let's visit

Let’s Visit: Hormones

Hi! Happy first day of the holiday season! Halloween’s over, so let’s talk Christmas!!!

I’m kidding. I’ll save that for a couple of days. Let’s talk about hormones, instead. Hormones are festive, right? Okay, not so much, but the holidays are coming up, and if you’re like many people I know, y’all are going to eat a lot of meat in the next couple of months between the turkeys, honey hams, rib roasts, and other festive fare.

Some folks like a good rack of lamb, but I am not one of those folks. Does anyone else think lamb tastes funny?

Anyways. A concern I often see cited, especially from parents, is added hormones in meat.

First off, why add hormones? Sometimes, a growth hormone implant is added to beef cattle because it helps produce leaner cuts of meat more efficiently by stimulating the animal’s pituitary gland to produce more of the animals own, naturally-occurring growth hormone called somatotropin. Adding certain hormones like estrogen and progesterone is a technology we have to increase efficiency (by 20%!) in our beef herd. Namely: more output (beef) for less input (feed). This way, we can produce more pounds beef with less natural resources.

Secondly, are they safe? Of course. Agricultural hormones have been approved and found safe by scientists all over the world, and the FDA has strict residue limits that are well below any amount that would have a known effect in humans. Hormones are never injected. They are administered in a slowly-dissolving tiny pellet (akin to melty beads, did you guys ever play with those?) that typically goes under the skin of the ear that breaks down once it’s done its job by delivering its message to the pituitary gland. And even though these amounts of added hormones are teeny-tiny, there are still stringent rules about residues and withdrawal times and the USDA tests for residues.

bulls in feedlot

That’s all great, but let’s talk numbers. Sometimes there is a misconception that when we give an animal a hormone implant, we flood that animal’s body with huge amounts of hormones to make them grow faster, and thus end up consuming vast amounts of extra hormones ourselves that can disrupt normal bodily functions or cause early development in girls*. Nope. That is 100% not how it works.

A common hormone implant called estradiol releases estrogen. But the amount of that estrogen is much smaller than you’d think!

  • Non-implanted beef contains .16 parts per billion, while implanted beef contains .22 parts per billion. So, not a big increase.
  • A 3 oz serving of eggs contains 78 times more estrogen than a 3 oz serving of implant-treated beef.
  • That same amount of tofu would deliver over 16,000,000 times more estrogen than that serving of beef.
  • A non-pregnant woman would have to eat 50,000 pounds of implant-treated beef in one day to equal the amount her body produces daily. A pregnant woman (whose body contains a lot more hormones would have to eat over 300 pounds of implant-treated beef which is a lot more than the “eating for two” calorie allotment, my friends.

Joan Ruskamp, a cattle feeder and mama (among many other things) came up with this amazing visual to show the relative amounts of hormones:

mms hormonesCabbage, peas, and potatoes all contain more hormones than the same size serving of implant-treated beef. Our bodies naturally contain many times more than that!

This is also a good time to chime in that all meat, like many other things we eat, is going to have hormones. So, if you see something advertised as “hormone-free”, yeah, that’s not a thing.

If a producer or feeder chooses to use hormone implants, he or she will work very closely with their veterinarian to find the right implant, dosage, and program that works for their animals.

If you want to read more, click here or here for posts by the Feedyard Foodie, here for a video from Joan, or here for a post by a very smart gal with a Master’s in Ruminant Nutrition.

*there is a point to be made here that while the culprit is not milk or meat, it could very likely be that our diets are now much higher in starches and sugars. Simple carbohydrates stimulate insulin production which sets off a chain reaction that ends up with the body producing more estrogen. Check out this blog post to learn a little more!

Happy Wednesday! The boys had a blast trick-or-treating last night, Bert and I had a blast meeting some new people in the area (um hi, making adult friends is hard, especially when you’re both basically hermits), and when we got home I uploaded my Christmas playlist to my phone so all is right in the world.

As always, I’m so happy to answer questions!!

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