hist-brewing: natural estrogenic compounds

isenhour at uiuc.edu isenhour at uiuc.edu
Wed Oct 20 09:36:45 PDT 1999

Richard was talking about estrogenic compounds in hops and expressed
concern that this may affect male endocrinology.  My previous research
areas included both neuroendocrinology and estrogen/progestin receptor
binding, so this topic is of particular interest.  I have searched through
a variety of databases and have noted the following.

There are a LOT of sources of plant estrogenic compounds.  Some with
high concentrations are soy, flax seed, licorice, red clover, thyme, tumeric,
hops, verbena, oregano, verbena and damiana.  The more edible plants
tested, the more show up.

Question one: Does the compound have a antagonistic or agonistic
effect at the receptor site (i.e. does it activate or block the
activity normally associated with the natural ligand binding with the

In the case of hops the estrogenic compound 8-prenylnaringenin does
seem to have an agonistic effect, meaning it acts like estrogen.

Question two: Does enough of the substance get into the blood
stream and/or cross the blood-brain barrier to do anything.

There seems to be enough estrogenic compound in hops so that females
working closely with hops may experience some menstrual disturbance.
IMHO the route of intake would most likely be inhalation or possibly
cutanious absorption.  (this is my speculation, I doubt that they eat
much).  Inhaling the compounds may increase their bioavailability, and
there seems to be some evidence that phytoestrogens can be deactivated
by gut bacteria.  Other research indicates that eating relatively
large amounts of the source food may have effects (flax seed, for
instance).  I love hops but I dont consume any directly, especially
"relatively large amounts".

One step away from working around hops all day, is the amount
extracted and residual in beer.  Research indicates that
8-prenylnaringenin can be "detected" in beer, but at such low levels
that should "not pose any cause for concern" (see Milligan SR, Kalita
JC, Heyerick A, Rong H, De Cooman L, De Keukeleire D. JOURNAL OF

Buhner is a great folklorist, but I when I saw his article in
Am.Brewer I feel some response is required.  In order to make a
statement with any firm conviction one needs to see a preponderance of
studies, that when replicated that show the same results.  Anecdotal
evidence sells a lot of cures.

The interesting thing is that there are so many estrogenic substances
in the environment that I'm suprized no one has sensationalized this

Personally, if I was old, fat and lazy I'd blame it on hops
but never the beer!

In order to save space, anyone interested in the citations for the above
can find them at  bibiana.lis.uiuc.edu/~isenhour/phytoestrogens.txt

I should have them online by noon today.


217-328-0295                       Master Brewers Association of America
isenhour at uiuc.edu                   American Society of Brewing Chemists
University of Illinois/Urbana           Beer Judge Certification Program
Fermentation Science Instructor            Institute for Brewing Studies

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