Men who love IPAs may be a little more top-heavy than guys who’d prefer to drink lighter beers, but it’s not because of the calories. It’s because the hops that give India Pale Ales their signature bitter flavor contain a plant-based form of estrogen known as phytoestrogen that could cause men to develop man boobs and erectile dysfunction. At least one team of scientists found evidence of the condition coined “Brewer’s Droop.”
“It does not seem to be just a temporary problem, because erectile ability was still affected after a year and, according to the results, did not seem likely to improve just with [alcohol] abstinence,” a team of researchers from Santo Tomas University in Colombia and the University of Granada in Spain wrote in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Too much phytoestrogen in men can cause hormonal imbalances that could lead to 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 an erection,” Stephen Herrod Buhner, herbalist and author of Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers warned Vice.
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; it was also 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 with endometriosis and lactation.
But for men, this study suggests that hops can be both a boob-grower and a boner-killer.
It’s worth noting that some experts are not convinced that Brewer’s Droop is a real concern for most beer drinkers. “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.