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If you're a beer connoisseur, you're likely very familiar with hops. You might even have a favorite variety or strain, and you probably have opinions on the different flavor profiles and qualities of each one. If someone asked you “What are hops” or “Are hops gluten-free," you'd likely have an answer prepared.

However, did you know that hops have medical properties as well as being essential to the brewing process? That's right: the herbal ingredient that gives beer its distinctive, bitter taste can also benefit your health!

That said, drinking beer isn't necessarily the best way to get the full effect of this wonder herb. You're better off taking an herbal supplement that contains hop flower extract to ensure you get the positive hops benefits without the downsides of alcohol and sugar.

If you're not a beer drinker or plant medicine enthusiast, you might be wondering, “What are hops?” Those who aren't up on their beer trivia may also want to know “Are hops gluten-free?”

Here's an in-depth look at the history and cultivation of hops, including its medicinal uses throughout the ages and how you can get a better night's rest by ingesting supplements containing hops for sleep.

What Are Hops?

The term “hops” refers to the flowers – also called strobiles or seed cones – of the hop plant,Humulus lupus. This important crop is a member of the hemp family and has been cultivated across the planet for hundreds of years.

Humulus lupus is a climbing plant, so hops fields are usually dotted with rows of stakes or strings to allow the crops to twine their way up toward the sun as they grow. There are various strains of hops with different flavors, properties, and purported medical benefits.

This plant thrives in temperate climates that get a robust amount of rain. It likes the same soil types as potatoes, so agricultural centers that are large producers of potatoes – Idaho, for instance – are also major growers of hops. The United States and Germany are by far the top hop cultivators in the world; between the two of them, these nations produce more than five times as many tons of hops as the other top ten countries combined.

Since ancient times, hops have been a popular brewing agent and flavoring. While their most well-known use is still as a beer ingredient, hops are also grown for their medicinal properties, including their use in powerful herbal supplements.

So, what are hops? They're the flowers of an agriculturally significant plant, and they're a key ingredient in beer, natural medicine, and many herbal supplements. Therefore, are hops gluten-free? Yes! Though most beer contains gluten, hop flowers themselves are totally unrelated to wheat and contain no gluten themselves.

A History of Hops Cultivation

The first recorded cultivation of hops in the modern world began in the 9th century in Germany. If you were to ask those ancient proto-Germans “What are hops,” they'd probably explain that it's a new substitute for something called “gruit,” a compound used in brewing during those times. 

Gruit was comprised of a plethora of bitter herbs and flowers, including burdock, dandelion, heather, and marigold. Once hops benefits were discovered, including its antimicrobial properties that help beer stay fresh longer, brewers quickly abandoned gruit and switched to usingHumulus lupus instead.

The use of hops in medicine is harder to track; however, records suggest people may have started using hops for various medicinal purposes sometime in the 1300s-1500s. However, it wasn't until 1814 that the first definite use of hops for sleep was recorded. A scientist by the name of Hecker found that hops produced a calming effect without being a heavy sedative, suggesting the herb may help insomnia sufferers fall asleep naturally rather than knocking them out cold.

Nowadays, a rising interest in natural medicine among Western countries has led to increased research on potential hops benefits and using hops for sleep. As more studies are conducted, it's likely that hops cultivation will increase to match the rising demand for this promising herbal medicine.

What Are Hops Benefits?

Their use in beer is common knowledge, and has inspired many sufferers of celiac disease to wonder, “If beer has gluten, are hops gluten-free?" But what are hops used for in herbal medicine?

In the 15th and 16th centuries, records suggest hops may have been used as a digestive aid, a remedy for hair loss, and as a diuretic. In modern times, most scientific research on hops benefits has focused on using hops for sleep and as a component in anti-anxiety supplements.

2012 study found that a 2mg dose of hops extract in capsule form helped reduce irritability, improve concentration, and decrease restlessness at night – all without any reported negative effects or drawbacks. The active ingredients in hop flowers seem to increase the effect of GABA, a neurotransmitter that soothes activity in the central nervous system and has been shown to help people fall asleep more naturally.

Here's a closer look at the potential hops benefits that have been studied so far.

Helps Calm Anxiety

Anxiety is a widespread issue among adults and children alike, affecting over a third of adults in the United States as of 2021. A reluctance to encourage dependence on habit-forming pharmaceuticals has prompted many researchers to look for alternative methods of curbing anxiety. 

