L.), a climbing plant belonging to the same family as hemp (Cannabaceae). Hop most likely originated in China, Southern Caucasus and Siberia, or Mesopotamia, from where it spread to Japan, America, and Central Europe [1, 2].

Due to its role in beer brewing, which accounts for 98% of its use, hop is nowadays cultivated in all warmer regions. The different compounds in hops add a bitter flavor to beer, prevent the growth of unwanted microorganisms during the brewing process, and stabilize foam [1].

Health Benefits of Hops

Due to the scarcity of clinical studies, hops and its active components have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. Further research will be required to determine whether they are effective or safe for long-term use.

Nevertheless, hops extract is commercially available as a supplement. Regulations set manufacturing standards for supplements but don’t guarantee that they are safe or effective. Talk to your doctor before using hops supplements to avoid unexpected interactions.

Possibly Effective for:

1) Menopausal Symptoms

Menopause is the cessation of menstrual cycles in women. It is accompanied by a reduction in female sex hormone levels, which causes symptoms such as [3]:

  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes (depression, irritability)
  • Bone and muscle mass loss
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Vaginal dryness

Both hops extract and its component 8-prenylnaringenin improved these symptoms and life quality in three clinical trials on over 200 menopausal women [4, 5, 6].

In a pilot trial of 100 women, a gel containing hops extract reduced vaginal dryness [7].

In several studies in female rats whose ovaries were removed to mimic menopausal hormone deficiency, hops extract or 8-prenylnaringenin reduced hot flashes, improved some bone mass and architecture parameters (although it worsened others), and increased sex drive [8, 9, 10, 11].

In a small trial on 72 menopausal women, a morning/evening formula in which the morning capsule contained ginseng, black cohosh, soy, and green tea extracts and the evening capsule contained black cohosh, soy, kava, hops, and valerian extracts improved several menopausal symptoms including hot flashes and sleep disturbances [12].

Hops and their component 8-prenylnaringenin are possibly effective for menopausal complaints based on the existing evidence. Future clinical research should determine the most effective ways to use them therapeutically.

Insufficient Evidence for:

2) Anxiety and Mood Disorders

In a trial on 36 people with at least mild depression, stress, or anxiety, hops extract improved all the symptoms [13].

In rats, hops extract had antidepressant activity –measured as a reduction of the time that rats spent floating immobile in a cylinder filled with water [14].

A small clinical trial and a study in rats are clearly insufficient to claim that hops help with mood disorders. More clinical studies on larger populations are required.

3) Sleep

In a small trial on 17 people, one can (333 mL, a bit more than 1 cup) of non-alcoholic beer improved sleep quality. Hop was suggested as the main beer component responsible for this effect [15].

Hops extract increased sleeping time and reduced physical activity and body temperature in mice and rats taking sedatives. In a study in quails, whose sleep-wake rhythm is very similar to that of humans, a dose of 2 mg hops extract was most effective in reducing night activity while preserving a normal circadian activity/rest rhythm [16, 14, 17, 18].

Hops are frequently combined with valerian to fight insomnia. In three trials on over 250 people, this combination was more effective than placebo. Two of them showed that the combination was also more effective than valerian alone [19, 20, 21].

Similarly, the combination of hops, valerian, and purple passionflower was as effective as the drug zolpidem in a trial on 78 people with insomnia [22].

However, two other trials on over 250 people taking supplements with hops extract found no effects on sleep quality [23, 24].

The evidence to claim that hops help sleep is promising but insufficient. There are only a few, small clinical trials and animal studies. Additionally, many of the studies used hops in combination with other supplements, making its contribution to the effects observed difficult to estimate.

4) Weight Loss and Metabolic Health

In a trial on 200 healthy overweight people, hops extract reduced body fat, especially in the belly [25].

Both hops extract and its components xanthohumol and iso-α acids reduced body weight in multiple studies in overweight mice and rats [26, 27, 28, 29, 30].

Xanthohumol also reduced the development, growth, and fat accumulation of fat cells while increasing their death rate [31, 32].

