“Happy Chemical” Discovered In Beer?

By Neuroskeptic | October 7, 2017 6:15 am

A curious flurry of headlines in praise of beer appeared this week:

Beer really DOES make you happier! Key molecule boosts brain’s reward centre

Drinking Beer Makes You Really Happy, Confirms Awesome New Study

Drinking beer can make you happy, researchers claim

It was reported that scientists from Germany have discovered that a molecule in beer called hordenine activates dopamine receptors in the brain, and thus produces a positive mood.

The research in question was published back in March of this year, so I’m not sure why it only made the headlines this week – maybe Oktoberfest had something to do with it. Either way, the study did indeed find that hordenine is a dopamine D2 receptor agonist, but it’s not clear this has any relevance to beer drinkers.


The German researchers, Sommer et al., are chemists, not neuroscientists. They used computational simulations to model whether 13,000 known ‘food-derived’ molecules would bind to the D2 receptor. The hordenine molecule was predicted to fit the receptor, and follow-up experiments showed that it does indeed bind to it, suggesting possible psychoactive properties.

But Sommer et al. didn’t study whether hordenine actually exists in beer in sufficient amounts to have any effect. They didn’t consider whether it can even reach the brain after oral consumption. According to Wikipedia, some animal studies have shown that hordenine is “not orally active”, although it does have effects when injected.

Overall, Sommer et al. were engaging in pure speculation when they wrote that

Based on its presence in beer, we suggest that hordenine significantly contributes to mood-elevating effects of beer.

So I’m pretty sure that there is only one molecule in beer that makes you happy. This is the same molecule that can make you unhappy. So let’s raise a glass to ethanol, the real star of beer.

  • OWilson

    It is a well known fact among poor families, that you wait until breadwinner poppa is a little drunk, when he comes home, to ask him for money!

    The happy mood wears off rather quickly though, as he sobers up :)

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Hordenine will be protonated in gastric juice and therefore poorly absorbed. Bioavailability is in the alkaline gut where monoamime oxidase-A awaits substrate (e.g., tyramine). Hordenine is not a substrate for MAO-A, but is a substrate for MAO-B in blood platelets and the brain. Figure a mild transitory buzz.

    J Neurochem. 44(1):210 ( 1985)

    • OWilson

      So THAT’s why I enjoy my Occasional Guinness! :)

      • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

        A well-poured Guinness is heaven on Earth. Nothing comes close. Corporate America is routinely astoundingly distant – Bud Lite, Coors Lite!; any beer in a colroless glass bottle (skunked within minutes by sunlight).

        • Small_Businessman

          Agreed. But too many bars don’t know how to chill it – they put the keg in the same cooler as the rest of the beers.

        • Necromancer


    • Kamran Rowshandel

      You can buy hordenine. It has an effect when taken orally. It’s alright.

  • https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=UUwbGJwCdp96FKSLuWpMybxQ Lee Rudolph

    They didn’t consider whether it can even reach the brain after oral consumption.

    That still leaves us with a number of other beer-delivery modalities, of which intranasal may be the most common (and perhaps the only one that regularly—if infreqently—happens inadvertently).

    • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

      Sublingual or rectal (not recommended with carbonation) are also effective.

      • Necromancer


  • Erik Bosma

    Let’s go snort a couple of beers. Or for a better rush, we could suitcase a case. Hey, quit hording the hordenine. Look, I just pounded back some cold meds so give me a break…

    • Kamran Rowshandel

      It’s so astounding, isn’t it? A born and bred misfit bounces across the science forum page. Will he ever belong? Who and what will claim him besides mother nature’s far-off sky? How many Robitussins you got for me, special one? Haruki Murakami book recommendations? Stories from traveling abroad?

      • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

        Panchagavya is an ayurvedic concoction of cow dung, cow urine, milk, curd, and ghee. It cures everything and lightens babies’ skin when administered to pregnant mothers.

        That is not an enviable knowledge base from which to progress…though Lakshmi the Goddess of Wealth traditionally residing in warm cow dung might disagree. We call that “observation bias.”

        • Kamran Rowshandel

          Glad to see it can keep someone so young for such a long time, Uncle

        • Erik Bosma

          I’ve always found that a lot of beer combined with plenty of cow dung (or bullshit as we call it up here) can make everyone pretty and wealthy. Especially as the clock strikes twelve.

      • Erik Bosma

        I was pretty sick for a couple of weeks. Cold would not let go. And then to top it all off I’ve had to fast for almost two days because my Assman wanted to do a little spelunking. Too much information??? I thought this was the Discovery Channel? Enjoy!

      • Erik Bosma

        I’ll take that as a compliment.

        • Kamran Rowshandel


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  • Pavel Prosselkov

    To believe in this is to assume that 0% alc beer makes you as happy as the regular one. True?

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Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.


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