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New research from Oregon State University scientists demonstrate that compounds in hops could help with metabolic syndrome and may ultimately yield far-reaching public health benefits given that up to one-third of U.S. adults have metabolic syndrome, according to the Mayo Clinic. An individual is characterized as having metabolic syndrome if he or she has two or more of the following conditions: increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waste, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels.

The researchers had previously shown that xanthohumol or XN (a compound that contributes to hops’ flavor) and two derivatives, β‐dihydro‐XN (DXN) and tetrahydro‐XN (TXN), improved parameters of metabolic syndrome. So they embarked on this study hypothesizing that the improvements are linked to changes in the composition of the gut microbiota, bile acid metabolism, intestinal barrier function, and inflammation, they write in an article that appeared recently in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.

To test that hypothesis, the researchers fed mice either a high-fat diet alone or a high-fat diet that contained XN, DXN, or TXN. They then measured the effect of the various compounds on tissue inflammation; gut microbiome composition; and bile aid, which helps with the digestion of fat. They found that all three of the hops compounds decreased the diversity and abundance of gut microbiota, reduced inflammation, and changed the bile acid metabolism. Specifically, they found a reduction in secondary bile acid production and an increase of conjugated bile acids, which indicate improved energy metabolism, glucose metabolism, and cholesterol metabolism.

“Changes in gut microbiota and bile acid metabolism seem to explain at least partially why XN and its derivatives lead to improvements in obesity and other aspects of metabolic syndrome,” researcher Adrian Gombart, a professor of biochemistry and biophysics in the Oregon State University College of Science, said in a press release. He added, however, that the findings do not necessarily demonstrate cause and effect. “We need to know which changes to the microbiota are beneficial.”

Another member of the research team pointed out that it’s surprising that the beneficial effects occurred with a decrease in microbial diversity rather than an increase. Gombart noted that the hops compounds have previously been associated with antimicrobial attributes, “so they may be killing off certain bugs that aren’t beneficial and preserving other ones that are.”

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