Will beer lead the way to better pharmacueticals

A beer a day might not keep the doctor away but hops, one of the basic ingredients in beer brewing, could be good for you.

In a development that could lead to better drug treatments for diabetes and cancer, University of Washington research associate professor of chemistry, Werner Kaminsky, has determined the exact structure of humulones and their derivatives – the acids in hops that give beer its distinctive bitter taste.

There is already evidence to suggest that the bitter acids in beer (in small doses) can have a positive effect on certain cancers and diabetes, as well as inflammation and possibly even weight loss. It’s hoped that by better understanding the chemical structure of these substances, new and more effective pharmaceuticals can be created…

When beer is brewed, the humulone molecules have a unique structure. They are rearranged into a ring of five carbon atoms, not the six found in glucose. The process creates two side groups that can be configured in four ways – above, below or on opposite sides of the ring.

Kaminsky found that the structure of the molecule determines how effective it is in pharmaceuticals. This “handedness” results when a molecule can be arranged in two different ways with the same atoms. A certain “handedness” will see the molecules fitting together like a nut and bolt.

The findings overturned previous research which hadn’t identified handedness and which had assumed uniformity between the molecules…

If the molecules don’t fit together in the right way, it would be like the left hand going into right handed glove and the result, he says, can be disastrous for pharmaceuticals.

Kaminsky cites thalidomide as one example. The drug was designed originally to treat morning sickness in pregnant women in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Scientists at the time didn’t know the handedness of the molecule. As a result, one orientation caused birth defects while the other orientation did what the pill was created to do…

“Now that we have absolutely correctly assigned the handedness, people can study which of these molecules attach to a protein or taste receptor you have in your body. When that is known, you can then try to attach to it other features making standard molecules that have specific effects, from knowing how it works to developing a drug…

But don’t reach for that cold brew just yet. Kaminsky points out that beer itself has no health benefits. “The concentration in beer is very small, it’s not big enough to have a direct effect,’’ he says. “But you can isolate the humulones from beer, enrich them, put them into higher concentrations into a supplement. Then it is possible to achieve health benefits.

No reasonable beer drinker will pay overmuch attention to that last paragraph. There’s bound to be additional benefits from an, erm, adequate quantity of beer consumption. Folks are all just waiting for science to catch up.

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