In a double-blind study on hops for sleep and hops benefits for anxiety, scientists found that the group that received dry hops supplements showed significant improvement after eight weeks over the group that received a placebo. Study participants who received hops supplements described lighter moods, decreased restlessness, and a more stable mood.

Hops benefits for anxiety come from the same compound that allows us to use hops for sleep. The bitter resins in the flower contain acids that enhance the effects of neuroinhibitors in our brains, producing a calming feeling. 

With anxiety on the rise and affecting the lives of millions of people around the world, any natural, non-habit-forming remedy is a welcome addition to our medical arsenal. Further research is needed, but these preliminary findings show great promise. 

May Relieve Tension

In addition to its potential anti-anxiety properties, hop flower may help to soothe sore muscles. The American Botanical Council reports that hops can relieve muscle spasms, including those that cause menstrual cramps.

The American Botanical Council also points to a study conducted in France in the mid-2000s that found hop flowers are extra potent when combined with other tension-relieving herbs such as valerian. 

Additional studies must be performed, but in the meantime, people suffering from chronic soreness may find relief by taking herbal supplements that combine hops extract with valerian root.

May Lessen ADHD Symptoms

Widespread awareness of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is only a few decades old, yet millions of people in America – including over six million children as of 2019 – have been diagnosed with the disorder. Though it presents differently in different people, especially those of different genders, ADHD has a universally detrimental effect on children's ability to excel in school and form successful social relationships.

Early attempts to treat ADHD were often disastrous, and many of the first pharmaceuticals developed have since been shown to have catastrophic side effects, including inducing severe depression. As a result, many parents have turned in desperation to natural remedies, hoping to find a safer way to help their children manage their disorder.

Hops extract has been approved in Germany as a supplemental treatment for mood-impacting disorders, including depression and seasonal affective disorder. Germany also officially considers this plant to help soothe restlessness, allowing patients to calm down both physically and mentally. Given this recognition by a governing body, many researchers hope to prove that hop flower extract can also be used to ease the effects of ADHD. 

One of the most common (and widely stereotyped) symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is an inability to sit still, characterized by restless legs and constant fidgeting. Though the herb may not be able to address other aspects of the disorder, there's enough research into hops benefits to suggest that its calming qualities might help combat the restlessness associated with ADHD.

Can Ease Depression

What are hops used for aside from ADHD, anxiety, and tension relief? There's evidence to suggest this extract might help people suffering from depression.

Antidepressants make up a huge chunk of the global pharmaceutical market relating to mental health. Current estimates put the ratio of Americans taking antidepressants at about one to ten. That means 37 million Americans are taking prescribed medication to try to combat depression.

There is already overwhelming evidence suggesting many natural remedies may help ease depression. One of these herbal medicines is the hops flower.

It may seem counterintuitive at first that the same herbal remedy could treat both hyperactivity disorders and depressive disorders. After all, these two conditions seem like polar opposites.

However, the double-blind study mentioned above that looked at how hops benefits anxiety sufferers found it had the same diminishing effect on participants who suffered from depression. Subjects who got a hop flower dosage instead of the placebo overwhelmingly reported that their depression had relaxed its hold by the end of the ten-week study period.

More research may provide deeper insight into how the components of hop flowers can help lessen the effects of depression in adults. In the meantime, talk to your primary care physician about taking hop flower supplements if you're interested in trying a natural remedy for depression.

Hops for Sleep

The above conditions – anxiety, tension, ADHD, and depression – all have one specific symptom in common: all four can cause or worsen insomnia.

Whether due to racing thoughts stemming from anxiety, sore muscles resulting from tension, or gloomy ruminations prompted by depression, insomnia is a debilitating chronic condition that affects millions of people across the planet. Poor sleep affects every aspect of life, from mental and physical health to the ability to pay attention at work and school.

When humans don't get enough sleep, their ability to perform basic functions is severely impacted. It may be harder to focus on everyday tasks like personal care and managing the household. There are more serious dangers, too, such as the risk of falling asleep behind the wheel and getting into a life-ruining accident.

Insomnia is a very broad diagnosis with a wide array of causes, so doctors often have a difficult time treating it. This can be extremely frustrating for patients looking for a quick solution to a drastically debilitating condition.

Unfortunately, over-the-counter sleeping pills and other pharmaceutical solutions can be habit-forming and are often dangerous when taken in large quantities. They can also have upsetting side effects, requiring patients to choose between discomfort and not getting enough sleep.

