Is Animal Protein Toxic For Hormones?
Hormone imbalances that cause PMS, hot flashes and fertility issues are something I see often in my patients.
Women are taught that our periods are supposed to be painful and weight gain is to be expected with age.
Since everyone around us tends to have similar complaints, we brush it off as “normal.” The truth is that although hormone imbalances are common, they are not normal.
As a Functional Medicine doctor, I know that we can do better when it comes to women’s health and balancing hormones so that you are able to live your best life.
I have lots of tools in my medical bag to help, including specialized lab tests, supplements and different lifestyle approaches. Often I find toxins play a role and detoxification strategies are needed.
Diet is a large contributor to hormonal symptoms and implementing diet strategies is always at the top of my treatment plan list. However, there is so much confusion around the best diet for balancing hormones.
Meat is certainly a hot topic and one that is often in the news. You’ll see reports on studies that link meat consumption to health issues, not to mention all of the environmental issues that our industrial food system is responsible for.
Especially now that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of our large-scale food producers, we are left with more questions about the best diet and the best way to produce that food.
You may be wondering about consuming meat or if a vegetarian diet is a better option for you? Is animal protein really a toxic choice for your health and hormones? Or is there more to the story?
I want to dive into this conversation today and bring you my thoughts on the topic. You’ll learn more about:
- Meat and your health
- The problems with conventional meat
- How regenerative agriculture offers a solution
- Why eating quality animal protein is actually good for your hormones
Meat And Your Health
For years we’ve heard that red meat is “bad” and various epidemiological associations have been made between red meat and colon cancer, heart disease and even overall mortality.
However, more recent studies are beginning to expose the flaws with this type of research.
A 2015 article states that the science looking at meat and colorectal cancer is “best described in terms of weak associations, heterogeneity, and inability to disentangle effects from other dietary and lifestyle factors, lack of a clear dose-response effect, and weakening evidence over time.”
A 2017 meta-analysis in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating over a half-serving of red meat per day did not influence blood lipids or blood pressure or raise the risk for cardiovascular disease.
There is also evidence to support that meat raises estrogen levels.
One study compared estrogen levels in pre-menopausal women. The study looked at 235 non-vegetarians and compared them to 37 vegetarians or semi-vegetarians and found those who ate less meat also had lower levels of estrogen in their body, especially during the luteal phase (or second half of the cycle) where estrogen dominant symptoms tend to rear their head.
As there continues to be evidence on both sides of the debate around whether to eat meat, or not, I believe we need to take a wider view. Most of the epidemiologic research on meat consumption doesn’t take into account other factors in the diet.
Individuals eating a Standard American Diet (SAD) who are eating higher levels of meat are also likely eating more refined carbohydrates and sugar, along with less fiber-rich plant foods.
There is very little research looking at meat consumption in the context of a whole food, Paleo-style diet that I recommend. And there is even less research looking at the quality of the meat consumed and how that affects health.
When it comes to quality, we have to talk about toxins. In my view, the conversation about hormones is more related to the toxic aspects of meat instead of the nutritional.
Factory farmed meat exposes us to hormones and antibiotics every time we eat it. Because of the large-scale industrial agriculture system where monoculture crops (largely corn and soy) are grown to feed animals in large feedlots, the negative consequences are far reaching to the environment and to our health.
Conventional meats are high in endocrine disrupting chemicals like persistent organic pollutants (POPs), phthalates, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) and others because the environmental exposures accumulate in the animals.
In addition, feedlot cows and other animals are injected with growth hormones and sex hormones – including testosterone and estrogen – to promote faster growth.
Because many industrial animals aren’t fed their natural diet and live in confinement, they are more prone to digestive issues and infections, so antibiotics are given for prevention.
Animal proteins are also a source of glyphosate (the chemical in the herbicide Roundup) as animals eat highly sprayed crops and this toxin accumulates in their bodies. Glyphosate has been shown to inhibit detoxification (especially Phase 1), chelate to minerals in the body causing deficiencies and contribute to intestinal permeability or leaky gut.
