Hops (the fruiting bodies of the hop plant) is most famous as the source of beer's bitter flavor, but it has a long history of use in herbal medicine as well. In Greece and Rome, hops was used as a remedy for poor digestion and intestinal disturbances. The Chinese used the herb for these purposes and to treat leprosy and tuberculosis.
As cultivation of hops for beer spread through Europe, it gradually became obvious that workers in hop fields tended to fall asleep on the job, more so than could be explained by the tedious work. This observation led to enthusiasm for using hops as a sedative. However, subsequent investigation suggests that much of the sedative effect seen in hop fields is due to an oil that evaporates quickly in storage.
Despite the absence of this oil, dried hop preparations do appear to be
somewhat calming. While the exact reason is not clear, it seems that a sedating
substance known as methylbutenol develops in the dried herb over a period of
What Are Hops Used for Today?
Germany's Commission E authorizes the use of hops for "discomfort due to restlessness or anxiety and sleep disturbances." However, scientists have had difficulty proving that hops causes sedation. 2
In addition, hops has fairly strong estrogen-like properties, making it a phytoestrogen.
For reasons that are not at all clear, a water extract of hops (called “hop water”) has shown promise for reducing allergic reactions.
Like other bitter plants, hops is also used to
Hops is believed to be nontoxic. However, as with all herbs, some people are allergic to it. Interestingly, some species of dogs, greyhounds in particular, appear to be sensitive to hops with reports of deaths occurring. 3 The mechanism of this toxicity is not yet known. Those taken with the popular hobby of brewing beer at home are advised to keep pets away from the relatively large quantity of hops used in this process.
As noted above, hops has estrogen-like effects. Like estrogen itself, hops might stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells.
One animal study suggests that hops might increase the
effect of sedative drugs,
Interactions You Should Know About
If you are taking sedative drugs
7. Rong H, Boterberg T, Maubach J, et al. 8-Prenylnaringenin, the phytoestrogen in hops and beer, upregulates the function of the E-cadherin/catenin complex in human mammary carcinoma cells. Eur J Cell Biol. 2001;80:580-585.
9. Koetter U, Schrader E, Kaufeler R, et al. A randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled, prospective clinical study to demonstrate clinical efficacy of a fixed valerian hops extract combination (Ze 91019) in patients suffering from non-organic sleep disorder. Phytother Res. 2007 May 8. [Epub ahead of print]
10. Segawa S, Takata Y, Kaneda H, et al. Effects of a hop water extract on the compound 48/80-stimulated vascular permeability in ICR mice and histamine release from OVA-sensitized BALB/c mice. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2007;71:1577-1581.
11. Segawa S, Takata Y, Wakita Y, et al. Clinical effects of a hop water extract on Japanese cedar pollinosis during the pollen season: a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2007 Aug 7. [Epub ahead of print]
14. Tagashira M, Uchiyama K, Yoshimura T, et al. Inhibition by hop bract polyphenols of cellular adherence and water-insoluble glucan synthesis of mutans streptococci. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 1997;61:332-335.
Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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