In the face of this challenging condition, sleep scientists have turned more and more toward studying natural remedies that aren't as addictive or riddled with side effects as pharmaceuticals. One herbal medicine that's gaining traction as a potential sleep aid is the hop flower. In fact, the evidence that hops benefits insomnia sufferers has been confirmed by enough studies that a growing number of scientists are advocating the use of hops for sleep.

For instance, a 2017 study found that hop flower extract – in conjunction with another powerful natural sleep aid, valerian root – demonstrated an ability to ease symptoms of insomnia in people whose sleeplessness was not caused by underlying psychological or medical conditions.

Even more promising is the fact that none of the 60 participants reported any adverse side effects from taking the supplement. In fact, 98% of the subjects rated the compound's safety and tolerability as “good” or “excellent." These findings indicate that hop flower extract may be safe for most insomnia patients, including those who have allergies to ingredients in over-the-counter or prescribed pharmaceutical sleep aids.

Mounting evidence suggests that hop flower extract may help people relax and fall asleep faster, especially when taken as a supplement with other soporifics such as valerian, GABA and l-Theanine.

What are hops for sleep in terms of intake method? Typically, physicians who believe hops benefits people suffering from insomnia suggest their patients take oral supplements. (In case you're still wondering “are hops gluten-free,” don't worry – these flowers contain no gluten, and neither do most herbal supplements containing hops.)

Be sure to talk to your primary care physician about potential hops benefits and side effects before taking hops for sleep and before starting any other herbal supplement regimen.

Frequently Asked Questions

In addition to “what are hops benefits” and “how can you use hops for sleep,” here are some of the most common questions people have about this herb and its many culinary and medicinal properties.

What are hops for in beer?

Geranylgeraniol (GG) is a compound naturally synthesized in the human body and is part of the mevalonate pathway, associated with the synthesis of cholesterol and other cellular components.

Are hops gluten-free?

Several natural sources of GG include the seeds of the Pterodon pubescens Benth plant, flaxseed, sunflower, and olive oils, and select medicinal herbs.

Will hops get you high?

GG has shown potential in various areas of health, including pain relief, reducing statin side effects, promoting wound healing, and supporting cellular function. These benefits make it a promising option for overall health.

Are hops anti-inflammatory?

Current research on GG is focused on investigating its antinociceptive properties, its role in reducing statin side effects, and its potential in treating medication-related osteonecrosis of the jaw (MRONJ). These areas hold promise for the future of GG research as a pain relieving herb across various modalities.

In Conclusion

Hop flowers have been the delight of brewers worldwide for hundreds of years. Their contribution to the longevity and flavor profile of one of the best-loved adult beverages out there cannot be denied.

However, this miraculous herb has several potential medicinal properties that deserve just as much recognition, especially its promising ability to soothe the brain and make it easier for people to fall asleep.

Hopefully, further research will continue to support the use of supplements containing hop flower extract for sleep, bringing hope and relief to millions of insomnia sufferers around the world.

Meet the Doctors

Babak Larian, MD, FACS

Dr. Babak Larian, Clinical Chief at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, is a renowned expert in minimally invasive head and neck surgery. Board-certified and active in global medical missions, he also oversees surgical operations at the La Peer Surgery Center and PathMD pathology laboratories.

Dr. Kiarash Michel, MD

Dr. Kia Michel, a globally acclaimed Urological Oncological Surgeon, founded the Comprehensive Urology Medical Group in Los Angeles, known for his expertise in robotic and minimally invasive therapies. Alongside his medical achievements, he contributes to businesses like La Peer Surgery Center, finding joy in nature and bringing smiles to loved ones.

Kamran Jamshidinia, DPM, FACFAS

Dr. Jamshidinia, a certified Foot and Ankle Surgeon and Fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, founded Tower Foot & Ankle Surgery and co-founded successful enterprises, including La Peer Health Systems. His involvement in medical research and the cannabinoid medicine market, highlights his multifaceted contributions to the field.

Siamak Tabib, MD

Dr. Siamak Tabib, a Board-Certified Gastroenterologist in Beverly Hills, holds a medical degree from UCLA Geffen School of Medicine and serves as Assistant Clinical Professor at UCLA.

He actively contributes to research in digestive diseases, co- founding healthcare entities and advocating for adaptive sports opportunities through his advisory role at Angel City Sports.

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