Man’s Middle-Age Spread, AKA The Beer Belly
One of the peculiarities of a man’s physique is that men don’t usually get fat all over. They may have muscular arms and thin legs well into old age, but most are unable to avoid belly fat. This kind of makes the overall appearance of man’s middle-aged spread something like Mr. Potato Head with toothpicks for limbs. Ring any bells?
Is Beer to Blame for his Podgy Paunch?
Sometimes men reach a point where they could honestly ask their partners if their butt looks fat in a piece of clothing. Though typically, a man’s excess adipose accumulates in a little pile of central obesity. This podgy midriff is affectionately referred to, by some, as their beer gut.
Beer bellies can be caused by drinking too much beer, but they can also kind of grow on their own. The actual connection between beer and bellies is the effect of hops on hormones.
What Turns Beer into Belly, Pot Bellies, to Be More Precise?
You can’t make beer without hops. The first historical record of using hops to make beer originated in the German town of Hallertau in the year 769. German beers have been made with hops ever since. Hops add bitter notes that reduce the excessive sweetness of malt sugar, and so add flavours, and scents that make beer more palatable.
A Brief History on Hops
In the rest of Europe, however, hops weren’t used for making beer. About the time of England’s famous King Henry the Eighth, for example, hops were denounced as a “vile and pernicious Roman weed.” That was because hops weren’t just used for making beer.
The Roman Catholic Church had entire estates devoted to raising hops for use in medicinal teas. But that’s not where the story ends.
Hops Killed Sex Drive in Novice Monks!
Medieval monks made teas with hops to discourage their novices from masturbating. They knew that hops “feminized” males and killed their sex drive. The last thing a monastery needs is a crew of teenage monks ‘in training’ who aren’t properly spiritually minded. The use of hops in monasteries was not universal, however.
Then there’s 8-prenylnaringenin
Both hops and its botanical cousin, marijuana, contain a chemical called 8-prenylnaringenin. This chemical fits like a lock into a key on the surfaces of cells that can be turned on or turned off by estrogen. In women, estrogen (within limits) mostly turns sexual functions on. In men, estrogen (without limits) mostly turns sexual functions off.
Getting back to Wobbly Waistlines
But in both sexes, either estrogen or 8-prenylnaringenin also encourages the deposit of fat into two specific places, adding to waist circumference with fat on the belly or plumping up the butt cheeks with fat on the fat pads over the buttocks. This chemical stimulates the deposit of belly fat and buttocks fat rather than visceral fat in other parts of the body.
So this chemical doesn’t just cause beer bellies. It also generates beer buttocks. Drinking beer made with hops encourages fat to accumulate in a female pattern on a man’s body. But that’s not quite all it does.
Big Stomachs and Man Boobs
We all tend to think of fat cells as storage depots, but they actually do a lot more than fill up with fat. They also create and recycle dozens of different hormones, including testosterone. The fat pads on a man’s buttocks greedily gobble up testosterone and turn it into estrogen. Estrogen stimulates fat cells, which turn more testosterone into still more estrogen.
And since a man’s body is losing testosterone while it is making estrogen, it also is losing muscle mass and burning fewer calories, thus leaving more calories to be stored as fat. Some of these calories start getting stored along the dormant milk ducts in a man’s breasts so that he gets man boobs, aka moobs, in addition to lard-butt and beer belly.
But most men just keep eating, so all the fat more or less mushes together. Add in the effects of insulin resistance, men pack the pounds onto their torso, belly, buttocks and all. It’s physiologically impossible, at least, for men to accumulate cellulite.
Do You Have to Give Up Beer to Avoid Beer Belly?
It’s not necessary to abstain from beer to avoid getting a beer belly (and although this is not a recommendation to smoke pot, technically, occasional use of pot does not necessarily result in pot bellies, either).
Fat cells can’t store fat and burn fat at the same time. If your body is burning fat, then drinking beer in and of itself won’t give you the beer belly that creates the lard butt and man boobs. What’s more important than not drinking beer, is not eating too much or exercising too little.
A Solution to Beer Bellies
There’s one other easy thing you can do. It’s a lifestyle habit that keeps Japanese men thin, although they don’t do it because nutrition experts tell them it will give them flat bellies and prevent flabby buttocks.
Soy foods counteract the effects of hops. Soy contains some chemicals that “jam the lock” for which 8-prenylnaringenin is the key. Soy phytoestrogens turn off the enzymes that make excess fatty acids pour into fat pads over the abdomen and over the buttocks. They can stop the accumulation of belly fat and buttocks fat.
The good news is that you don’t have to become a soy eating machine either. A man’s digestive tract can only absorb the phytoestrogens from just 15 grams (about half an ounce) of soy food per day. That’s a few edamame (green soybeans boiled or steamed in their pods), or maybe a couple of bites of tofu (a curd made from mashed soybeans).
There’s also natto, which is a traditional Japanese food product made from fermented soybean. Those men who aren’t Japanese equate the smell and taste of natto with unwashed gym socks. That makes it real man’s food. Or at least it will help keep you from putting on fat to form a woman’s curves and contours.
When it comes to beer bellies and middle aged spread, our advice is this; if you are drinking so much beer that you can’t stumble out to the jogging track, cut back. But if you just regularly drink a beer or two, or less, then watch your calories and eat a little bit of soy each day.
Men of a Certain Age are Happy with Big Bellies. Aren’t they?
Quite a few years ago, a survey was carried out in Great Britain called The Mintel study. It revealed most men of middle age were quite content with their beer guts, and most didn’t worry too much about their weight either.
Perhaps the best way to end this piece is to just point out that even if you have a good relationship with your low hanging belly roll, it’s important to know that being a healthy weight never killed anyone, whereas, well, you can fill in the blanks yourself.
ARTICLE WRITTEN BY ROBERT RISTER | 50ish Site Contributor
Robert Rister is a senior health writer here at 50ish.org