Hormones in Food

Rutuja Jathar Mar 27, 2019
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Artificially injected hormones in animals can be very profitable for the farmers, as they help them to gain weight and increase the amount of milk that they produce. Injecting hormones in cattle and poultry is quite common. This can be harmful for human, animals and the environment.
Hormones are very essential for the proper functioning of the various body organs of the humans, as well as other animals. Imbalance of a single hormone can create a lot of problems. Hormones are certain kind of chemicals that are naturally present in the human body.
They are actually produced in a very small amount in the various organs, but their role is very significant in various body functions, including reproduction as well as development, and growth of various body parts.
Hormones are basically of two types - steroids and proteins. Protein ones are normally in a cramped stage in the stomach. These lose their function when we eat anything, while the steroid ones get active only when we eat anything.
Due to this contradiction, protein hormones must get induced in the body in order for them to perform properly. There are several illnesses that are caused by the lack of several important hormones. For instance, patients suffering from diabetes need to be given insulin, which is a protein hormone.

Natural Hormones

There are several natural hormones in food products that are very useful. Some notable plants contain certain substances called phytoestrogens (dietary hormones), that can cause several dysfunctions, it also has remedial properties. It is said that the phytoestrogens can protect against breast cancer.
There are several researches though, who point out their downfalls. When female rats were fed with isoflavonoid coumestrol, they showed various physical dysfunctions such as irregular menstruation in female rats, and male rats showed abnormal mating behavior.
The rat offspring also obtained the induced hormones. This research was carried forward by Patricia L. Whitten who is a biological anthropologist from Atalanta. While another research showed extra uterine growth and increase in weight. Infertility syndrome called clover disease was observed in the cattle who were fed on these hormones for research purposes.

Artificial Hormones

It has been observed that there are several growth hormones that help animals gain weight in no time. Inducing such hormones in the animals artificially, can reduce the amount of food they eat, as well as the time required for gaining weight naturally.
All this results into quick production of the animals for the meat industry. The same technique is applied in the dairy production as it also increases the milk production of cows and other dairy animals.
Artificially induced hormones in animals can increase the dairy as well as meat production. During the 1930s, various hormones like bovine growth hormone (bGH) estrogen were artificially induced in the pituitary glands of the cows that resulted in the large production of milk.
Then in 1950, a synthetic form of estrogen called diethylstilbestrol (DES) was induced to fatten the chicken and cattle. DES was ruled out as it had cancer-causing properties. Today, more than 80% of the cattle are raised by using such artificial hormones that help to increase their growth rate as well as the body mass.
The US department of agriculture has given permission to use six hormones that can be used for cattle but not in the poultry. These are:
  • Zeranol
  • Estradiol
  • Testosterone
  • Progesterone
  • Melengestrol acetate
  • Trenbolone acetate
Among these six hormones, testosterone, estradiol, and progesterone are natural; and melengestrol acetate, trenbolone acetate and zeronol are synthetic. Zeranol and estradiol can cause some serious health problems. They can lead to severe health problems including ovarian cyst and cancer.

Cause of Concern

Hormones are generally introduced into animals by an ear implant (they are put under the ear skin). According to the European Union's Scientific Committee on SCVPH (Veterinary Measures Relating to Public Health), when natural hormones are fed to the cattle, the level of their hormones increases from 7 to 20 times more.
It also questioned about the possible side effects on the human body after consuming the hormones in meat as well as dairy products. After thorough research, the SCVPH came to the conclusion that "no acceptable daily intake could be established for any of these hormones".
And those who eat food products having these hormonal residues are at a great risk of severe hormonal imbalance as well as various types of cancer.
Growth hormones induced in cattle are totally banned by the EU from the last 20 years. On the other hand, around one third of the total cattle in the US are supposedly being fed on rbGH. It is injected in the cows to increase the milk production.
They have their side effects like mastitis (udder infection causing pus that can later get into the milk that we consume). Hence, they are given certain special antibiotics that cause more trouble.
The hormonal residues as well as the residues of the antibiotics get into the human body, and create havoc by creating antibiotic resistant bacteria. These hormones have their negative effects on the environment as well, because the undigested ones are secreted in the manure that later dissolves in the soil.
Being more aware of the hormones present in food is the most important thing. The farmers who are using artificial hormones for pure commercial benefits, should give a thought if it is worth playing with the lives of millions of people for a small amount of money.
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