How drinking beer can help raise your spirits

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Researchers say a chemical found in beer stimulates the brain’s pleasure center

A new study confirms what beer-lovers have known for quite some time – that drinking the beverage can raise a drinker’s spirits and make them feel happier.

Researchers from Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) tested hordenine -- a chemical compound in malted barley and beer -- and found that it stimulated dopamine D2 receptors in the brain, which are responsible for making us feel pleasure.

“It came as a bit of surprise that a substance in beer activates the dopamine D2 receptor, especially as we were not specifically looking at stimulant foodstuffs,” said researcher Dr. Monika Pischetsrieder.

The researchers say that hordenine uses a different pathway than dopamine – the brain chemical most often associated with pleasure – and that it likely has a longer-lasting effect on the reward centers of our brains.

That means that drinking a beer could do wonders for effectively improving your mood short term. Pischetsrieder and her colleagues say they will be investigating hordenine levels in beer to gauge just how much the beverage affects us on a chemical level.

Risks of feel-good foods

While the findings may be exciting for the beer-drinking community, the researchers caution that there are drawbacks to foods and beverages that make us feel good.

For example, certain foods can make us feel so good that we keep consuming them, even though our bodies are completely satisfied. If you’ve ever found yourself eating a favorite snack only to discover that you’ve gone through a whole bag, you might understand how this works.

The researchers say this mechanism, called hedonic hunger, can often make consumers overindulge. And, if not regulated, it can lead to health problems such as weight gain and obesity.

“It is…well established that certain food stimuli induce hedonic food intake in the state of satiety, leading to an overconsumption of calories and, thus, eventually to obesity,” the researchers said.

The full study has been published in Scientific Reports.

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