The flower heads of the hop plant, used in brewing to flavor and stabilize beer, are also used to make dietary supplements intended to treat menopause symptoms and other conditions. Because hormone replacement therapy has been linked to raised risk of breast cancer, some women use hop extract as an alternative; however, its effect on cancer is unclear. Now, researchers reveal fresh evidence of a possible link between hop extract and reduced breast cancer risk.
happy woman in a field
Some women have turned to hop extract as an alternative natural remedy to hormone replacement therapy to ease symptoms of menopause.

The researchers, from a center in the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) that investigates the safety and health effects of botanical dietary supplements, report their findings in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology.

Exposure to the hormone estrogen has long been considered a risk factor for breast cancer – particularly in women who have passed through menopause.

To help ease hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause, some women take hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which replaces the hormones that have been lost, including estrogen.

However, HRT has been linked to raised risk of breast cancer and heart disease, so some women have turned to natural alternatives, one of which is hops extract, which contains phytoestrogens or plant-based estrogens. However, their effect on cancer risk is unclear.

The UIC researchers note that preliminary studies using lab tests have suggested some active compounds found in hops may have protective effects, so they decided to investigate further.

Hop extract and 6-PN boost a cell detoxification pathway

In their paper, Dr. Judy L. Bolton, whose research interests include chemical toxicology, and colleagues describe how they ran lab tests on breast cells to investigate the effect of hop extract.

They tested the effect of enriched hop (Humulus lupulus L.) extract on estrogen metabolism – a process that is involved in the development of breast cancer.

The team tested the effect on two different breast cell lines. They found one hops compound in particular – 6-prenylnaringenin or 6-PN – boosted a pathway the cells use to remove toxins. Other studies have linked this pathway to lower risk for breast cancer.

The authors note the “results indicated that the hop extract and 6-PN preferentially induced the 2-hydroxylation pathway in both cell lines.”

They conclude that their findings suggest 6-PN may have anti-cancer properties, which now need to be more deeply investigated and confirmed with further research.

Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women; however, men can also get the disease.

In the United States in 2012 (the most recent year for which numbers are available), 224,147 women and 2,125 men were diagnosed with breast cancer, and 41,150 women and 405 men died of the disease.

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