Do You Know Nutrition: Jury is still out on hormone effects

By Phylis Canion
April 9, 2013 at midnight
Updated April 8, 2013 at 11:09 p.m.

Can the hormones in the food we eat affect the hormones in our system?

Hormones are chemicals that are produced naturally in the bodies of all animals, and that, of course, includes humans.

Although these hormones may be produced in small amounts, they are chemical messages released into the blood by hormone-producing organs that travel to and affect different parts of the body, such as growth, development and reproduction.

Hormones can have different chemistry - they can be steroids or proteins. Steroid hormones are active in the body when consumed, whereas protein hormones are broken down in the stomach and incapable of any action in the body when eaten.

There are six different hormones in the steroid class that are currently approved for use in food production in the United States: estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, zeranol, trenbolone acetate and melengestrol acetate.

Federal regulations allow these hormones to be used on growing cattle and sheep (where they can be very effective) but not on poultry, which includes chickens, ducks and turkeys, or hogs (not known to be useful in increasing weight).

Insulin is a protein hormone that needs to be injected into the body to have an effect. Although levels of naturally produced hormones vary from animal to animal, it is not possible to differentiate between the hormones produced naturally by the animal and those used to treat the animal.

Because of fears that the human body is being damaged by subtle, insidious dietary and environmental "hormone disruptors" that have impaired the body's natural hormone system, scientists are currently trying to develop better methods to measure steroid hormone residues left in edible meat from treated animals.

While the jury in the U.S. is still out on hormones in our food and their affect on early puberty, breast cancer as well as cancer in general, obesity and learning disabilities, the the European Union is more definitive and issued a ban on all meat from animals treated with steroid growth hormones back in 1989 that is still in effect today.

In 1999, the Canadian government refused approval of rbGH, a recombinant growth hormone for dairy cattle, based on concerns about the health effects. If you have any concerns about the uncertainty and safety of meats that could be treated with hormones, any food product that is certified USDA organic will not contain hormones or additives.

Thought for the week: A life is never ended until all of the lives it has touched have ended, too.

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant, email her at This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.



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