What Are the Effects of the Hops Phytoestrogen in Beer?

What Are the Effects of the Hops Phytoestrogen in Beer?
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When it comes to breast cancer risk, does the phytoestrogen in beer act more like the animal estrogens in Premarin or the protective phytoestrogens in soy?

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Hops have been used for centuries as a flavoring agent in beer. But over 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?

Now, 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. They tested the equivalent of one can of beer a day for one month on the hormone levels of postmenopausal women, so as not to confound the results with endogenous estrogens, and they found significant alterations of hormonal levels during the beer month, and then coming back to baseline a week afterwards. But does this have any clinical effects—either good or bad?

A cross-sectional study of about 1,700 women found that beer drinkers appeared 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 perimenopausal women in the U.S. 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’s been a few studies like this, and this, showing potential benefit, leading to this 2013 review, suggesting that hops extracts may be somewhat effective in treating menopausal discomfort.

But that was before this study, which reported extraordinary results with about a half teaspoon of dried hops flowers. For example, hot flashes on the bottom. In the placebo group on the right there, the women started out having about 23 hot flashes a week, and throughout the three-month study, continued to have 23 hot flashes a week. In the hops group, they started out even worse, but then down to 19 at the end of the first month, then nine, then just once a week, basically. And similar findings were reported for all the other menopausal symptoms measured.

But hey, animal estrogens work, too. Millions of women used to be on horse hormones, Premarin, from pregnant mare urine. That took care of hot flashes, too, and 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. This is data from California.

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 the soy phytoestrogens is understanding the difference between the two types of estrogen receptors. There’s 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— explaining 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 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, 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, as is found in these kinds of products—which could help explain why beer may be more carcinogenic to the breast than some other forms of alcohol.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Dave Shea via flickr.

Hops have been used for centuries as a flavoring agent in beer. But over 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?

Now, 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. They tested the equivalent of one can of beer a day for one month on the hormone levels of postmenopausal women, so as not to confound the results with endogenous estrogens, and they found significant alterations of hormonal levels during the beer month, and then coming back to baseline a week afterwards. But does this have any clinical effects—either good or bad?

A cross-sectional study of about 1,700 women found that beer drinkers appeared 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 perimenopausal women in the U.S. 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’s been a few studies like this, and this, showing potential benefit, leading to this 2013 review, suggesting that hops extracts may be somewhat effective in treating menopausal discomfort.

But that was before this study, which reported extraordinary results with about a half teaspoon of dried hops flowers. For example, hot flashes on the bottom. In the placebo group on the right there, the women started out having about 23 hot flashes a week, and throughout the three-month study, continued to have 23 hot flashes a week. In the hops group, they started out even worse, but then down to 19 at the end of the first month, then nine, then just once a week, basically. And similar findings were reported for all the other menopausal symptoms measured.

But hey, animal estrogens work, too. Millions of women used to be on horse hormones, Premarin, from pregnant mare urine. That took care of hot flashes, too, and 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. This is data from California.

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 the soy phytoestrogens is understanding the difference between the two types of estrogen receptors. There’s 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— explaining 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 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, 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, as is found in these kinds of products—which could help explain why beer may be more carcinogenic to the breast than some other forms of alcohol.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Dave Shea via flickr.

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