A nasty rumour has been making its way around the Internet that drinking beer — specifically, hoppier beers known as IPAs — is linked with a host of sexual problems in men — most notably, the development of “man boobs.
Herbalist and author Stephen Harrod Buhner recently told the VICE News blog Munchies that a natural compound in hops could cause men to develop breasts and brewer’s droop, a temporary form of impotence due to heavy drinking.
Good news, beer drinkers! This is almost certainly false.
While it’s true that the hops found in beer contain a plant chemical that imitates the hormone estrogen, known as a phytoestrogen, the levels of it in beer are likely way too low to cause any harm.
Just to be sure, we spoke recently with Richard van Breemen, a professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Illinois College of Pharmacy in Chicago.
Here’s van Breemen:
It’s true that there is a minute quantity of [the estrogen-like compound, known as] 8-prenylnaringenin, in hops, and there ought to be a trace of it in beer, but I would say the levels are too low to function as a [hormone] disruptor.”
Hops, the female flowers of the hop plant (Humulus lupulus), are the flavoring agent that gives beer, especially India pale ale, its bitter taste. The flowers contain a tiny amount of the phytoestrogen, and studies of this compound have found that it may have some effects on the human hormonal system. But the amount of it in beer “just isn’t enough” to affect male sexual function, van Breemen said.
In fact, another compound, called xanthohumol, is much more abundant in beer than 8-prenylnaringenin, and has well-known cancer-fighting properties, said van Breemen. As of yet, there hasn’t been any conclusive research on this compound in beer, though.
Interestingly, Van Breemen and his colleagues have actually been testing a supplement derived from hops in women as a natural alternative to hormone replacement therapy. But the doses are far higher than those found in beer, and it’s still too early to tell if the treatment has any effect, he said.
If anything, the primary health problems related to drinking beer are related to its high calorie content and its alcohol content, said Van Breemen.
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