A Hopping-Good Pain Reliever

It calms the mind, stimulates digestion, and could be the next natural thing to treat aches and inflammation.

A Hopping-Good Pain Reliever
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With all the bad press about certain drugs, these are heady times for natural pain relievers. Soon to join the safe-and-effective list could be hops, or Humulus lupulus. This flower, which has been used in Western herbal traditions for inducing relaxation and sleep (not to mention making beer!), seems to have significant potential for pain relief that rivals some medications, and with fewer side effects. In one investigation, published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, hops extracts were found to offer a prudent alternative to ibuprofen for treating inflammation.

Most prescription drugs attack an internal enzyme or chemical in a dramatic way, often causing unwanted side effects. From a holistic perspective, this could be seen as disruptive to the delicate balance between different but interrelated functions or systems of the body. But biochemical constituents of hops called alpha acids help to modulate a whole collection of enzymes and chemicals that get switched on due to injury, overexertion, or a simple hangover.

Does that mean drinking beer will eliminate a beer hangover? Unfortunately, the beer-making process alters the alpha acids in hops, so stick to traditional preparations, as suggested by the Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. For insomnia, infuse 1 teaspoon of dried hops in 1 cup of hot water. You may need to add a teaspoon of honey to counter the herbs natural bitterness (which actually stimulates the digestive system, increasing stomach secretions and relaxing spasms). For anxiety, take a tincture of 20 drops diluted in water three times a day; for digestion-related headaches, take 10 drops with water up to six times a day. For inflammation, look for products with an extract standardized to contain over 30 percent alpha acids derived from flowers, and follow the dosage directions.

Two Beers, Or Not Two Beers
BEER, if not a suitable substitute for ibuprofen, does have health benefits, starting with hops-derived antioxidants that protect against cholesterol, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease. According to Tufts University research, beer helps transport calcium and other minerals into bone tissue. Also, a small Dutch study found moderate intake of beer (containing up to 20 grams of alcohol a day for women and 30 grams for men; a typical U.S. serving has 12 grams) increased blood levels of DHEAS, a hormone that helps protect against atherosclerosis; moderate alcohol intake may also boost HDL (good) cholesterol.

Of course, overindulgence in alcohol is linked to numerous serious health conditions. Alcohol is also high in calories, so use it judiciously.