Here’s How to Be Happy With Hops – Other Than the Beer Thing

Glass of foamy beer surrounded by hop cones

Yes, hops are used for more than brewing beer.

Hops are the female flowers from the hop plant, Humulus lupulusThey’re most commonly found in beer, where they help produce its bitter flavor. But you may not know that hops also have a long history of use in herbal medicine, dating back to at least the ninth century in Europe.

In fact, hops have traditionally been used to treat a variety of ailments, ranging from indigestion to leprosy.

The use of hops flowers was described by Hecker in 1814, who noted its calming properties.

One of the most prominent patients treated with hops was George III, King of the United Kingdom (1738–1820), who was supposedly bedded on pillows filled with hops to calm him.

The physician Kahnt (1905), in his book on phytotherapy, recommended the use of hop pillows, teas, or extracts for sleeping problems associated with nervous disturbances. It was believed that hops acted through its strong and heavy odor, causing somnolence.

Hops have even been known to be smoked. The plant itself is actually in the Cannabaceae family, which also produces cannabis. Hop smokers say when you breathe out, you’re exhaling a pure hoppy flavor with hints of juniper berry and pine — thick, citrusy and full. 

Branch of hop plant showing bunch of hanging ripe green hop cones

The common hop plant itself is a long-lived herbaceous perennial with rough twining stems, 26 feet long, that always wind in a clockwise direction. New vines (also called bines) are produced each season and die following maturity. The vines must be supported on sturdy trellises.

Hops plants have separate female and male plants, but only female plants are used for commercial production because it is the female plant which bears the hop cones required in the brewing process.

Hop cones contain different oils, such as lupulin, a yellowish, waxy substance that imparts flavor and aroma to beer. Lupulin contains lupulone and humulone, which possess antibiotic properties, suppressing bacterial growth favoring brewer’s yeast to grow. 

Perhaps the overriding health claim associated with hops is the belief that hops provide calming properties. This manifests in several ways, such as hops as a sleep aid or helping with anxiety or just acting as a mood brightener.

Hops are also used for restlessness, tension, excitability, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), nervousness and irritability.

On top of their sedative properties, hops are also believed to have estrogen-like characteristics that may help with hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause. This is based on a flavonoid found in hops known as 8-prenylnaringenin, a plant-based compound that may behave like estrogen in the body.

Hops are also used for skin and hair benefits. It’s believed that the oils and minerals in the plant provide an anti-inflammatory effect to the skin and is used to decrease the surface blood vessels as well as keep skin looking young.

Green Hops buds next to bottle of honey-colored hops essential oil
Essential oil of Hops

The essential vitamins and oils present in hop extract is also thought to help open the tiny pores of the scalp, which reduce hair loss and remove dandruff that blocks the pores of the scalp.

A lesser known alleged health benefit of hops has to do with improving the digestive system. Hops mixed with other essential herbs such as mint are used in the treatment of various ulcer-causing bacteria.

For those with irritable bowel syndrome, hops may offer benefits through antispasmodic action. Hops may also offer relief for constipation and for gassiness.

There’s even the health claim that hops essential oil can help men enhance their sexual prowess. The idea here is that hops essential oil can extend sexual performance and counter the problem of premature ejaculation because it soothes the body and makes certain vital elements less sensitive to sexual stimulation.

How to take ginger graphic

You don’t need to visit a bar to experience the possible health benefits of hops.

Straight-up hops supplements are available both in tincture and capsule form, or hops can be paired with other supplements for a multivitamin.

You can also find hops in certain herbal teas and hopped-up kombuchas, or you can buy hops in dried flower form or as a powder and make your own concoctions.

Bottle of hops dietary supplement from Walmart
Hops dietary supplements have become popular, especially as a mood enhancer.

Some people even use the dried and crushed flowers as a food seasoning, which has a rather bitter and yet tangy bite to it.

Drinking beer to get your hops fix might sound like fun, but there’s little proof of real health benefits from consuming hops as an alcohol. Most studies on hops use either supplements or nonalcoholic beer containing hops.

Concerns logo for ginger

Hops are generally well tolerated, however, some side effects have been reported, especially for people with thyroid disease or estrogen-positive breast cancer.

A Dutch journal also reported that hops as a dietary supplement may raise the risk of postmenopausal bleeding.

As with any supplement, it’s advisable to talk with a medical professional before trying hops for health purposes.

A logo saying the science

There is empirical evidence that hops may improve anxiety and mood disorders.

The National Library of Medicine reports on a study of 36 participants who took part in hops dry extract research over a four-week period. The study concluded that symptoms of anxiety and depression “significantly decreased” among the participants who took the hops extract compared to the placebo group.

And apparently it’s not just hops in supplement form that helps us relax. A study reported in the journal PLOS examined the effects of drinking nonalcoholic beer with hops at dinnertime.

Researchers found that women who drank it showed improvements in their sleep quality. The participants also reported reduced levels of anxiety.

Another study published in Acta Physiological Hungarica linked drinking nonalcoholic beer with hops to improved sleep quality among university students.

Studies are also positive in showing the possible link between hops and helping with menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes.

Glass cup of herbal hop tea surrounded by hop cones
Can drinking herbal hop tea help with hot flashes?

Because hops contain phytoestrogens — plant-based compounds that mimic the action of estrogen — supplements made from hops may be effective for alleviating various menopausal symptoms, including sleep disturbances, fatigue and vaginal dryness.

A randomized controlled trial a few years ago divided 120 women into two groups: a placebo group and a group taking hop supplements. After 12 weeks, trial researchers concluded: “Hops effectively reduced the early menopausal symptoms.”

There’s also evidence that compounds in hops may help digestion and combat metabolic syndrome by changing the gut microbiome and altering the metabolism of acids produced by the liver.

Research at Oregon State University showed that each of the hops compounds decreased the amount of diversity of microbes, reduced inflammation and changed bile acid metabolism. In other words, hops compounds have antimicrobial properties that may be killing gut microbes that aren’t beneficial and preserving microbes that are.

Gunnysack of dried hop cones
Gunnysack of dried hop cones

People are considered to have metabolic syndrome if they have at least two of the following conditions: abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, low levels of “good” cholesterol and high levels of triglycerides.

Some 35% of U.S. adults suffer from metabolic syndrome.

There’s little evidence that hops provide health benefits for your skin. However, one study on hop extract shows not only antibacterial activity against P. acnes and S. aureus but also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. This makes it a promising topical ingredient to treat acne-prone skin in mild forms of acne.

There’s also little scientific backing showing that hops improve hair quality or stimulates more of it. Yet, according to the Journal of Society of Cosmetic Chemists of Japan, a study of 54 volunteers proved that hops “strongly inhibited” the activity of 5α-reductase, which is associated with androgenetic alopecia, a common form of hair loss in both men and women.

The journal also reported that hop extract enhanced the proliferation of hair follicle derived keratinocyte.

And, while hops essential oil has been used by men to enhance their sexual performance (as in helping with premature ejaculation), empirical studies on human subjects are sorely lacking.

Graphic that says conclusions

There appears to be something to the idea that hop supplements and extract can help with depression and improve mood.

There’s even scientific evidence that hops may help with early menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes.

Interestingly, in a seldom associated health benefit, there’s good scientific backing that compounds in hops may help digestion and combat metabolic syndrome by changing the gut microbiome.

The use of hops for growing hair, improving skin and enhancing sexual performance in men would seem to be somewhat of a reach as far as scientific proof goes.