Is my Food Safe? Hormones in Food

Welcome to post #4 in the “Is my food safe?” series! If you missed any of the others, you can find links and the webinar recording on this page.

In this post I will be going over what hormones are and why they’re in our food! There is debate (and I’m sure you have heard someone say this before!) that this is linked to cancer risk.

But, the BOTTOM LINE is that this is false! There is no research that backs this statement up and far more evidence that cancer is impacted by other factors- internal and external.

Lets start this by going a little more into depth about hormones and what they do!


Hormones are just chemical messengers found in all animals that are used to signal different parts of the body. Hormones are naturally found in humans and are essential for regulation of the body. They are also found in animals used in food production as hormones control growth in animal bodies.

Plants also have “hormone like” substances that regulate growth and development of the plant. However, they are not the same as animal hormones, they are just chemically similar.

Types of Hormones

Steroid Hormones

  • Can be absorbed by the body during digestion
  • Example: Estrogen

Protein Hormones

  • Are broken down in the digestive system
  • Example: Insulin

Foods with Hormones

  • Milk and Dairy Products
  • Meat Products
  • Plant foods

Why are Hormones used in Food Production?

Hormones are used in food to increase production and profit in the food industry. In dairy cows hormones can increase milk production or increase growth in animals used for meat. Six hormones are approved by the FDA to use in food production.

In addition, animals are just like humans- they produce hormones! A good example of this is the hormone BST found in cows. It is produced naturally and is always found in our milk.

Whether animals are given synthetic hormones or not, their bodies metabolize the same way as a naturally occurring hormone.

Hormones and Safety

The FDA regulates the amount of hormones in food in order to keep levels safe for consumption. This means that when you consume animal products in the United States you, don’t have to worry about your foods having unhealthy levels of hormones.

Like I mentioned earlier- only six different hormones are approved for use in animals. You can trust that these hormones have been studied in depth and determined to be safe for us to consume.

What does this mean for Humans?

Currently there is not research to indicate that hormones levels found in food can cause or progress cancer.

In this helpful article, the conclusions were that “the hormone content of typical serving sizes of commonly consumed foods is undetectable or in quantities that fall well within safety guidelines without any evidence for adverse effects on health.”

The Debate on Soy and Cancer

You may have heard someone say that soy products cause cancer. This has led people to cut out soy products all together, but where did this stem from?

Soy is a good source of isoflavones. These are phytochemicals and are classified as phytoestrogens (plant estrogen like compound). This just means the the isoflavones will bind to estrogen receptors in our bodies. However, phytoestrogens bind to estrogen receptors at a much lower rate than human estrogen.

The reality of this is that isoflavones don’t have any effect on naturally occurring hormone levels or breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute states that a woman’s risk for breast cancer is impacted by HER own naturally occurring estrogen and progesterone levels.

What are some things that may have an effect on hormone levels?

  • Early menstruation
  • Late menopause
  • Older age at first pregnancy
  • Never having given birth (giving birth is actually a protective factor against breast cancer!)

Benefits of Foods with Hormones

Foods that contain and get a bad reputation for having hormones are also foods that are important for a well balanced diet. Milk for example is a great source of calcium, vitamin A and protein, as well as numerous micronutrients. Animal protein also provides complete proteins and minerals like iron that are best absorbed from red meats.

On top of that, plant estrogens are known to be good for our health. So rather than avoiding them, we want you to eat more of these as well!

The Bottom Line

Some of the foods that we eat are going to contain a small amount of hormones. These levels of hormones show to have no negative effects on a person’s health. The consequence of cutting out any food with hormones could be more detrimental to our health then consuming a few additional hormones occasionally because we would miss out on all the vitamin and minerals in those foods that contain hormones .

-Julie & The Interns

P.S. I said this last time, but its important to remember- our food is the safest it has been! I want to emphasize that I trust the process of foods sold in the US with all of the quality control measures set forth by the USDA and the DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services), which includes the FDA and the CDC.

For More Reading Check Out These Articles!

Is my Food Safe? Antibiotics in Food
Is my Food Safe?: Preservatives and Cancer

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