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This Major Ingredient in Beer May Help Treat Liver Disease, Says New Study

New research suggests hops are beneficial to your liver.
FACT CHECKED BY Joseph Neese

Most people wouldn't consider beer to be a healthy drink, right? As it turns out, there may be some benefits of sipping on this beloved beverage beyond helping you unwind after a long day.

According to new research from Oregon State University, a pair of compounds that originate from hops—the plant that gives beer its flavor and color—can help prevent hepatic steatosis. Also known as fatty liver disease, it occurs when there's a dangerous buildup of fat in the liver.

An estimated 25% of adults in the U.S. have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which as the name suggests, is the type of fatty liver disease that develops for reasons not pertaining to alcohol consumption.

RELATED: The Worst Types of Drinks for Your Liver, According to Science

The study, which was published in eLife, reveals that the compounds xanthohumol (XN) and tetrahydroxanthohumol (TXN) can both mitigate the accumulation of fat in the liver caused by dietary choices.

This is important because one risk factor for NAFLD is insulin resistance, which can cause blood sugar levels to spike more easily and regularly. Another risk factor? Diets high in fat. When there's too much fat in the liver, it can't process nutrients properly or filter out toxins as efficiently. In the worst-case scenario, fatty liver disease can lead to liver failure. However, these compounds found in hops may be able to combat fat buildup.

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Researchers assigned 60 mice either a low-fat diet, high-fat diet, high-fat diet supplemented by XN, high-fat diet supplemented by more XN, or a high-fat diet by TXN. TXN helped thwart weight gain associated with a high-fat diet, and it even helped to stabilize blood sugar levels, they found.

"We demonstrated that TXN was very effective in suppressing the development and progression of hepatic steatosis caused by diet," Adrian Gombart, professor of biochemistry and biophysics in the OSU College of Science and a principal investigator at the Linus Pauling Institute said in a statement. "TXN appeared to be more effective than XN perhaps because significantly higher levels of TXN are able to accumulate in the liver, but XN can slow progression of the condition as well, at the higher dose."

For context, XN is a type of flavonoid produced by hops, and TXN is a hydrogenated derivative of XN. Now, this doesn't mean you should go pound a six-pack of beer. Remember: Another cause of fat buildup in the liver is drinking too much alcohol—alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD) is a thing!

However, this research on mice may allow scientists to explore how hops could be isolated as a supplement and used to help improve blood sugar levels and weight maintenance, and therefore, improve symptoms of NAFLD and AFLD.

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Cheyenne Buckingham
Cheyenne Buckingham is the news editor of <Eat This, Not That!, specializing in food and drink coverage, and breaking down the science behind the latest health studies and information. Read more
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