The combination of hops isohumulones and acacia proanthocyanidins improved several symptoms of metabolic syndrome. Together with diet changes and physical exercise, it decreased blood levels of triglycerides and cholesterol (total, LDL, APOB) in a trial on 23 people. The combination also reduced insulin levels while increasing insulin sensitivity in another trial on 91 people [33, 34].

The results are promising but further clinical research is needed to confirm the benefits of hops on weight loss and metabolic health.

5) Dental Health

In 2 small trials on 57 people, hops polyphenols (taken either as a mouth rinse or as tablets) reduced dental plaque growth [35, 36].

Hops polyphenols reduced the capacity of two bacterial species (Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus) to cause cavities [37].

In two studies on human gum cells, hops polyphenols blocked the inflammatory response triggered by the gum disease microbe (Porphyromonas gingivalis) [38, 39, 40].

Two small clinical trials and a few studies in animals and cells have indicated a potential benefit to dental health, but this cannot be considered sufficient evidence to support this health benefit. More human studies are needed.

6) Allergies

In a clinical trial on 39 people with allergies to pollen, hop extract improved nose swelling, nose color, discharge amount, and discharge characteristics [41].

In mice with allergies to pollen/dust, hops extract reduced nose rubbing and sneezing. The extract also reduced histamine release by mast cells, cancer cells, and basophils [42, 43].

In a study in human nose cells, hops water extract reduced the production of a cytokine that activates allergic inflammatory responses (TSLP) [44].

Very few studies support the use of hops for allergies. Further clinical research is needed.

7) Heart Health

In a small trial on 23 people, hops isohumulones improved blood flow, both in smokers and non-smokers [45].

In two studies in mice, xanthohumol prevented and reversed the buildup of triglyceride and cholesterol plaques inside the arteries [46, 47].

In rats, hops extract relaxed blood vessels, which may reduce the risk of heart disease [48].

After injuries, vessels can be narrowed from inner lining cell growth and lead to heart disease. Xanthohumol was able to mitigate these effects [49, 50].

Because xanthohumol inhibits platelet activity, it may reduce the risk of blood clot formation (thrombosis) [51].

Further research in humans is needed to confirm the effects of hops in protecting the heart.

8) Blood Sugar Balance

In a small trial on 20 diabetic people, hops isohumulones reduced blood sugar levels [52].

In multiple studies with mice and rats, hops extract, its components xanthohumol and isohumulones, or a mixture of hops isohumulones and acacia proanthocyanidins reduced blood sugar levels and insulin resistance [26, 27, 28, 52, 53, 30].

Once again, this health benefit is only supported by one clinical trial and a few animal studies. Further research in humans should confirm these preliminary results.

Mechanism

The simultaneous activation of PPAR-alpha and PPAR-gamma by isohumulones may lower blood sugar levels by reducing insulin resistance. Hops bitter acids also activate the bitter taste receptors and stimulate the production of GLP-1, a protein that triggers insulin production in response to sugar [52, 54].

Xanthohumol may lower blood sugar levels by:

  • Binding to the farnesoid X receptor [55, 56]
  • Blocking sugar uptake [57]
  • Blocking an enzyme that produces sugar from complex carbohydrates (α-glycosidase) [58]

While some hops flavonoids (e.g., quercetin) also reduce sugar uptake, others (e.g., catechin) increase it. The hops flavonoids catechin, epicatechin, quercetin, and rutin may also lower blood sugar levels by stimulating the growth of the cells that produce insulin (β-cells) [57, 59+].

Very limited clinical evidence suggests that the consumption of hops could improve blood sugar balance, but it is not significant to recommend this use.

9) As a Deodorant

In a small trial on 42 people, hops extract mixed with an odor adsorbent agent commonly found in commercial deodorants reduced underarm odor without causing irritation. In the same study, hops extract reduced the growth of two bacterial species responsible for underarm odor (Corynebacterium xerosis and Staphylococcus epidermidis) [60].

Additional clinical trials should confirm the potential of hops extract as a deodorant.

10) Pain and Inflammation

A combination of hops isohumulones, rosemary extract, and oleanolic acid reduced the pain caused by arthritis and fibromyalgia in a small trial on 54 people. More studies on larger populations are needed to confirm this potential benefit. Additionally, because the study used a combination of extracts, the specific contribution of hops to the effects observed is not clear [61].

