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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...
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. 1 Because its sedative effect is mild at most, the herb is often combined with other natural treatments for anxiety and insomnia , such as valerian . 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. 2 In addition, hops has fairly strong estrogen-like properties, making it a phytoestrogen. 3 4 5 The basis...
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. 6 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. 7 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...