Science Just Proved That Beer Actually Does Lift Your Spirits—Here’s Why

Updated: Oct. 05, 2017

If you need another reason to celebrate with a beer, this one is backed up by science.

beer4 PM production/ShutterstockThis may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s official: Beer makes you happy. What better news to kick off Oktoberfest? (Although, the history of Oktoberfest surprisingly has nothing to do with beer—here’s the origin story behind Oktoberfest.)

Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) examined food components to find out whether they stimulate the reward center in the brain. According to their findings, published March 2017 in the journal Scientific Reports, hordenine (in malted barley and beer) was found to boost mood.

If you’d—wisely—rather not rely on beer to feel better, check out 23 more instant mood boosters.

Previous research has discovered that certain foods appear to lift our spirits, and it can lead to so-called hedonic hunger: Eating for pleasure as opposed to satisfying an actual biological need. Some types of carbohydrates can activate dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, which is linked to feelings of pleasure (amongst other things).

The scientists used a computer simulation to screen for substances in food that could be linked to neurotransmitters in the brain. This widely used virtual screening approach allowed the researchers to screen 13,000 different types of molecules in food; when food scientists work with the real substances, they can only test a small number of them at a time. Their goal was to identify the molecules that fit the dopamine D2 receptor. The next step was to figure out which of those molecules could interact with the dopamine D2 receptor. Finally, the team narrowed the list down to 17 of the original 13,000 receptors, which were then analyzed in a laboratory.

The most promising results came from a substance called hordenine, which came as a surprise to the scientists. “We were not specifically looking at stimulant foodstuffs,” explains one of the study authors, Monika Pischetsrieder, PhD, to ScienceDaily.

While the study shows that hordenine stimulates the dopamine D2 receptor, it uses a different signaling pathway than dopamine. Hordenine activates the receptor solely through G proteins, potentially leading to a more prolonged effect on the reward center of the brain. Further research is required to figure out if the hordenine levels in beer are sufficient to have a significant effect on the reward center.

If you fancy checking out its mood-boosting effects, here are 19 beers you need to try.