updated 11/15/2005 12:22:24 PM ET 2005-11-15T17:22:24

Now, you may have an excuse for reaching for a brew — as a health food.

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Scientists at Oregon State University say the hops used to brew beer contain a compound called flavonids that neutralize “free radicals,” which are rogue oxygen molecules that can damage cells.

The researchers say porter, stout and ale have much higher levels of flavonids compared to lager and pilsner beers.

But don’t reach for a six-pack hoping for much more than a beer gut. The researchers say the beneficial effect of beer may be minimal and that more study is needed.

“We can’t say that drinking beer will help prevent cancer,” said Fred Stevens, OSU assistant professor of pharmacy and scientist in the Linus Pauling Institute.

Xanthohumol is a yellow substance that was first discovered in hops in 1913, but its health effects were not known until the 1990s, when Stevens and colleagues started studying the flavonoid compound. In cell cultures and animal studies, xanthohumol targeted various types of cancer, including breast, colon and ovarian.

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