University of Washington researchers used a process called X-ray crystallography to analyze the precise configuration of humulones, substances derived from hops that give beer its flavor.
"Now that we have the right results, what happens to the bitter hops in the beer-brewing process makes a lot more sense," chemistry Professor Werner Kaminsky said in a university release.
Previous research has suggested beer and its bittering acids, in moderation, can have beneficial effects on diabetes, some forms of cancer, inflammation and perhaps even weight loss.
While "excessive beer consumption cannot be recommended to propagate good health," the researchers wrote in their published study, "isolated humulones and their derivatives can be prescribed with documented health benefits."
The findings sets the stage for discovering which of those humulones might be useful in new compounds to be used as medical treatments, they said.