What are the Effects of the Hops Phytoestrogen in Beer?

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The Effects of the Hops Phytoestrogen in Beer on Breast Cancer Risk

Hops have been used for centuries as a flavoring agent in beer, but “[o]ver the years, a recurring suggestion has been that hops”—and therefore beer—may be estrogenic, thanks to a potent phytoestrogen in hops called 8-PN, also known as hopein. Might beer drinking affect our hormones? I discuss this in my video What Are the Effects of the Hops Phytoestrogen in Beer?.

Even just the alcohol in beer can reduce testosterone levels in men, so when beer was tested as a source of estrogens, the alcohol was first removed. Researchers tested the equivalent of one can of beer every day for a month on the hormone levels of postmenopausal women, so as to not confound the results with her own estrogens, and they found significant alterations of hormonal levels during the beer month and then a return to baseline a week afterwards. But does this have any clinical effects, whether good or bad?

A cross-sectional study of about 1,700 women found that beer drinkers appear to have better bone density, perhaps because of the pro-estrogenic effects. They don’t recommend women start drinking beer for bone health, but suggest it may have beneficial bone effects for women who already drink.

What about helping with hot flashes? About half of postmenopausal and premenopausal women in the United States suffer from hot flashes, whereas the prevalence in Japan may be ten times lower, presumed to be because of their soy consumption. What about hops? There have been a few studies showing potential benefit, leading to a 2013 review suggesting that “hop extract may be somewhat effective in treating menopausal discomforts especially against hot flushes,” but that was before a study reported extraordinary results with about a half teaspoon of dried hop flowers. In the placebo group, the women started out having 23 hot flashes a week and continued to have 23 hot flashes a week throughout the three-month study. In the hops group, the women started out even worse with about 29 hot flashes a week, but then got down to 19 at the end of the first month, then 9, and finally just 1 hot flash a week. And similar findings were reported for all the other menopausal symptoms measured.

Animal estrogens work, too. Millions of women used to be on horse hormones—Premarin, from pregnant mares’ urine. That drug also took care of hot flashes, as well as  curtailed osteoporosis, but caused a pesky little side effect called breast cancer. Thankfully, when this was realized and millions of women stopped taking it, breast cancer rates fell in countries around the world.

The question, then, is: Are the estrogens in hops more like the breast cancer-promoting horse estrogens or the breast cancer-preventing soy estrogens? The key to understanding the health-protective potential of soy phytoestrogens is understanding the difference between the two types of estrogen receptors, alpha receptors and beta receptors. Unlike animal estrogen, the soy phytoestrogens bind preferentially to the beta receptors, and in breast tissue, they’re like yin and yang with the alpha receptors signaling breast cell proliferation. This explains why horse hormones increase breast cancer risk, whereas the beta receptors, where the soy binds, oppose that proliferative impact. So, do the hops phytoestrogens prefer beta, too? No. 8-PN is a selective estrogen receptor alpha promoter. “Surprisingly and in clear contrast to genistein [the soy], 8-PN is a much weaker” binder of beta than of alpha. So, that explains why hops is such a common ingredient in so-called breast enhancing supplements—that is, because it acts more like estrogen estrogen. Given the breast cancer concerns, use of such products should be discouraged, but just drinking beer could provide the exposure to the hops estrogen, which could help explain why beer may be more carcinogenic to the breast than some other forms of alcohol.


A phytoestrogen in beer? For more on the background of this issue, see The Most Potent Phytoestrogen Is in Beer.

Other videos on phytoestrogen include:

To learn more about dietary effects on testosterone, see:

What about “natural” hormones for menopause? See my video Plant-Based Bioidentical Hormones.

