If you use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), you probably know these widely used drugs can cause gastric ulcers, bleeding, heart complications, in some cases death. These effects can occur with both over the counter products (such as Motrin and Advil), and prescription drugs (including medicines like Naprosyn and Celebrex). This makes finding alternative, natural products even more important, and new research shows that an extract from hops may provide relief from everyday aches and pains.
Before I get into how hops help relieve pain, it’s helpful to understand how the body’s COX (cyclooxygenase) enzymes—specifically the two main COX enzymes, COX-1 and COX-2—that help regulate various biological functions including ones related to pain, are supposed to work. COX-1 enzymes are found all over, and help protect and repair the GI tract lining, platelet functioning, and contribute to kidney health and blood pressure control. COX-2 enzymes are required for inflammation, a healthy and necessary part of healing.
Pain relievers work by suppressing one or both of the COX enzymes, but often the enzymes are inhibited unevenly, which is when the problems start. Over-the-counter NSAIDs work primarily on the COX-1 pathway, and since COX-1 supports the gastrointestinal lining, anything that blocks COX-1 leaves the stomach vulnerable to attack from its own acids. COX-2 inhibitors, such as Celebrex and Vioxx (since-withdrawn due to heart safety concerns), throw off the COX balance in the other direction and can lead to cardiac side effects.
Hops Provide A Healthy COX Balance
I have always liked beer, so I’m always glad to hear good news about any of its ingredients. Hops have been shown to provide a more equally balanced inhibition of COX-1 and COX-2, acting primarily on the COX-2 pathway but having some COX-1 effects as well.
One study of a particular hops extract high in alpha acids showed inhibition that lasted nine hours, equivalent to ibuprofen. Study subjects reported significant improvement in pain relief and less joint and muscle discomfort. This is probably because the alpha acids present in hops have been shown to have great potential in helping to support the body’s natural response to inflammation.
Additionally, a combination of hops, rosemary, and oleanic acid was tested on people with osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), with a 50 percent reduction in pain for OA, but nothing significant to report with RA. Consistent with these data, results from another multicenter trial also showed that the hops compound reduced reported pain levels in patients with joint discomfort.
This proprietary blend of hops, rosemary, and oleanic acid is sold by Metagenics under the name Kaprex. Although the company only sells its products to licensed practitioners, their website does have a mapping tool that allows you to find a practitioner in your area. Other hops products are available online or in local health food stores as well. Just make sure to look for products with an extract standardized to contain over 30 percent alpha acids derived from hops flowers.
Dr. David Williams