Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


(PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK)

(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.

More From Joel Smith

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts


September 30 • 10:09 AM

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.


September 30 • 8:00 AM

The Psychology of Penmanship

Graphology: It’s all (probably) bunk.



September 30 • 6:00 AM

The Medium Is the Message, 50 Years Later

Five decades on, what can Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media tell us about today?


September 30 • 4:00 AM

Grad School’s Mental Health Problem

Navigating the emotional stress of doctoral programs in a down market.


September 29 • 1:21 PM

Conference Call: Free Will Conference


September 29 • 12:00 PM

How Copyright Law Protects Art From Criticism

A case for allowing the copyright on Gone With the Wind to expire.


September 29 • 10:00 AM

Should We Be Told Who Funds Political Attack Ads?

On the value of campaign finance disclosure.


September 29 • 8:00 AM

Searching for a Man Named Penis

A quest to track down a real Penis proves difficult.


September 29 • 6:00 AM

Why Do So Many People Watch HGTV?

The same reason so many people watch NCIS or Law and Order: It’s all a procedural.


September 29 • 4:00 AM

The Link Between Depression and Terrorism

A new study from the United Kingdom finds a connection between depression and radicalization.


September 26 • 4:00 PM

Fast Track to a Spill?

Oil pipeline projects across America are speeding forward without environmental review.


September 26 • 2:00 PM

Why Liberals Love the Disease Theory of Addiction, by a Liberal Who Hates It

The disease model is convenient to liberals because it spares them having to say negative things about poor communities. But this conception of addiction harms the very people we wish to help.


September 26 • 1:21 PM

Race, Trust, and Split-Second Judgments


September 26 • 9:47 AM

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what’s new and different more attractive.


September 26 • 8:00 AM

A Letter Becomes a Book Becomes a Play

Sarah Ruhl’s Dear Elizabeth: A Play in Letters From Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell and Back Again takes 900 pages of correspondence between the two poets and turns them into an on-stage performance.


September 26 • 7:00 AM

Sonic Hedgehog, DICER, and the Problem With Naming Genes

Wait, why is there a Pokemon gene?


September 26 • 6:00 AM

Sounds Like the Blues

At a music-licensing firm, any situation can become nostalgic, romantic, or adventurous, given the right background sounds.


September 26 • 5:00 AM

The Dark Side of Empathy

New research finds the much-lauded feeling of identification with another person’s emotions can lead to unwarranted aggressive behavior.



September 25 • 4:00 PM

Forging a New Path: Working to Build the Perfect Wildlife Corridor

When it comes to designing wildlife corridors, our most brilliant analytical minds are still no match for Mother Nature. But we’re getting there.


September 25 • 2:00 PM

Fashion as a Inescapable Institution

Like it or not, fashion is an institution because we can no longer feasibly make our own clothes.


September 25 • 12:00 PM

The Fake Birth Mothers Who Bilk Couples Out of Their Cash by Promising Future Babies

Another group that’s especially vulnerable to scams and fraud is that made up of those who are desperate to adopt a child.


September 25 • 10:03 AM

The Way We QuickType


Follow us


Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what's new and different more attractive.

School Counselors Do More Than You’d Think

Adding just one counselor to a school has an enormous impact on discipline and test scores, according to a new study.

How a Second Language Trains Your Brain for Math

Second languages strengthen the brain's executive control circuits, with benefits beyond words.

Would You Rather Go Blind or Lose Your Mind?

Americans consistently fear blindness, but how they compare it to other ailments varies across racial lines.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.