For more on the risks of alcohol in terms of breast cancer risk, see Breast Cancer and Alcohol: How Much Is Safe? and Breast Cancer Risk: Red Wine vs. White Wine.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


37 responses to “The Effects of the Hops Phytoestrogen in Beer on Breast Cancer Risk

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  1. So I have early stage prostate cancer and decided on active surveillance and went vegan several months ago. i’ve always enjoyed beer (in particular hoppy IPA’s) so wonder what effect hops would have on prostate cancer. The urologist said there was no connection but here and there I’ve read otherwise. I recall that Ornish said it would be best to stop drinking entirely if you have any form of cancer.

    So it would be good to see some specifics on hops to prostate cancer as I recall that prostate and breast cancers have similarities. Maybe Dr. Greger could do a piece on the relationship between beer drinking and prostate cancer?

    1. Dr Greger addresses diet and prostate cancer in a few videos, though nothing specifically about beer.

      https://nutritionfacts.org/video/changing-mans-diet-prostate-cancer-diagnosis/

      Here, in this two-part video, Dr G refers to Dr Ornish’ prostate cancer diet and lifestyle program. He’s the one that did the trial, so I would think it would be prudent to heed his advice re alcohol. You’re off to a positive start with the whole plant food diet anyway!

      https://nutritionfacts.org/video/treating-advanced-prostate-cancer-with-diet-part-1/

      1. Yup, good point, so a double whammy. The whole alcohol vs cancer things peaked my interest a couple years ago when I was listening to a retired baseball player being interviewed and he volunteered that changes in his lifestyle included no more alcohol, as it causes cancer. I’d never heard that before but the more research I do, the more I see snippets of studies or anecdotal stories that lead one to believe that there could be a link.

    1. Laughing.

      déjà vu all over again

      Is that like an earworm version of déjà vu?

      99 bottles of beer on the wall. 99 bottles of beer.

      I found it interesting that the hops didn’t work like soy.

      Must be why they have the Clydesdales in the Budweiser ads.

      1. Laughing.

        déjà vu all over again
        ——————————————
        Borrowed from Yogi… Berra that is, not the Bear. The Bear came later. ‘-)

    1. Deb,

      Your lack of hot flashes could be genetic. Just as some women have light easy periods and other women have painful heavy ones, with women all along the range between, some women have no problem with menopause, and other women suffer all kinds of life-disrupting symptoms, including those awful hot flashes. Some are even “superflashers,” where they have hot flashes for years, sometimes 10 or more.

      1. I had very heavy periods. Ridiculous PMS. Doubled over in pain the first day of it every month.

        ZERO menopause symptoms.

        I expected it to menopause to be as difficult as monthly life was.

        Nothing at all.

        1. I am thinking that I had started eating better.

          I didn’t go almost- vegan-aiming-toward-Whole-Food-Plant-Based until a year and a half ago, but I did start trying to eat better before that.

          For instance, I stopped drinking soda.

          1. Deb, I had a similar experience to yours. I seem to recall somewhere that women who consume meat(?) had more painful periods. I think this is in Greger somewhere. By the time I was close to menopause, I also was consuming soy and have the same suspicion you do.

              1. Maryse, this is something I see in young vegetarian women quite frequently. I would ask her doctor to order usual blood tests, (hemoglobin, hemocrit, etc.) Also ferritin level should be done.
                She is most likely anemic, low in iron, maybe also B12.
                Depending on her diet, she may also be low in folate.
                If that is the problem, the best iron supplement is one derived from whole food. Garden of Life makes one like that called Raw Iron.
                It’s easy on the stomach, won’t cause constipation, and also has 500mcg. B12, folate, and vitamin C in it. It’s a non-heme form which is important. Vitamin C helps the body absorb more iron.
                Interestingly, I find that when the ferritin levels become normal, many times the excessive bleeding stops.
                Hope this helps.

                1. Hi Marilyn. She donated blood a couple of years ago and her iron level was fine then. She regularly supplements with b12 and does eat leafy greens for folate although possibly not enough. I will suggest a blood test however.

        1. Betty,

          Sorry to hear that.

          My mother had hot flashes.

          She went from a tendency toward feeling cold to feeling very hot.

