Could Beer Help Your Children Study? New Research Reveals an Odd Secret

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Sep 23, 2014 04:00 PM EDT

While we're a long way from the legal drinking ages making any drastic changes here in the United States, new research surfacing in behavioral biology may point towards a hidden benefit linked to compounds found in alcohol.

Published in the recent issue of the journal Behavioral Brain Research, scientists at the Linus Pauling Institute and College of Veterinary Medicine at Oregon State University have discovered that a flavonoid found in hops and beer that gives them their distinct coloration can also improve cognitive functions in young mice. But the effects are not so beneficial for the older crowd.

Known as Xanthohumol, the flavonoid found in hops and beer was of particular interest to the researchers as the compound has been recently successful in lowering body weight and blood sugar by altering the metabolisms of rats that are a model for obesity. But in the course of evaluating the compound's efficacy in treating metabolic disorders, the researchers discovered that other concerns such as age-related deficits in memory may be linked to Xanthohumol as well.

"Xanthohumol can speed the metabolism, reduce fatty acids in the liver and, at least with young mice, appeared to improve their cognitive flexibility, or higher level of thinking" researcher and co-author Daniel Zamzow says. "Unfortunately it did not reduce [the biological process of metabolism] called palmitoylation in older mice, or improve their learning or cognitive performance... at least in the amounts of the compound we gave them."

As a relatively rare micronutrient, the study analyzed the effect that high dosages of Xanthohumol would have on individuals; quantities that could only be found in supplements or roughly 2,000 liters of beer a day. And in young test subjects, the high dosages seemed to allow their cognitive ability to adapt to changes in their environments as they traversed tricky mazes they would otherwise remain trapped in for hours.

Though the research may have unique and novel applications, the authors believe that the study points to an even greater importance in healthy living beginning at an even younger age.

"This flavonoid and others may have a function in the optimal ability to form memories" primary author Kathy Manusson says. "Part of what this study seems to be suggesting is that it's important to begin early in life to gain the full benefits of healthy nutrition."

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