Updated on
Written by HCHW Writers

Hormones are responsible for much more than just acne in teenagers and mood swings in pregnant women. They are the messengers for much of your body’s functioning, including growth and development, immune response, regulation of metabolism, and reproduction among other things.

The body creates its own hormones to take care of these vital duties, but many synthetic chemicals also mimic hormones. Some are intentionally developed to do so, like birth control pills or recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) and others accidentally disrupt hormones, like bisphenol-A and phthalates.

And, whether natural or synthetic, hormones are powerful. It only takes a miniscule amount to cause big changes. That’s why understanding hormones is extremely important.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy  has a Smart Guide that addresses the issue of hormones in the food system. And, there are a lot more than you were probably aware of, including:

– Hormone growth promoters given to food animals
– Hormone-active pesticides sprayed on food crops
– Hormone plastic additives cans and other food packaging
– Hormone disruptors that build up in the food chain (like brominated flame retardants)

Plenty of uncertainties still remain about the impacts associated with these substances, but preliminary studies paint a disturbing picture.

According to the Guide: “[E]ver-strengthening science links exposure to many individual hormone disruptors—pesticides, Teflon chemicals, plasticizers and food contaminants—with these common or rising chronic conditions, including:

 – Breast and prostate cancer
 – Thyroid disease
 – Obesity and diabetes
 – Endometriosis, uterine fibroids and infertility
 – Immune-related disease, such as asthma or allergies

Increasingly, exposure in the womb to these same chemicals is implicated in serious problems found in newborns such as birth defects and low birth weight, as well as reduced odds of having a boy child.  A recent study links a mother’s high beef consumption while pregnant (steroid growth promoter use is widespread in beef production) with lower sperm counts in her son.

While waiting for conclusive research, IATP advises consumers to take precautions and reduce exposure by following these steps:

1. Eat low-fat meats and dairy products. Shop for dairy products labeled “rBGH-free,” which means they were produced without the use of recombinant bovine growth hormone.

2. Eat “certified” organic when possible.

3. Avoid pesticide hormones. Peel your fruits and vegetables, especially if they have been waxed, or wash them with a vegetable wash or diluted vinegar to remove surface pesticide residues.

4. Use BPA-free cans and bottles.

5. Demand that your elected officials support stronger efforts to keep synthetic hormones out of our food supply.

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