If you love beer and hate your body, you may be able to blame IPAs for turning you into Homer Simpson. Because the hops that give IPA’s their unique flavor actually contain a plant-based estrogen known as phytoestrogen, and a handful of experts think that estrogen could be causing “Brewer’s Droop”—an adorable name for breast growth and erectile dysfunction.
Most experts think that’s unlikely—but tell that to the scientists who studied it for a year. “It does not seem to be just a temporary problem, because erectile ability was still affected after a year,” University of Granada researchers wrote after they studied the long-term effects of drinking IPAs. “According to the results, did not seem likely to improve just with [alcohol] abstinence.”
That’s not to say hops are all bad. They contain xanthohumol, which may have “antiviral, anti-clotting, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor activity,” according to physician Andrew Weil, and were used in the ancient world to promote sleep (along with valerian). The estrogenic effects of hops aren’t all bad either—for women, a little extra estrogen can go a long way. One study of postmenopausal women shows that vaginal gel containing hops reduced dryness, itching, burning, inflammation, and overall pain during intercourse. (The sample size was small, despite sounding like one big party.) There’s also evidence that hops can help women endometriosis and lactation.
But for men, at least one study suggests that hops can be both a boob grower and a boner killer.
Too much phytoestrogen in men can cause hormonal imbalances that could lead to the more scientific-sounding condition, gynecomastia, or enlarged breasts. And if this goes unchecked, some experts worry that the phytoestrogen may follow you to the bedroom. “[From] long-term exposure to the estrogenic properties of hops, [they] eventually have difficulty sustaining erection,” Stephen Herrod Buhner, herbalist and author of Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers warned Vice.
Still, most experts are not convinced that Brewer’s Droop is a real concern for the average beer drinker. “It’s true that there is a minute quantity of [the estrogen-like compound] 8-prenylnaringenin, in hops, and there ought to be a trace of it in beer,” Richard van Breemen, a professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Illinois told Business Insider. “But I would say the levels are too low to function as a [hormone] disruptor.” Medical Daily concurs, adding that phytoestrogens are also found in foods such as soybeans, wheat, beans, carrots, and potatoes.
So if you start sprouting breasts and losing your moves in the bedroom, it could be due to your IPA. Or it could be the fault of your tater tots. Or bread. Or carrots.
But if you’re really worried about it, there’s nothing wrong with cutting back on IPAs. Especially if you send all that spare beer to your wife. If nothing else, she’ll appreciate the estrogen.