Dairy and Hormones

All milk whether it comes from cows, goats, or humans naturally contains small amounts of hormones including estrogen and progesterone. Since estrogen is fat soluble, the level of hormones in whole milk is higher than in skim. Organic milk contains the same amount of hormone as conventionally produced milk. Some are concerned about the hormones in milk because they reason it could cause health problems in people.  Health issues including hormones sensitive cancers such as; breast or ovarian.  Others worry that consuming milk can onset early puberty in children.

Dairy products are not necessary for a healthy diet and there are many reasons not to enjoy dairy. For example, you may feel that the exploitation of animals is worth eliminating it from your diet, you may be uncomfortable with the conditions that dairy cows are raised in, or perhaps reacting to dairy negatively (lactose intolerance, etc.).

However, if your concern with dairy is the small amount of hormone levels it contains you may want to look at the facts a little more closely. The amount of hormones in milk is tiny compared to what is already in the body.  Our bodies produce up to (on their own) about 6,000 (men) and 28,000 (women) times as much estrogen as you would get in a glass of whole milk.  The amount of estrogen we are exposed to when consuming whole milk is far too infinitesimal to affect our bodies on a physiological level.  Imagine it this way, if dairy milk had a strong enough effect on our bodies’ estrogen levels, we would expect it to be useful for treating symptoms menopause. Ironically, soy milk may be more effective than cow’s milk in treating hot flashes.

There is no clear link to the consumption of cow’s milk and early puberty. It is true that children are reaching puberty earlier and earlier, but dairy is not the sole cause of this shift.  Kids are actually consuming less milk than they used to; if the theory that dairy is causing early puberty we would be seeing the affect occur as the dairy consumption increased in children rather than its decrease.  Perhaps we should look at the link between childhood obesity and early puberty as a more reliable measure of what could be causing the rise. Again, estrogen is a fat soluble hormone and with the rise in body fat composition the natural levels of estrogen in the body increase, theoretically causing earlier puberty.

There is also no direct link between breast cancer and dairy. It is shown that the rate of breast cancer is lower in countries with little or no dairy consumption, but there are so many other differences in these cultures that it is impossible to assess that dairy consumption is the sole cause to breast cancer.  We can look, however, at the dairy consumption of a population of one country and assess the breast cancer risk between those who consumer dairy and those who do not.  This study founded that there is no rise in risk between those that intake dairy and those who do not. Several studies have actually found a modest protective benefit to the intake of dairy and breast cancer.

There seems to be a link to prostate cancer (a hormone related cancer) and dairy intake. Studies have found that men who consume more than four servings of dairy have a slightly higher risk of prostate cancer than those who don’t. It’s not entirely clear if this is die the hormones in milk or other factors.  Seeing that breast cancer and milk intake does not affect the rate of cancer probability it seems unlikely.  It could very well be coincidental.

So if you do choose to consume dairy at all, aim for no higher than three servings, especially if you’re going for full fat or whole milk. Three servings of dairy a day will meet your daily calcium needs without overdoing it and also keeps you within the recommendation for saturated fats. If you choose not to consume dairy there are plenty of ways to get your daily requirement for calcium that doesn’t harm animals or cause need for worry about hormone related disease.





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