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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 time.1 It may also be manufactured in the body from other constituents of dried hops.
Effect of Hops on Generalized Anxiety Disorder
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 Because its sedative effect is mild at most, the herb is often combined with other natural treatments for anxiety and insomnia, such as valerian.
Read more details about Hops.
Research Evidence on Hops
One small, double-blind study found evidence that a proprietary combination of hops and valerian extract is more effective as a sleep aid than placebo; the results of this trial also hint that hops plus valerian is more effective than valerian alone, but this possible finding did not reach statistical significance.9
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. 1 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. 2 On this basis, women who have had breast cancer, or who are at high risk for it, should probably avoid hops until more is known. (Beer does not appear to contain enough of the active phytoestrogen in hops, 8-prenyl naringenin, to matter). Children should also probably abstain from hops to avoid producing unwanted estrogen-like effects. Safety in pregnant or nursing women, or people with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.
One animal study suggests that hops might increase the effect of sedative drugs, 3 so do not take hops with other medications for insomnia or anxiety except under a physician's supervision.
Interactions You Should Know About
If you are taking sedative drugs , do not take hops except under a physician's supervision.
- Duncan KL, Hare WR, Buck WB. Malignant hyperthermia-like reaction secondary to ingestion of hops in five dogs. J Am Vet MedAssoc. 1997;210:51-54.
- Rong H, Boterberg T, Maubach J, Stove C, Depypere H, Van Slambrouck S, Serreyn R, De Keukeleire D, Mareel M, Bracke M. 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. 80(9):580-5.
- Lee KM, Jung JS, Song DK, et al. Effects of Humulus lupulus extract on the central nervous system in mice. Planta Med. 1993;59(suppl):A691.
- Schulz V, Hansel R, Tyler VE. Rational Phytotherapy: A Physicians' Guide to Herbal Medicine. 3rd ed. Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag; 1998:83.
- 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]
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