          My father lost weight when she had cancer and he, at the very same time, went from being hot all of his life, to being cold.

          They still would have argued about the thermostat. Just from opposite directions.

          I have become temperature sensitive since menopause, but it is more that I feel too cold to spend time outdoors even in late Fall and Winter and, so far, I have worn short sleeves one day this year and today, the temperature switched from the cold, rainy day to too hot to be outside and too cold to be around air conditioning without long sleeves. They just said on the weather that today had temperatures which are normally from July.

          Nature is working against my getting natural Vitamin D at all this year. I am sitting in a long sleeve shirt and I am chilly because of air conditioning. Already. In the beginning of June. That is supposed to happen 3 or 4 weeks from now.

          1. Hi, Deb!
            I have wondered about getting some sun when I am cold, too, and have contemplated getting a warm vest to wear over a tee shirt so that my arms would be exposed and I would be warmer. Basically, the idea would be to keep my body core warm so I could stand a few minutes outside.

  2. I love having a beer two or three times a week. I have had breast cancer, though it didn’t have any hormone receptors. Now we just need someone to start making beer from soybeans. I wonder if anybody has tried that.

  3. Beer can be brewed with barley, wheat, corn, rice, rye, and oats. In the US and Canada, these grains, if not labeled as organic, may easily contain substantial levels of Glyphosate.

    From US EPA Part 180 Pesticide Tolerance Information,
    180.364 Barley bran = 30 ppm max.
    180.364 Corn, field, grain = 5ppm max.
    180.364 Rice, grain = 0.1ppm max.

    The Glyphosate Maximum Residue Limit for Wheat in Canada is 5ppm max.

    It should be pointed out that rats fed 0.1 ppb Glyphosate for 2 years developed numerous tumours.

    http://enveurope.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s12302-014-0014-5

    Just what exactly are you drinking in your beer ?

  4. I took to a vegan diet and gave up alcoholic drinks in the last three years following diagnosis of the onset of low-grade prostate cancer. My medical check-ups have been good since.
    After a lot of efforts in finding a good refreshing evening drink, I really had to try hard getting used to and settling down on non-alcoholic beer. And now I must look for a hops-free ale too? I can’t find any ale out there that would be alcohol-free and hops free. I will appreciate any recommendation.

    1. If you’re doing well drinking non-alcoholic hop beer, why change?

      But I curious as to your progress. Would you mind sharing your highest PSA test and how it trended after you went vegan? Mine peaked at ~ 6.4 3 months ago and I’m going to get another PSA test next week.

      1. My highest PSA was 11. It dropped to 7 quite quickly, and am holding steady at 7. The last test, done over 6 months back, was 7. I am due for the next test.

  5. I guess another possibility is rather than a non-alcoholic beer ever day, maybe a couple of real beers once a week? I wouldn’t think that would tip the scales.

  6. Pradeep and Vic,

    May I suggest you see your practitioner and request an estrogen salivary or urinary test ? You might find that your levels are elevated at which point the beer is really a poison in your system. I’ve seen this in a few beer drinkers and sooooo sorry I don’t know of a hop free beer.

    The good news is there are less hoppy beers and a good article can be found at: https://www.mensjournal.com/food-drink/beer-for-people-that-dont-like-hops-20160225/schneider-aventinus-germany/

    As an alternative have you considered kombucha ?

    Dr. Alan Kadish moderator for Dr. Greger http://www.Centerofhealth.com

    1. Good comment. At this point I’m not drinking beer any longer so such a test would likely not be abnormal. However when I was drinking beer I would generally go for the hopiest I could order and I was drinking probably 4 beers every other day.

      I’m beginning to suspect that all the beer has something, maybe most to do with my prostate cancer in spite of my urologist discounting it.

  7. I guess a solution for anyone wanting the results from the hops without the alcohol of from the beer could just buy a hops liquid extract and put a dropper full in their coffee or tea.

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