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Are Craft Beers Feminizing American Men?

by Paul-Martin Foss

After decades of drinking mass market swill, the American beer market was ready for the rise of craft breweries. Increased knowledge of foreign beer styles, combined with American ingenuity and creativity, have led to a resurgence of American brewing culture. Sales of craft beer have nearly doubled since 2007, while the number of breweries in the United States has risen from 284 in 1990 to over 5,000 today, with almost 99% of those being craft breweries. But is the increased consumption of craft beers feminizing American men?

Wasser, Hopfen, Malz, Gott erhalt’s – so goes the old German expression – water, hops, malt, God preserves it. Along with the yeast that ferments beer, those are the three primary ingredients in beer. The hops in beer act as a preservative but also gives beer its characteristic bitterness. Macrobrew lagers such as Budweiser, Miller, and Coors specialized in producing American lagers with a minimal hop profile, just enough to taste that its beer.

Craft brewers use much more hops and have embraced hops so much that India pale ales (IPA) are the most popular style of craft beer. IPAs are an incredibly hoppy brew, using hops for bitterness, flavor, and aroma. Newly-developed varieties of hops have numerous flavors and aromas, from pine and resin to citrus, blackberry, and lychee.

But hops are also full of phytoestrogens, compounds that mimic estrogen and bind to estrogen receptors within the body. Could that increased consumption of hoppy beers be causing a feminization of American men?

There isn’t any readily available research on human subjects yet, although I’m sure there would be a great number of volunteers willing to imbibe tasty craft beer for, um, research. But initial studies on mice demonstrated that 8-prenylnaringenin, a phytoestrogen found in hops, resulted in high estrogenic activity in mice who had had their ovaries removed. The concentrations, however, were much higher than those found in most beers.

Additional studies performed on mice that had had their ovaries removed consisted of feeding the mice compounds created from red wine and bourbon. Those mice also saw increases in estrogenic activity, even though neither red wine nor bourbon contain any hops. That leads to speculation that it is actually alcohol that stimulates estrogenic activity within the body, with hops playing a supporting role.

Regardless of whether hops or alcohol are more responsible for the estrogenic activity, it seems clear both from the mouse studies and from the anecdotal effect known as “brewer’s droop” that too much alcohol consumption can lead to estrogenic activity within the body, increasing estrogen levels and decreasing testosterone levels. All you men out there might want to keep that in mind and moderate your alcohol consumption accordingly.

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