Animal and Cell Research (Lack of Evidence):

Hops and their compounds are being researched for other potential health benefits. Because the research is still in the animal and cell stage, we cannot draw conclusions.

11) Liver Damage

In several mice studies, hops or its components xanthohumol and isohumulones had protective effects against the following liver disorders:

Xanthohumol, humulones, and lupulones prevented inflammation in liver cells and the activation of those causing tissue scarring in response to liver damage [64, 65, 67].

12) Digestive Function

In rats, hops increased stomach juice production without changing its acid level. In another study, hops extract reduced small bowel movements [68, 69].

In a study in pigs, dietary hops (or a grape product also rich in polyphenols) increased weight gain per feed intake. The new diet did not change gut morphology or feed digestibility, but changed the gut microbial composition and reduced the production of pro-inflammatory proteins [70].

Studies in humans should confirm these preliminary results.

13) Supporting Skin Health

The intake of hops extract or its components xanthohumol and lupulone reduced skin inflammation (measured as ear swelling) in three studies on mice with mite-induced dermatitis, contact allergic dermatitis, and exposed to a tumor promoter agent [71, 72, 73].

In an antimicrobial study, xanthohumol and lupulones reduced the growth of five microbes that cause acne (Propionibacterium acnes, Staphylococcus epidermidis, Staphylococcus aureus, Kocuria rhizophila, and Staphylococcus pyogenes). Hops compounds also blocked two activities of these bacteria that also contribute to the development of acne (anti-collagenase and oxidative) [74].

Mice that consumed hops experienced reduced symptoms of dermatitis. This has not been demonstrated in humans.

14) Neurodegenerative Diseases

Hops extract reduced brain damage and maintained brain function in rats recovering from a stroke or poisoned with aluminum nitrate. In the long-term, hops extract reduced the buildup of a protein believed to cause Alzheimer’s disease (β-amyloid) in the brain of old mice and preserved their cognitive functions [75, 76, 77].

Xanthohumol protected brain cells against inflammation and oxidative damage, suggesting its therapeutic potential in neurodegenerative diseases [78, 79].

Because xanthohumol (among other flavonoids) can block an enzyme involved in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease (BACE1), it was suggested as a preventive therapeutic candidate for this disease [80].

The results of these studies will need to be repeated in larger and more robust studies to confirm a role for hops or its active compounds in preventing neurodegenerative diseases.

In rats, a hops extract improved recovery from stroke and poisoning with aluminum nitrate. The potential application of these results to humans is unknown.

15) Infectious Diseases

Hops essential oil and extracts inhibited [81+]:

  • Yersinia enterocolitica
  • Salmonella enteritidis
  • Salmonella typhimurium
  • Proteus mirabilis
  • E. coli
  • Klebsiella oxytoca
  • Mycobacterium fortuitum, a relative of the bacterium that causes tuberculosis [82].

The main compounds in hops with antimicrobial activity are xanthohumol, humulone, and lupulone. They have been reported to inhibit [83, 84, 85+, 86]:

  • Bacteria that may cause diarrhea (Bacteroides fragilis, Clostridium perfringens, Clostridium difficile)
  • Antibiotic-resistant strains (Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus faecium)
  • Bacteria that may cause food poisoning (Staphylococcus aureus and Staphylococcus epidermidis)

Hops can kill viruses as well. In multiple cell studies, hops extract or its compounds inhibited [87, 88]:

  • Influenza A virus
  • Rhinovirus (the common cold)
  • Herpes simplex virus type 1 and 2

Hop’s xanthohumol enhanced the activity of interferon alpha (IFN-α) against a cow virus. Because this virus is very similar to hepatitis C virus, xanthohumol might be used to develop new therapies against it [89].

Xanthohumol also reduced HIV replication, the production of a virus, and the damage caused to cells. For these reasons, its investigation as a new therapeutic agent for HIV was suggested [90].

Several hops components, especially xanthohumol, were active against the parasite causing malaria (Plasmodium falciparum) in two cell studies [91, 92].

