Leftover hop leaves from beer production could help prevent cavities, gum disease

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(NaturalNews) A waste product left over from commercial beer production has been identified in a new study as having significant health benefits for teeth. Researchers from Japan found that hop leaves, which are typically discarded after the plant's flowers are used to make beer, possess unique antioxidant compounds that can guard against tooth decay and the formation of gum disease.

Published in the American Chemical Society's (ACS) Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the new study looked specifically at polyphenolic antioxidants present in hop leaves. Also known as bracts, these leaves and their corresponding extracts were found to help prevent bacteria from latching onto teeth, as well as block the formation of some types of bacteria.

Since bracts are not what give beer that iconic flavor that beer lovers have come to expect in a quality brew, they are typically just discarded. But with thousands of tons of hop leaves going to waste annually, the potential for capturing these untapped nutrients and applying them in dental applications as a way to improve public health is vast, say experts.

Three new compounds previously unknown discovered in hop leaves

During the course of their research, the team from the Tokyo University of Pharmacy and Life Sciences and Research Laboratories for Fundamental Technology of Food, both in Japan, identified three new compounds in hop leaves that have previously never been identified in a plant, as well as one known compound that was identified for the first time in a plant.

Another 20 identified compounds had previously never been observed in hop leaves specifically, but since their existence was already known in other areas of nature, there was ample evidence available to demonstrate potential health benefits. By extracting these compounds from hop leaves, some scientists hope to pave the way for new approaches to dental health using a more natural approach.

"Over 100 types of constituents were effectively isolated from only 25 g of extract in high yields," wrote the authors, noting that they used a type of high-speed countercurrent chromatography technology to identify the compounds. "Among the materials isolated, the structures of 39 compounds were elucidated."

Hop leaves rich in disease-fighting proanthocyanidins

The researchers also discovered vast amounts of highly oligomeric proanthocyanidins in the hop leaves. Proanthocyanidins is the name given to a much larger class of antioxidant polyphenols known as flavonols, which have been the subject of literally hundreds of scientific studies in recent years.

A 2004 study published in the journal Current Medicinal Chemistry, for instance, explains how the often-overlooked proanthocyanidins are vital for scavenging free radicals, chelating heavy metals and inhibiting the expression of certain enzymes. Proanthocyanidins also help protect the body against lipid peroxidation, a leading factor in the formation of heart disease.

Research has also indicated cancer-preventive effects associated with proanthocyanidin intake, which suggests that intake of hop leaf extract could help in protecting against cellular damage. Followup research will need to determine the full extent of the health effects of bracts compounds and how they can be used for promoting oral health and systemic wellness.

"[T]he complete composition of the polyphenolic compounds in hop bracts has yet to be fully elucidated," stated the authors. "Most of the compounds were hydrophilic glycosylated and/or esterified analogues of abscisic acids, hydroxycinnamic acids, flavonols, lignans, hydroxybenzoic acids, or carotenoid."

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