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Hormones In Meat

a slab of beef may contain nasty hormones

What You Should Know

Hi! I hope you’re all enjoying a diet filled with fresh seasonal vegetables, low glycemic fruits, protein predominately from fish, turkey, chicken, wild game and some clean red meats, whole grains and nuts in moderation (eaten separately from other foods), healthy fats such as avocados, olive and grapeseed oils, and occasional clean cheeses. In this newsletter and the next, I’m going to take a look at what I mean by clean meat. Be aware–this information isn’t all pretty, but I think you’ll agree it’s worth knowing what you’re putting in your body!

Many of you have probably seen hormone-free labels on beef at Whole Foods and Central Market. You’ve probably also noticed that this meat is considerably more expensive! Some of the labels at other markets may say “grown without antibiotics” or “free range,” but that may not necessarily mean the meat is hormone-free unless specified.

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Do you know what hormones are used in meat and why they’re used? Have you wondered what these hormones might do to us when we eat them?

Sex Hormones

U.S. farmers have been giving sex hormones to cattle to fatten them up since the 1970s. The hormones increase the amount of meat the cattle produce without requiring extra feed. Cows are given six hormones, including estradiol-17 (a powerful estrogen), progesterone, and testosterone, as well as additional synthetic hormones that mimic testosterone and estrogen. These hormones are very stable and are not broken down at high temperatures, meaning that they are still in their complete form when we eat the meat.

This use of hormones for artificial growth stimulation has caused quite a stir Europe. In fact, due to concerns about early puberty, tumors, cancer risks, and genetic problems, the European Union has banned hormone use in cattle. The FDA has said there is no evidence these hormones are dangerous. However, Europe’s scientific committee found in three separate studies that no acceptable safe daily intake could be established for any of the six hormones. (I guess we don’t need a daily intake of synthetic testosterone, after all!) It also found substantial evidence that estradiol 17 is a complete carcinogen, meaning it shows both tumor initiating and tumor promoting effects!

Girls in the US are reaching puberty at younger and younger ages, often menstruating as early as age 8. Breast size in young adolescent girls, and even some boys, is increasing. Obesity, due to estrogen dominance created by the hormones we eat unknowingly, is of epidemic proportions in the United States.

Growth Hormones

An additional hormone, called rBGH, or rBST, is even more controversial. Given to as many as 30 percent of the cattle in the U.S., rBGH is a genetically engineered growth hormone designed to increase milk output. rBGH causes slightly higher levels of an insulin-like growth factor in cows’ milk. This protein–found in milk and dairy products from cows treated with rBGH–has been linked to cancer, and it is possible it could lead to diabetes in people prone to the disease.

The FDA approved its safety in 1993, after reviewing a 90-day-study of rats fed the growth hormone.

Six years later, Canadian scientists used results from the same study to reject the use of rBGH in Canada. These scientists were disturbed by the fact that the hormone was absorbed into the rats’ bloodstreams and that it weakened their immune systems! In addition, they noted that U.S. farmers were forced to give antibiotics to cows to counteract rBGH’s tendency to cause udder swelling. (More on antibiotics in meat in the next newsletter!)

So What Does This Mean for You?

Although there are differing views on the safety of hormones in meat, what it really comes down to is whether you want to risk introducing synthetic hormones into your body. For your body to be healthy, it needs to find balance–particularly endocrine balance! I encourage you to avoid all sources of synthetic hormones, including hormone-riddled meat and dairy.

What to Know When You Shop . . .

Hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry, so your main concern will be in buying beef.

Many dairy products contain labels indicating that they come from rBGH-free farms.

Hormone supplementation is not currently an issue with U.S. fish. Although farm-raised fish are not fed hormones, wild fish are superior. Always choose wild fish if possible for the better taste and the higher fatty acid content. (Do check labels when shopping for fish. Fish in China and Cuba are being genetically engineered to produce enormous “super fish.” Although genetically engineered fish haven’t been approved for consumption in the U.S., they are sold here!)

On beef, look for the specific label “No Hormones.” Farmers can use this label only if they prove their meat is hormone free. The terms “Natural” or “Organic” don’t necessarily cut it; neither of these labels ensures your meat is hormone free.

Try to restrict most of your red-meat consumption (which should be moderate anyway) to home, where you know what you’re getting!


BBC News: “How Safe Is Hormone-Treated Meat?” Tuesday, May 18, 1999

Europa. The European Commission on Food Safety. “Hormones in Meat” Food Safety and Inspection Service. “Meat and Poultry Labeling Terms.” Slightly revised January 2001

Lyman, Francesca “MSNBC Reopens Debate on Safety of Bovine Growth Hormones in Milk.” Special to MSNBC.

* The information in this article cannot be substituted for medical advice about your unique body. Call for an appointment to discuss questions or concerns.

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