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(PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK)

Beer: The Best Medicine

• January 31, 2013 • 8:15 AM

(PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK)

A new study that unlocks the secrets of beer’s taste also tells us something about its health benefits.

The University of Washington has announced that “researchers employing a century-old observational technique have determined the precise configuration of humulones … that give beer its distinctive flavor.”

Now, if this were us doing the research, and we were inspecting some humulones, that observational technique would likely involve a sixer of imperial IPA, Pure Prairie League’s “Bustin’ Out” on vinyl, and (for later in the night) a white plastic bucket to be ridden like a bronco.

But the U-Dub research is considerably more sophisticated. And it has implications not just for beer-quaffing but for the treatment of disease.

The university teamed with a Seattle pharmaceutical firm to, once and for all, resolve the structure of the acids that are created by hops, which are used as a bittering agent in beer. Such compounds, they say, play a role in reports that moderate beer drinking can have positive health effects—on diabetes, forms of cancer, inflammation, even weight loss (explain that to some of my old college classmates).

“After decades of confusion,” they report in a study published this month by the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition, they’ve determined—using X-ray crystallography (something nobody ever lets us use around beer)—the “handedness” of the molecules. That’s important to understanding how the molecules will relate to each other and, in turn, whether those positive effects will be created.

“If they are paired correctly, they will fit together like a nut and bolt,” a release from the university states. “If paired incorrectly, they might not fit together at all or it could be like placing a right hand into a left-handed glove.”

Or worse than putting a right hand into a left-handed glove–putting a mutant limb into a left-handed glove. The paper’s lead author cites the use of thalidomide for pregnant mothers’ morning sickness in the middle of the 20th century. When the molecules in that drug shook hands properly, thalidomide worked properly. When they got into a fistfight, the drug produced horrific birth defects.

“Now that we know which hand belongs to which molecule, we can determine which molecule goes to which bitterness taste in beer,” the author says. And, potentially, which of these “humulones” can be prescribed as treatment.

Now, anybody willing to make a wager on how long it will take Dogfish Head to release a “Dr. Humulone’s Good-Time Medicine 60-Minute Belgian Black Ale Aged in Charred Chinese Pine Barrels”?

To your health!

Joel Smith
Joel Smith is a web producer at Pacific Standard. His previous work includes seven years as a staff writer and media editor at the Pacific Northwest Inlander, the alternative weekly in Spokane, Washington.

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