The Standard American Diet’s Terrible Toll on Hormones

Cancer, low testosterone, and diabetes are some of the hormonal casualties tied to our dinner plates.

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The human body is a complex system of chemicals that drive our desires, control our emotions, and dictate our physical well-being. When hormones are skewed, emotions plummet, focusing is difficult, and detrimental health conditions develop. Just like every other aspect of physiology, hormones can benefit from smart eating choices such as a plant-based diet, and avoiding the dietary pitfalls of the Standard American Diet.

Red White and Blue Waistline Woes
The Standard American Diet, laden with fat-filled meat and dairy products, is failing the American people. Not only is the US obesity epidemic linked to skyrocketing rates of cardiovascular conditions, but it lays a heavy burden on the hormonal system. Recent research, including a 2012 study conducted on nearly 900 males, has tied excessive weight to low levels of the sex hormone testosterone. This often results in impotence, hot flashes, depression, and irritability. With increased weight also comes an increased resistance to crucial diet-related hormones such as insulin and leptin, which help control blood sugar and ward off type 2 diabetes as well as curb hunger and control eating habits.

The US weight problem and its concurrent hormonal predicament is increasingly apparent in the statistics: as of 2011, approximately 25.8 million people, or 8.3 percent of the population, have diabetes, and according to a 2006 study published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice, nearly 13.8 million men over 45 years old suffer from low testosterone. This ever-increasing number has helped turn hormone replacement therapy into lucrative industry, one that is predicted to make almost $5 billion by 2017, according to Global Industry Analysts Inc.

While quick fixes including insulin and testosterone shots are common practices, some suggest people should go to the root of the problem—their dinner plates. Studies including the one published by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010, which analyzed 103,455 men and 270,348 women, found that meat consumption was indelibly linked to weight gain. Conversely, health studies continue to reveal a plant-based diet’s potential to benefit America’s waistline: one review conducted by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine looked at data from 87 studies and found that male and female vegetarians have 3 to 20 percent less body fat than their omnivore counterparts. “There is evidence that a vegan diet causes an increased calorie burn after meals, meaning plant-based foods are being used more efficiently as fuel for the body, as opposed to being stored as fat,” says study co-author and physician Neal Barnard of PCRM. Mounting evidence continually shows that indulging in a diet devoid of dairy and meat could help keep weight at bay and decreases the risk of myriad hormonal hazards.

Unnatural Disaster Borne in the USA
Some experts have found that animal products skew human endocrine levels and subsequently lead to various health conditions, notably cancer. T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study, published in 2006, revealed strong correlations between animal-product consumption and higher estrogen levels, which results in an increased risk of breast cancer among females. Ganmaa Davaasambuu, an assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, found similar links between animal products and cancer during a 2002 study in which she analyzed the dairy consumption and cancer rates of 42 countries. According to Davaasambuu, in modern dairy practices, cows are continuously impregnated. This causes higher estrogen levels in their milk, and subsequently higher rates of prostate and testicular cancer in dairy consumers.

Other US food policy critics such as cancer expert Samuel S. Epstein of the University of Illinois at Chicago and the chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, blame the sex hormones testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone as well as their synthetic imitators that agribusiness adds to beef cattle. Epstein and the CPC have tried to petition the government to disallow these practices, reporting breast, prostate, and reproductive cancer rates that have been on the rise since 1975. The CPC reports estrogen and progesterone residue levels in a hormone-implanted steer were 20 times higher than normal, and found that consuming two hamburgers in one day could boost an eight-year-old boy’s hormone levels by nearly 10 percent, which he links to childhood cancer rates that have risen approximately 38 percent since 1975. Epstein notes that while the US Department of Agriculture can put a limit on the levels of hormones administered to animals, they are not regulated.

Epstein is not alone in his concerns—the European Union has deemed any amount of hormones infused in food is unsafe, and in 1988, banned the import of American hormone-fed beef. The EU, along with other US trading partners such as Japan, has also outlawed the use of the hormone bovine somatotropin that is utilized regularly by America’s dairy industry to bolster milk yield. BST has been tied to increased levels of the hormone IGF-1 in humans, which Jaydee Hanson of the Center for Food Safety reports is linked to the development of lung, breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer.

While the Food and Drug Administration and USDA continue to contend dairy and meat’s harmlessness, each national ban and health study sheds new light on their potentially dangerous effects on our hormones and health. The safest bet to keeping our endocrine system in optimal condition, may be to pass on meat and dairy altogether.


Photo credit: sires.house.gov 

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