Glyphosate is also an endocrine disruptor, which is exactly how it sounds: it disrupts our hormones.
When we eat low quality animal protein, we are exposed to more of these toxins that disrupt hormone signaling and negatively impacts the microbiome. The microbiome is very important for estrogen detoxification.
These small exposures, day in and day out, contribute to the overall toxin load on the body, which overload detoxification pathways and influences epigenetics.
In my practice, environmental toxin overload is often the root-cause of excess estrogen and symptoms of hormone imbalance.
Beyond the human health effects, conventional meat has a huge impact on the environment contributing to soil erosion, fossil fuel use, climate change and pollution.
Consumers are becoming more aware about the impact that meat has on the planet, yet the demand for meat increases globally because of rising incomes and populations.
In the United States, vegetarians are less than 5 percent of the population, yet more health conscious consumers feel pulled towards a plant-based diet.
In my view, meat is incredibly nutrient-dense and we can still eat, and get the benefits from, an abundance of plant foods in the diet while following a Paleo approach.
I’ve found that cutting out meat isn’t the best long-term approach for hormone balance. Instead of eliminating meat all together, I advocate for higher quality meat in the context of a plant-rich, phytonutrient dense diet!
You’re likely familiar with organic meat, which means that the animals are fed organic feed, and grass fed meat, which means that grazing animals are fed their natural diet on pasture for part or all of their life, but have you heard of regenerative agriculture?
Regenerative agriculture goes beyond organic or grass fed and truly gets back to honoring the systems of nature. Right here in Austin, we are lucky to be close to Force of Nature Meats, which describe regenerative agriculture as “advancing eco agriculture.”
In this system, grazing is managed properly which means animals are rotated and land isn’t overgrazed. The environmental results are astounding: soil health improves, animal welfare improves, biodiversity increases and the cows (or other grazing animals) actually help put carbon from the atmosphere back in the soil.
Whereas feedlot cows contribute greatly to climate change through the fossil fuel inputs, water use and gasses the cows produce, regenerative agriculture actually works to combat climate change by supporting the biomass of grasslands.
Grazed lands will experience less flooding and drought as the grazing itself helps soil retain water and slows erosion.
In addition, regenerative agriculture encourages food production on a local scale. Ecologically based farming systems are used to feed people and conserve resources.
One study showed that regenerative corn production nets nearly twice the profits as conventional corn, and it’s possible the same is true for meat, especially when we take into account the true cost of eating meat that is so destructive to the environment.
Why Regenerative Meat Is Good For Your Hormones And Health
It’s quite clear that regenerative meat is better for the environment and this translates to our health as well. By choosing regenerative meat, you:
- Increase the nutrient density of your diet. When compared to plant protein, animal protein is more absorbable in the body and complete, providing all of the essential amino acids you need to be eating frequently.
- Decrease inflammation. The fats found in animals raised on pasture instead of feedlots are more anti-inflammatory. One study that compared organic to conventional meat, found 47% higher levels of omega-3 fats in the organic meat.
- Avoid GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and glyphosate, both of which negatively impact hormones.
- Avoid antibiotic and hormone exposure that affects the microbiome, increases estrogens and potentially makes it more challenging to lose weight.
- Support fertility and a healthy cycle. Meat, and especially regenerative red meat, is an incredible source of protein, iron, vitamin B12 and other critical nutrients for fertility and pregnancy.
You might be surprised to hear a doctor talk about the benefits of red meat, especially after decades of negative press around meat and health. However, I’m not an advocate of most of the meat that you find at your average supermarket.
When it comes to health, quality is key and for meat and red meat, that means sourcing the best of the best.
To me, that means paying a couple extra bucks per pound to know that I’m supporting my health and health of our planet with my daily choices. So go ahead and grab some of the best meat around and whip up a hormone balancing meal.