Hops are the flower cones used in beer-making. They are also found in dietary supplements designed to help treat post-menopausal symptoms and other conditions. Now, scientists are investigating whether an extract from the plant can also help fend off breast cancer.
In the American Chemistry Society's journal Chemical Research in Toxicology, one team reports new lab tests on breast cells that support this possibility.
Women who are undergoing menopause often use hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, to alleviate symptoms, such as hot flashes. But HRT has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and heart disease, so some women are turning to hops supplements — which contain phytoestrogens — as a natural alternative.
Preliminary lab studies have suggested that certain active compounds from hops could have protective properties. Building on this lead, Judy L. Bolton and colleagues used an enriched hop extract to test its effects on estrogen metabolism, one of the processes in the development of breast cancer.
The researchers applied the extract to two different breast cell lines to see how they would affect estrogen metabolism. One particular hops compound called 6-prenylnaringenin, or 6-PN, boosted the cells' detoxification pathway that studies have associated with a lower risk for breast cancer. Thus the results suggest that 6-PN could have anti-cancer effects.
More studies are needed to further investigate this possibility, the researchers say, but for the time being hope, thanks to hops, seems to be on the horizon.