In our endless (and annoying!) search for a magical weight-loss elixir, has the answer been resting in the tanned hands of the Dos Equis mascot all along? Apparently, yes! A new study suggests that beer, a beverage commonly associated with belly fat, irritable bowel syndrome, and, if you're me, overwhelming sleepiness, could actually help you lose weight and lower your cholesterol.
In the study, researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) looked at xanthohumol, a flavonoid found in hops and beer, and examined how its dosages affect the health of mice. Forty-eight male mice were fed a high-fat diet and split into two groups: One group wasn't given any xanthohumol, and the others were given 30 to 60 milligrams of the compound per kilogram of bodyweight each day for 12 weeks.
For the mice given the highest dosage of xanthohumol, it was as effective as snorting Lipitor while doing burpees at CrossFit: The little rodents cut their harmful LDL cholesterol levels by 80 percent, their insulin levels by 42 percent, and a biomarker of inflammation by 78 percent compared to mice who didn't ingest any of the compound. They also gained 22 percent less weight when fed the same diet as the control group.
Unfortunately, assuming you're around 150 pounds, you'd have to knock back 3,500 pints of beer in 24 hours to ingest the human equivalent of the xanthohumol the skinny mice got. In other words: You'd be dead in a day.
Thankfully, the researchers hope to bring a pure version of xanthohumol to market that could pack the power of those brewskies into one easy-to-swallow pill. "Drug companies have contacted us and want more literature [about xanthohumol]," Cristobal Miranda, the lead author of the study, told me. But, he hastened to add, it could take significant time before human trials confirm the supplements are safe to take on a daily basis. (Those who'd like to give the compound a test spin before the drug companies will be happy to know it's available for purchase from various supplement stores, though Miranda says these variations aren't as pure as those used in the study.)
Fred Stevens, a professor in the OSU College of Pharmacy and co-author of the research paper, has been studying xanthohumol since the early 90s. He sees it as a magic bullet for those suffering from a cluster of distressingly common health problems—including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels—collectively known as metabolic syndrome. According to some estimates, more than a third of all Americans have metabolic syndrome, which can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
"In the US, we're reaching epidemic proportions of this syndrome, and I believe this compound could have a place in medicating this population, as well as those who have a higher risk of developing diabetes," Stevens said.
In the early days of Stevens's research on xanthohumol, he received funding entirely from Anheuser-Busch; he told me the company was curious about the potential health effects of hops (though they weren't interested in re-branding beer as a health drink, he assured me). Today, much bigger players have gotten involved. The National Institute of Health recently offered the research team at Oregon State a $2.64 million grant specifically to study vitamin D and xanthohumol's ability to affect imbalances in gut microbiota.
In other words, despite the wreckage the stuff has wrought on high school house parties, German fashion, and the view from Zadie Smith's window, it seems the craft beer people might be onto something.