Unlike wine, with it's heart-healthy goodness, beer has never really topped the health food list. In fact, it's usually lumped in with potato chips, hot dogs and other types of junk food that health experts warn us away from whenever possible. Until now. A new study has found that beer might actually be good for your brain. So get ready to pop open a brew and learn more.

The study, which was published in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found that an ingredient in beer hops called xanthohumol (Xn) protected the brains of mice from cell damage. Researchers think this compound might not only help to fight free radical damage in the brain but it might also potentially slow the development of disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

There is growing evidence that degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's may begin as a result of oxidative damage to the cells in the brain. So the theory is that if researchers can find a way to guard these cells in the brain from damage, it may help prevent or slow down Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. And that's where beer comes in.

Chinese medicine has long relied on the health benefits of hops, the female flowers of the hop plant, Humulus lupulus, that are used to flavor and provide stability to beer. In addition to giving beer its signature flavor, hops also release Xn, which previous research has shown might have healing proprieties.

To test the health effects of beer on the brain, five scientists isolated the compound and tested its effects on cells from rats. They found that Xn helped to protect their brains from damage and even helped to promote signaling between brain cells. 

So how much beer do you need to drink in order to reap its protective effects? As with everything, moderation is key. But the researchers note that the best way to get the benefits of Xn is to consume products that contain it — such as beer.

I'll drink to that.

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