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Beer Boobs: The Real Story

Oh, say it ain’t so! Beer can cause man boobs?

Last month, an article in the online magazine Vice reported that beer—specifically IPA—can cause men to sprout breasts. We’re here to tell you it ain’t so, or at least that you probably don’t have anything to worry about. Even if India Pale Ale is your beverage of choice, it’s highly unlikely you’ll develop gynecomastia (or, er, grow a pair).

Here’s the Scoop

The piece in Vice is based on the notion that there’s a connection between IPA and man boobs: the hops that give the brew its distinctive flavor. Hops contain a “phytoestrogen,” literally meaning a plant-based estrogen. These consumed substances can cause reactions in the body similar to those triggered by the estrogen produced in human endocrine systems (albeit mostly weaker reactions).

The thing is, many foods contain phytoestrogens. Back in 2007, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) listed some of the leading phytoestrogen sources:

• Fruits like apples, grapes, berries, plums and pears
• Vegetables such as soybeans, cabbage, spinach, garlic, onion (and hops)
• Grains
• Wine
• Tea
• Various botanical dietary supplements

More Research on Phytoestrogens

Phytoestrogens are a fascinating topic for researchers. The NIH article referenced above debated whether the compounds should be considered foods or drugs. Another NIH piece published a few years later discussed the pros and cons of phytoestrogens, concluding that in our hype-oriented society, the benefits can be overstated—such as when soy-based products are touted as having the power to relieve symptoms of menopause (which the NIH says is only weakly supported by evidence). At the same time, the NIH believes the potential risks can be “underappreciated,” especially since phytoestrogens have the potential to interfere with natural estrogen processes in infants and in babies exposed in the womb. The NIH calls for more research in this area, particularly on the effects of soy-based infant formula.

Another NIH article, this one dated back to 1999, dealt specifically with the phytoestrogen contained in hops, called 8-prenylnaringenin. The full text of the piece, originally published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, says that while this strong phytoestrogen may explain menstrual disturbances in women who work in the hops industry, low levels detected in beer “should not pose any cause for concern.”

So, Why All the Noise About Beer and Man Boobs?

Back to the article in Vice. It reports that phytoestrogens can cause beer makers to grow man boobs, a condition it referred to as “brewer’s droop,” then makes the leap to state that IPA drinkers can develop gynecomastia too. We would allow that if you’re a brewer and you handle hops on a daily basis, it might be possible your breasts could become enlarged. But as for the notion that IPA drinkers can develop man boobs, we highly doubt it. There’s just not enough of the key phytoestrogen present in the hoppy brew to cause breast growth.

The author of the Vice article is not a scientist, as far as we can determine, and she bases her theory on the writings of two herbalists. She confesses in her article that she doesn’t care for the taste of hops and prefers to make beer with herbs like yarrow. We are in favor of beer of all kinds—don’t get us wrong! But when it comes to gynecomastia and other medical matters, we tend to place our trust in the work of those who employ the scientific method to test theories, like researchers at the NIH.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way the Internet tends to work. Just as in the recent hysteria touched off by article stating that fast food causes gynecomastia, the allure of the headline “IPAs Are Giving You Man Boobs” is irresistible. Several follow-on articles have been published now, and the rest is net-based history.

A Final Note

It is worth mentioning that alcoholics sometimes develop moobs. As noted in American Family Physician, patients with alcohol-based liver disease suffer a double whammy: the effects of alcohol’s phytoestrogens plus its negative impact on testosterone production. But if you’re struggling with alcoholism due to overconsumption of IPA and you have moobs, you have issues beyond wondering about the role of hops in your beer.

Having worked with guys with man boobs in New York City for decades, we know quite a bit about causes, including phytoestrogens. What’s more important to men and teens who are mortified about their condition is, we know how to fix it. Although it requires a specialist with board certification and many years of experience, male breast reduction offers a permanent cure with modest downtime.

After a few days of initial recovery (and a little more time taking it easy), you can go back to work, exercise and enjoying your IPA. In moderation, of course! Give us a call at 212-570-6080 if you’d like to come in for an appointment.

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