Hormones’ Effect on Food

by Dave on October 15, 2009

by Lisa Harkins

Recently I was invited to come onto WGMD and talk with host Jeff Gartman concerning hormones in the food supply. I hesitated, because this is quite a loaded topic, with a plethora of information (and misinformation) available to the public. Jeff was specifically interested in hormones in the milk supply, and if they are causing early sexual maturation in adolescents, particularly girls. 

Regarding milk: BST, or Bovine Somatotropin, is a hormone that is found naturally in cows and their milk in minute concentrations. rBST, or Recombinant BST, is a synthetic version of BST that is injected into the cow to increase her milk production. Only 15% of US farms use rBST, which accounts for about a quarter of the milk supply. Fact: rBST is inactive in humans, that is, it only promotes growth/increased milk production in cows. It is destroyed by pasteurization, and would be broken down by our digestive tract if administered orally.

In addition there are no studies that directly link hormones (whether synthetic or natural) in animal products as the cause for early sexual maturation in children, particularly girls. The FDA, WHO, USDA, American Dietetic Association, National Institutes of Health, and the American Academy of Pediatrics support this statement, but there has not been any clinical (read: human) studies from which to base this notion. This is not some sort of conspiracy cooked up by the National Dairy Council or the National Cattleman’s Beef Association. Understand it is nearly impossible to determine whether the variety of hormones found in the human body came from either internal or external (Food? Pesticides? Environment?) sources, and secondly, exposing human subjects to varying levels and types of hormones for purely experimental purposes is not exactly ethical.

That being said, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. In other words, some researchers, (based on other types of studies such as cross-sectional, or studies that compare two or more populations to infer conclusions about resulting data, as well as through experiments with animals),have theorized that early and therefore longer exposure to estrogen (which may be found in North American beef products) may be correlated to early sexual development in girls (early menarche and breast development), as well as to increased instance of breast cancer later in life. It is important to note that the use of hormones (estrogen, specifically Zeranol, and testosterone) in animal products is banned in the European Union and several other countries, but not here in
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United States.

Much research has correlated childhood overweight and obesity to early sexual maturation; increased body fat has been linked to increased estrogen production in girls, kicking off earlier development. Children these days are consuming more energy than they are expending, and bigger portions, snack foods, and fast foods all contribute to excess weight and increased risk for chronic disease later in life.

I invite you to become a fan of my business page on facebook.com: Ideal Nutrition and Fitness LLC, and click on the “Notes” section for the extended version of this story, which includes additional information concerning factors triggering early development in our adolescents beyond hormones found in animal products, as well as references.

Lisa Harkins is a clinical registered dietitian with Bayhealth Medical Centers and the owner of Ideal Nutrition and Fitness LLC (www.idealnutritionandfitness.com). You can reach her at lisa@idealnutritionandfitness.com.

This column first appeared in Coastal Sussex Weekly, August 13, 2009.

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