WEDNESDAY, Dec. 9, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- An ingredient of beer may someday help ward off prostate cancer, new animal experiments suggest.
The compound in question, xanthohumol, is found in hops -- the bitter flavoring agent in beer -- and is known to block the male hormone testosterone, which plays a role in the development of prostate cancer.
"We hope that one day we can demonstrate that xanthohumol prevents prostate cancer development, first in animal models and then in humans, but we are just at the beginning," said lead researcher Clarissa Gerhauser, group leader of cancer chemoprevention in the division of epigenomics and cancer risk factors at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg.
The findings were to be presented Dec. 9 at a conference of the American Association for Cancer Research in Houston.
Xanthohumol is a flavonoid, a group found in many plants, fruits, vegetables and spices. Studies of xanthohumol have shown that it blocks estrogen by binding to its receptor, which may lead to prevention of breast cancer, the researchers say. It's known that estrogen and testosterone receptors react in similar ways.
For this study, Gerhauser's team started with hormone-dependent prostate cancer cells and stimulated them with testosterone, which led to a massive secretion of prostate specific antigen (PSA).
"When we treated the cells together with testosterone and xanthohumol, PSA secretion was inhibited, and this was dependent on the dose of xanthohumol," Gerhauser said.
In additional experiments, the researchers found that xanthohumol binds with the receptor, preventing it from producing PSA.
Gerhauser's group found that when xanthohumol and testosterone were injected into castrated rats, xanthohumol blocked the effect of testosterone on the prostate, which potentially could lead to preventing prostate cancer.
"Although the prostate weights were not changed, xanthohumol still reduced the effects of hormone signaling, such as gene expression, measured in the prostate tissue," she said.
"Xanthohumol is a natural product, which blocks the effects of male hormone testosterone, and should therefore be investigated for prostate cancer prevention," she said.
Not everyone believes that beer looks like a potential solution to this disease, which affects one out of six American men and will kill more than 27,000 of them this year, according to the American Cancer Society.
Dr. Durado Brooks, director of prostate and colorectal cancer at the American Cancer Society, said that if beer could prevent prostate cancer, we would already see lower rates of it.
"Like a lot of findings, it's way too early. Showing that something works in a test tube and that you can impact rat prostates is a long way from demonstrating any sort of viability in humans," he said.
A better bet for men might be the drug finasteride (Proscar), which has been shown to reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer, Brooks said.
"Men need to understand that these drugs are not risk-free, but if a man is concerned about his prostate cancer risk then he should be aware that there are medicines out there that have been shown to be efficacious in decreasing the risk," he said.
Drinking a lot of beer is "not one of the things we recommend," Brooks said.
For more information on prostate cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.