Hops are known scientifically as
Humulus lupulus, this plant’s cone-like catkins—the part that surrounds the female flowers—are used to lend
a bitter tang to beer.
What you may not know is that the
hops plant is also used in herbal medicine. Its bitter flavor makes it an effective remedy for increasing appetite and improving
digestion. But hops is best known for calming nerves, easing anxiety and encouraging sleep, often being stuffed into pillows
for this purpose.
So it’s fascinating that researchers
have discovered another use for a substance found in the soothing, sedating hops plant: It helps maintain thyroid health,
a crucial requirement for energy generation.
Fatigue—along with cold intolerance,
weight gain, depression, constipation and dry skin and hair—is a prominent symptom of hypothyroidism, or poor thyroid
function. This condition is marked by an inability of the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck, to make enough of
the thyroid hormone that regulates metabolism, or energy usage within the body. Chronic inflammation, particularly a form
called Hashimoto’s disease, congenital dysfunction and some medications can all cause the thyroid to underperform.
This lack of hormone production
by the thyroid hinders a number of bodily functions including those related to the respiratory, nervous and cardiovascular
systems. It’s like stepping on the gas when the fuel injectors are dirty—you just can’t get the engine going.
Hypothyroidism is also quietly prevalent.
The American Thyroid Association estimates that 12% of the US population will develop thyroid problems during their lifetime
and as many as 60% of them will not be aware of it. Most of them will be women, who are up to eight times more likely to develop
thyroid disease than men.
Revving the Motor
The best way to determine the state
of your thyroid is to consult a healthcare practitioner, especially if you are experiencing symptoms. But there are ways that
anyone can support proper thyroid function, which helps keep the energy engine humming smoothly.
That’s where the hops plant
comes in, particularly a hops extract called xanthohumol. Thyroid hormone production requires a trace mineral called iodine;
in studies xanthohumol has stimulated thyroid cells to take in iodine (Molecular Nutrition and Food Research 9/05). Other
researchers have found that xanthohumol can modulate the way genes involved in thyroid hormone distribution and usage are
expressed (Molecular Nutrition and Food Research 7/10).
Other nutrients play key roles in
thyroid hormone production. The amino acid L-tyrosine works with iodine to form thyroid hormones; in turn, vitamin C helps
the body make the most effective use of L-tyrosine. Selenium is another mineral that is, like iodine, needed in precisely
calibrated trace amounts. The thyroid contains the greatest concentration of selenium than any other organ in the body; researchers
in one study wrote, “Selenium status appears to have an impact on the development of thyroid pathologies” (Clinical
Endocrinology 2/13). In addition, people with thyroid problems are often deficient in vitamins A and E.
Looking to keep your thyroid healthy
and your energy levels high? Click here to raise a glass or can of beer to the noble hops plant.