In a study in which five hop components were tested against four human fungal pathogens (Trichophyton mentagrophytes, Trichophyton rubrum, Candida albicans, and Mucor rouxianus), xanthohumol, isoxanthohumol, and 6-isopentenylnaringenin were identified as the most powerful antifungal agents [85].

It’s important to note that these are very preliminary results that have not yet been studied in humans or even in animals. Further research should determine if hops are effective against infections caused by these organisms when ingested in normal doses.

Several hops components have demonstrated antimicrobial activity on contact, but the potential human application of this activity is unknown.

16) Thyroid Function

In a study in thyroid-derived cells, xanthohumol improved iodide uptake, which is an essential step in the production of the thyroid hormone. In another study, xanthohumol increased TSH and activity of the enzyme that converts T4 to T3 (type 1 deiodinase) [93, 94].

Cancer Research

Preliminary research in animals and cells has found anticancer activity in several of hops’ constituents.

However, many substances –including downright toxic chemicals like bleach– have anti-cancer effects in cells. This doesn’t mean that they have any medical value. On the contrary, most substances (natural or synthetic) that are researched in cancer cells fail to pass further animal studies or clinical trials due to a lack of safety or efficacy.

Do not under any circumstances attempt to replace conventional cancer therapies with hops extract, its components, or any other supplements. If you want to use them as supportive measures, talk to your doctor to avoid any unexpected interactions.

The hops component xanthohumol reduced growth, survival, or migration in cells of the following cancer types:

Other hops flavonoids such as isoxanthohumol, 6-prenylnaringenin, and 8-prenylnaringenin also showed activity against the following cancer types:

Both types of bitter acids (humulones and lupulones) blocked the growth and migration of liver cancer cells, while only lupulone showed activity against skin cancer [121, 120].

There is currently nowhere near enough evidence to recommend the use of hops in cancer prevention or treatment, but research is ongoing.

Limitations and Caveats

Although they have also been tested in animals and cells, only one clinical trial on a small population (17-42 people) supports each of the following health benefits of hops:

  • Improvement of mood disorders [13]
  • Sedative [15]
  • Antiallergic [41]
  • Antioxidant [45]
  • Improvement of insulin resistance [52]
  • Deodorant [60]

The following benefits have only been tested in animal and cell studies:

  • Activity against infectious agents [81, 88, 91, 85]
  • Anticancer [122, 2]
  • Anti-inflammatory [72, 122]
  • Protection against brain damage [79, 78, 75]
  • Skin health promotion [71, 74]
  • Protection against heart disease [47, 48, 50, 51]
  • Protection against liver damage [63, 65, 66, 64]
  • Improvement of digestive function [68, 70]
  • Improvement of thyroid function [93, 94]

Therefore, more clinical trials involving larger amounts of people are required to confirm these claims.

Although doses of up to 239 mg hops extract per day during 7-day periods caused no toxicity symptoms, no long-term toxicity studies have been carried out [123].

Further Reading

  • What are Hops? + Plant & Extract Components & Side Effects

Takeaway

Hops are the female flowers of hop (Humulus lupulus L.), a climbing plant belonging to the same family as hemp (Cannabaceae). 98% of the modern use of hops is in beer brewing, but research is ongoing into its potential health benefits.

Because of its phytoestrogens, the best evidence comes from research into menopausal symptoms. Other clinical research has found possible benefits for mood disorders, sleep, metabolic health, dental health, allergies, heart health, blood sugar, and pain, but these studies were small and of low quality. Finally, hops may have a use as a deodorant. Additional research in animals and cells may yet uncover additional potential benefits for hops.

About the Author

Carlos Tello

Carlos Tello

PhD (Molecular Biology)
Carlos received his PhD and MS from the Universidad de Sevilla.
Carlos spent 9 years in the laboratory investigating mineral transport in plants. He then started working as a freelancer, mainly in science writing, editing, and consulting. Carlos is passionate about learning the mechanisms behind biological processes and communicating science to both academic and non-academic audiences. He strongly believes that scientific literacy is crucial to maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid falling for scams.

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