Dementia and cognitive decline are global public health problems. Moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages reduces the risk of dementia and cognitive decline. For instance, resveratrol, a polyphenolic compound found in red wine, has been well studied and reported to prevent dementia and cognitive decline. However, the effects of specific beer constituents on cognitive function have not been investigated in as much detail. In the present review, we discuss the latest reports on the effects and underlying mechanisms of hop-derived bitter acids found in beer. Iso-α-acids (IAAs), the main bitter components of beer, enhance hippocampus-dependent memory and prefrontal cortex-associated cognitive function via dopamine neurotransmission activation. Matured hop bitter acids (MHBAs), oxidized components with β-carbonyl moieties derived from aged hops, also enhance memory functions via norepinephrine neurotransmission-mediated mechanisms. Furthermore, the effects of both IAAs and MHBAs are attenuated by vagotomy, suggesting that these bitter acids enhance cognitive function via vagus nerve stimulation. Moreover, supplementation with IAAs attenuates neuroinflammation and cognitive impairments in various rodent models of neurodegeneration including Alzheimer’s disease. Daily supplementation with hop-derived bitter acids (e.g., 35 mg/day of MHBAs) may be a safe and effective strategy to stimulate the vagus nerve and thus enhance cognitive function.
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