Does Beer Make You Happy?
I usually have one beer each night. Sometimes two. The reason I usually have one beer is that I like to have a nightcap, as they say, of whiskey, whether scotch, bourbon, Irish whiskey, etc. But I’ve long noticed that beer not only relaxes me quicker but puts me in a better mood than other forms of alcohol.
Could this be my imagination? Beer has less alcohol by volume than hard liquor. Way less. However, I drink beer much faster. I sip my whiskey, slowly savoring it. Perhaps beer is more relaxing and mood-elevating because the alcohol reaches my system faster. I sometimes drink whiskey or tequila so slowly it has little to no effect on my “buzz.”
There could be something to the rate-of-ingestion idea, but today, I a study reported in The Dail Mail and other websites suggesting that science had something to say about beer and it’s happiness-inducing effects.
Before I get into the report, let me restate the point. Yes, it’s obvious that beer makes (many of us) happy and more relaxed. Of course, there are affected negatively by alcohol in general but assuming we can agree that a few beers or a few drinks of alcohol generally relaxes us and makes us feel better, the question is whether there is something special about beer. Those who drink wine may have some input here, as well. Rate of ingestion could affect things and even doctors will “prescribe” a glass of wine for stress or even high-blood pressure problems (don’t take this as medical advice).
But beer makes me happier than wine. Part of that may be that the reward is greater. I like the taste of beer much better, thus there is a greater reward. And yes, that reward is centered in the brain. I’ve written about this subject in regards to food cravings and so-called sugar addiction.
This is where the report comes in. According to the article 1 scientists in Germany identified a specific component of beer that may be responsible for some of its rewarding effects on the brain. 2
That component is called hordenine, which they identified as a Food-Derived Dopamine D2 Receptor Agonist. The study wasn’t looking at alcoholic beverages per se. Instead, the researchers were looking at 13,000 different food components to try to see whether any of them were more effective in stimulating reward centers in the brain. According to Professor Monika Pischetsrieder, from Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), hordenine, surprisingly, activates the dopamine D2 receptor in the brain. The researchers centered on hordenine after narrowing their list down to 17 out of the original 13,000 compounds and found that hordenine was the most promising. Indeed, according to the researchers, this compound may activate the D2 receptor in a way that is more effective, and longer-lasting, than dopamine itself.
What is Hordenine?
Hordenine (N,N-dimethyl-4-hydroxyphenylethylamine or di-N-methyl tyramine) is an alkaloid that is present in the roots of germinating barley. When beer is made, it is extracted into the wort and becomes one of many phenolic compounds in beer 3 Like other phenolic compounds, hordenine has an effect on the taste of beer, lending a bitter profile. 4
Stronger Than Peyote?
The word hordenine is derived from hordeum, the scientific name for barley (Hordeum vulgare L.). Hordenine is also found in germinated sorghum and millet, as well as other plants such as some cacti. 5 It is thought to be derived from tyramine, which is derived from tyrosine. 6
Hordenine is known as a sympathomimetic drug which has a diuretic effect and increases blood pressure. 7 It is the chief component of a plant used in Mexico and the Southwestern United States known as sunami(ariocarpus fissuratus). This plant used like peyote but is considered more potent. It is also made into a drink. Some tribes call it chaute, living rock, or dry whiskey (dry whiskey is sometimes used for peyote and other similar cacti). 8
According to the study authors, hordenine may “significantly contributes to mood-elevating effects of beer.” Since barley is used in the production of whiskey, it is likely that whiskey will contain some level of hordenine as well, although I do not know how much is present due to the distillation process. It may be formed by other means during the process, but a large amount of such compounds would probably not be friendly to the taste of the finished whiskey, so it is likely that breweries try to avoid this.
What can we take from this? If beer makes you happy, it may be more than just the alcohol. And possibly, at least one out of the many compounds found in beer may be a significant contributor to this effect. However, regardless of any compounds found in any alcoholic beverages that may be beneficial to our mood or our health, the strongest effect is found in alcohol, and if such a compound affects us to the point that we cannot say no to another beer, we have a problem. If beer makes you happy, as it does me, that is not a bad thing. But happiness comes at a cost, and too much happiness can lead to too much alcohol. And nothing good comes from that. Given all this, most health experts now agree that moderate alcohol consumption, itself, can have positive effects on health.
- Van Hare, Holly. “Study Reveals the Obvious: Beer Makes You Happy.” The Daily Meal, TRONC, INC., www.thedailymeal.com/healthy-eating/study-reveals-obvious-beer-makes-you-happy/092817.
- Sommer, T. et al. Identification of the Beer Component Hordenine as Food-Derived Dopamine D2 Receptor Agonist by Virtual Screening a 3D Compound Database. Sci. Rep. 7, 44201; doi: 10.1038/srep44201 (2017).
- Boulton, Chris, editor. Encyclopedia of Brewing. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.
- Shahidi, Fereidoon, and Marian Naczk. Phenolics in Food and Nutraceuticals. CRC Press, 2004.
- International Food Information Service. Dictionary of Food Science and Technology. Blackwell, 2005.
- Funayama, Shinji, and Geoffrey A. Cordell. Alkaloids a Treasury of Poisons and Medicines. Academic Press, 2015.
- RaÌtsch, Christian, and Claudia MuÌller-Ebeling. The Encyclopedia of Aphrodisiacs: Psychoactive Substances for Use in Sexual Practices. Park Street Press, 2013.
- Gottlieb, Adam. Peyote and Other Psychoactive Cacti. Ronin Pub., 1997.