Man Boobs From Hoppy Beer? An 'Earth Poet' Says Yes, Science Says No

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The Internet is abuzz with new claims that hoppy beers, found in abundance in the IPA craft fad, are going to turn men into voluptuous women - because of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. This is not the first time it has come up. Endocrine disruptors became a trend in the 1990s so anything with the word estrogen in it was linked to changes in humans. Since hops (Humulus lupulus L.) contain a phytoestrogen it was first linked to Brewer's Droop - man boobs (moobs!) - in 1999. 

Now it has gotten new attention thanks to Vice. The more hops a beer has, Raquel Callis tells us, the higher its amount of estrogenic activity. Her source? Stephen Harrod Buhner, aka "The Earth Poet," who claims in his book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers that he can heal just about anything with his plants. (1) I guess she just discovered this 1998 work wherein he claimed that IPAs (India Pale Ales), which contain polyphenols, are causing men to grow boobs.

Polyphenols, the wonder drugs "du yesterday," haven't exactly performed as expected. GlaxoSmithKline can give you a $720 million lesson here because that's what the company incinerated in 2008 to acquire Sirtris Pharmaceuticals for its SRT50, a concentrated form of the polyphenol resveratrol. Not only did SRT50 bomb, but there was also a research scandal involved, as reported by Derek Lowe in 2012.

But let's focus on the most titillating (sorry) of the Earth Poet's claims—men growing moobs (man boobs) from drinking beer. The evidence for such a claim is not the strongest in recent mammory (sorry again). It goes something like this:

  • Beers contains polyphenols
  • Polyphenols are a subset of a group of plant-derived chemicals called phytoestrogens. 
  • Dr. Oz recommends them. Be afraid.

"You can further protect your body from the harmful effects of inflammation by taking a resveratrol supplement."

Dr. Oz, June 2012

  • Phytoestrogens bind to estrogen receptors, although much more weakly than estradiol. 
  • This makes them "endocrine disruptors," and they could theoretically have an estrogen effect in men.
  • Everything is an estrogen disruptor.
  • So, the polyphenols in beer will make men more feminine. 
  • Except when they don't:

"Antioxidants fight free radicals, so it’s possible that boosting antioxidants can help keep nitric oxide at a healthy level for blood flow [which would help with erectile dysfunction.

Mehmet C. Oz, M.D., F.A.C.S. and Michael Roizen, M.D for, August, 2011

  • Which would seem to contradict what the Earth Poet writes in his book: “[From] long-term exposure to the estrogenic properties of hops, [they] eventually have difficulty sustaining erection.”

Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation. Stephen Harrod Buhner, 1998.

  • One of these screwballs is wrong.
  • Probably both of them.

Lost in the gobbledygook is a far more likely explanation: Obesity also causes gynecomastia (enlarged breasts) in men. When the enlarged breasts are a result of obesity it is called pseudogynecomastia

Application of Occam's razor to this "problem": Sit around drinking beer will probably make you fat. If you are fat, you will probably get big breasts. If you're not careful you could end up looking like this:

Goodbye appetite. Original photo: The Dr. Oz Show

So just relax and have a cold one or two. Just not six. 


(1)  He makes other claims that are just as silly. Here are a few.

  • Echinacea can treat: Strep throat, tonsillitis, canker sores, bee stings, snake bites, histaminic reactions (allergies), scarlet fever, typhoid, diphtheria, fever, wounds, cervical dysplasia and other epithelial cell abnormalities, infected blood and wounds, generally infected mucus [sic] membranes, infections of the throat, tongue, mouth, lungs and stomach." And prevent or treat colds. (It can't). 
  • Chronic Lyme disease is real. (There is no such thing).
  • "Water fasting" will help you treat cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure, elevated triglycerides, atheromas, high cholesterol, type II diabetes, epilepsy, acute pancreatitis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, pain, stiffness, lupus, rosacea, hives, acute glomerulonephritis, poor immune function, psychosomatic disease, neurogenic bladder, psoriasis, eczema, thrombophlebitis, varicose ulcers, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, lower back pain, depression, neurosis, schizophrenia, duodenal ulcers, uterine fibroids, intestinal parasites, gout, allergies, hay fever, hives, multiple sclerosis, and insomnia."

Wow. That's amazing. No matter what's wrong with you just stop eating and it will go away. Almost seems too good to be true! Now, why might that be??