Just in case you weren’t feeling particularly chubby or self-conscious this Tuesday morning, I thought we could take a second to discuss moobs. Articles on man boobs and beer consumption pop up every few months or so — like “The disturbing side-effect of drinking craft beer” — contending that drinking hop heavy IPAs causes gynaecomast (an imbalance between the sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen, which causes breast tissue to grow in men). From Australia’s Chinchilla News (a personal fave):
The hoppy ales contain phytoestrogens, which are compounds that naturally occur in plants. These phytoestrogens help you get to sleep at night and can be of aid to women going through menopause. However, they also contribute to man boobs and what’s known as “brewer’s droop.” This refers to the erectile dysfunction many men experience after drinking too much.
In his 1998 book, Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers, herbalist Stephen Harrod Buhner notes that hops found in IPAs can lead to man boobs. And they contribute to brewer’s droop too: “[From] long-term exposure to the estrogenic properties of hops, [they] eventually have difficulty sustaining erection,” Buhner says.
Fun. Hops do contain 8-prenylnaringenin (8-PN), which is a phytoestrogen, which is a plant compound that binds to estrogen receptors. In fact, 8-PN is one of the most potent phytoestrogens, and hop extracts using 8-PN are being studied for a variety of pharmacological uses — from inhibiting breast cancer to helping menopausal women with bone integrity. The hop flower has a long anecdotal history in folk medicine. Supposedly, back in the day female hop pickers would have menstrual disturbances, and hop baths used by Germans would help reduce hot flashes. Those herbal remedies are actually still used today. In fact, hop flower herbal supplements are marketed as natural breast enhancers (enlargers?) to stimulate the development of the mammary glands.
But how much 8-PN is in actual beer? And can it have adverse effects for drinkers? Specifically boobs for men? Chris Colby wrote as good an article on the subject as anyone for Beer and Wine Journal:
An explicit link between IPAs (or other beers) and male breast development has never been documented. The same goes for hops from beer consumption and impotence, another claim made in the article. Heavy beer consumption may lead to males having more adipose around their chests because beer contains a fair amount of Calories. However, actual male breast development (gynecomastia) is different from simply being fat. Gynecomastia involves hormone-induced changes in breast tissue, usually leading to a layer of firm tissue developing behind the areola. More adipose tissue forming beneath the skin across the whole breast, as in weight gain, is not by itself gynecomastia. Likewise, high sustained levels of alcohol consumption can cause impotence. There’s no evidence that hops are the culprit.
That whole idea that IPAs give you man boobs rests on the idea that 8-PN is a phytoestrogen (which it is), but completely ignores that fact that the dosage required to cause problems in humans is unknown. And, there are more likely reasons for “man boobs” (fat) than a hop compound that can’t even be detected in many beers. In addition, lots of plants contain phytoestrogens and the amount we consume of these plants far outweighs the relatively tiny amounts of hop compounds in beer. (In a homebrewed IPA, you are talking about a few ounces of hops in 5 gallons (19 L) of liquid, and most of the plant material is left behind in the kettle.)
In the comments, Colby addresses nay-sayers and freely admits there’s really been no scientific evidence that proves or disproves that hops and IPAs give guys dude boobs. Unfortunately, there’s more pressing news. Did you fellas know that processing alcohol is pretty tough on the human body? Did you realize that the rich calorie count of craft beer can lead to obesity? Also, do you remember us talking about limp dick syndrome above? Compared to those hurdles, I think we can push man thumpers down pretty low on the worry list.
If you’re interested in learning more about the powerful medicinal opportunities in hops, read this article right here. It’s a great deep dive.