Hormones enter the food supply in a variety of ways. Modern farming practices often involve supplementing animal feed with growth hormone to promot
Hormones enter the food supply in a variety of ways. Modern farming practices often involve supplementing animal feed with growth hormone to promote faster weight gain. Some herbicides and pesticides have hormone-mimicking effects on the body. Hormones also occur naturally in dairy products and some plant foods. All of these hormones and hormone-like substances have varying effects on your body.
Hormones, which are fat-soluble molecules, can be stored in fat tissue and accumulate to potentially harmful levels, according to registered dietician and “Prevention” magazine editor Gale Maleskey. Because of this, women, due to their naturally higher body fat percentage, may be at greater risk of detrimental health effects from hormones in food. Breast lumps, some of which can become cancerous, are caused by imbalanced hormone levels, and eating a diet high in hormone-supplemented meats may add to the problem. By contrast, phytoestrogens — naturally occurring estrogen-like compounds in foods such as soy — have estrogenic effects on parts of the body where they can be protective, such as your bones and heart, while blocking estrogen’s effects on reproductive organs, where it can promote cancer, effectively increasing estrogen’s beneficial effects and decreasing its harmful effects, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.
Controversy exists over the levels of hormones present in hormone-supplemented cattle and their health effects on humans. According to the Montana State University Cooperative Extension, only minute levels of growth hormone are present in hormone-supplemented cattle. The Extension Service reports that, on average, 1.85 nanograms of growth hormone are detected in hormone-supplemented beef per 3-ounce serving, compared to 1.3 nanograms in non-hormone-supplemented beef. This represents a 42 percent increase, which was enough to cause the European Union to ban imports of U.S. beef, for purposes of protecting human health.
A study published in the November 2011 issue of the journal “The Science of the Total Environment” found that a chemical growth promoter used in cattle may affect growth rates in girls. The compound, called zeranol, is an endocrine disruptor that blocks estrogen, resulting in growth rate abnormalities. In the study, 78.5 percent of the girls had measurable levels of zeranol. These girls were shorter, on average, and showed slower rates of breast development than girls with no detectable levels of the chemical. Researchers called for larger, more diverse studies to further clarify their results.
Pesticides and Herbicides
Pesticide and herbicides sprayed on conventional food crops leave a residue that you consume when you eat them. Animals fed on heavily sprayed crops have higher levels of these chemicals than the crops because the chemicals are retained in muscle and fat tissue. It is estimated that up to 95 percent of the pesticide residues consumers are exposed to come from meat and dairy products, according to researcher D. Lindsey Berkson, author of the book “Hormone Deception: How Everyday Foods and Products Are Disrupting Your Hormones and How to Protect Yourself and Your Family.” These chemicals, known as xenoestrogens, have hormone-like effects that have been linked to immune dysfunction and some forms of cancer. Farmers who use these chemicals tend to have high rates of leukemia and stomach, prostate and brain cancer.