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The Effects of Growth Hormones in Food

author image August McLaughlin
August McLaughlin is a certified nutritionist and health writer with more than nine years of professional experience. Her work has been featured in various magazines such as "Healthy Aging," "CitySmart," "IAmThatGirl" and "ULM." She holds specializations in eating disorders, healthy weight management and sports nutrition. She is currently completing her second cookbook and Weight Limit—a series of body image/nutrition-related PSAs.
The Effects of Growth Hormones in Food
Growth hormones are used in cattle as a means of increasing milk production. Photo Credit Container of milk. Plastic milk bottle image by L. Shat from <a href="http://www.fotolia.com">Fotolia.com</a>

Growth hormones are given to animals, such as cattle, in order to make them gain weight faster, thus producing meat products for consumers at a faster rate. Growth hormones also increase milk production in animals. While dairy and meat industries depend on the use of growth hormones for increased productivity and profit, these hormones may hold negative health repercussions for humans.

Early Puberty in Girls

Early puberty may be associated with certain growth hormones used in meat and dairy products. According to Cornell University, research findings are mixed and limited. Thus, it is difficult to determine the specific impact growth hormones in food have on young women's development. However, some researchers believe that steroid hormones, in particular, cause girls to undergo puberty prematurely, an occurrence associated with increased risk for breast cancer later in life. If you are concerned about this potential side effect of growth hormones, seek hormone-free meat and dairy products or switch to meat and dairy-free food alternatives.

Increased Risk for Breast Cancer

Researchers and consumers are concerned that breast cancer risk may increase due to use of hormones in food. According to natural health expert, Andrew Weil, M.D., the concern is legitimate, as hormone residue in certain foods can raise breast cancer risk. However, Weil explains that the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not allow the use of hormones in raising hogs, chickens and turkeys or other fowl. If you are concerned about breast cancer risk associated with growth hormones, you may consume meats and other foods derived from these animals without such worry. Growth hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, are used in cattle and sheep. According to Weil, they are used in up to two-thirds of all American cattle. If you wish to continue eating products derived from cattle or sheep, seek products clearly labeled, "no hormones administered." Such foods are more expensive, but they are free of hormone-related risks. Red meat and whole milk contain saturated fats, which increase risk for heart disease and other conditions, so consuming them on an occasional, moderate basis may allow you to spend a bit more when purchasing them.

Increased Risk for Prostate Cancer

Another concern of researchers and consumers is that growth hormones in food may increase risk for prostate cancer. According to an article published in "Medical News Today," September 23, 2007, Australian researcher, Mike Waters, from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience, University of Queensland, found that blocking certain growth hormones may reduce risk for certain types of cancer, such as prostate cancer. Thus, consuming foods that contain hormone residue may increase a person's likelihood of developing prostate cancer. Though additional research is needed to determine the specific impact growth hormones have on prostate cancer risk, people concerned about this possibility may wish to avoid or limit intake of foods affected by hormones. Experts at Cornell University suggest increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables and grains; consuming meat and dairy products in moderation; cooking meats well, without burning or charring them, and choosing the leanest cuts of meat to reduce your intake of growth hormones and improve overall health.

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