If you’re a beer lover you are probably familiar with hops.
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 your favorite brew.
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? Then raise a glass to the noble hops plant.