Estrogenic Growth Promoters in Meat

In 1979, an epidemic of breast enlargement was noted in Italian children. Poultry or veal was suspected, given that estrogens “may be fed to farm animals to accelerate their weight gain.” “After this episode, the European Union banned the application/use of anabolic growth promoters in agriculture,” as well as the importation of American meat from animals injected with drugs like Zeranol, sold as “Ralgro Magnum.”

Zeranol, one of the most potent known endocrine disrupters, is 100,000 times more estrogenic than the plastics chemical, BPA, for example, and is the subject of my video Zeranol Use in Meat and Breast Cancer. “Zeranol constitutes a special case among potential endocrine disrupters, because Zeranol, in contrast to all other oestrogenic ‘endocrine disrupting’ chemicals, is present in human food because it is deliberately used in the production of consumer products. Furthermore, Zeranol is designed to be a potent, fairly persistent, [estrogen] whereas the [estrogenic] properties of the chemicals that are considered potential endocrine disrupters is accidental.”

If you drip blood from a cow implanted with the drug onto human breast cancer cells in a petri dish, you can double the cancer growth rate. We don’t drink blood, though, but preliminary data showed that muscle extracts—that is, meat extracts—also stimulated breast cancer cell proliferation.

Furthermore, Zeranol may cause the transformation of normal breast cells into cancer cells in the first place. Zeranol-containing blood from implanted cattle “was capable of transforming the human normal breast epithelial cell line” into breast cancer cells within 21 days.

“[O]bese individuals may be at greater risk of developing zeranol-induced breast cancer,” since they already have high levels of leptin, which is a hormone produced by fat cells that can itself promote breast cancer growth. And, Zeranol exposure can greatly enhance this growth-promoting action. “This result also suggests that Z[eranol] may be more harmful to obese breast cancer patients than to normal weight breast cancer patients in terms of breast cancer development.”

“In conclusion, because the synthetic and the natural hormones, used as anabolic growth promoters in meat production, are by far the most potent hormones found in human food,” we should really be testing people, especially children, before and after eating this meat. It amazes me this hasn’t been done, and, until it has, we have no idea what kind of threat they may pose, though the fact that Zeranol is as potent as estradiol (the primary sex steroid in women) and DES should concern us. DES is another synthetic estrogen that was marketed to pregnant women until 1971 when it was shown to cause vaginal cancers in the daughters. But few know it was also used in meat.

“In the absence of effective federal regulation, the meat industry uses hundreds of animal feed additives…with little or no concern about the carcinogenic and other toxic effects of dietary residues of these additives. Illustratively, after decades of misleading assurances of the safety of diethylstilbestrol (DES) and its use as a growth-promoting animal-feed additive, the United States finally banned its use in 1979 some 40 years after it was first shown to be carcinogenic. The meat industry then promptly switched to other [potentially] carcinogenic additives,” such as Zeranol.

When girls started dying from vaginal cancer, DES-treated meat was banned in Europe. However, “misleading assurances…including the deliberate suppression of residue data, managed to delay a U.S. ban on DES” in the meat supply for eight years.

Today, “[v]irtually the entire U.S. population consumes, without any warning, labeling, or information, unknown and unpredictable amounts of hormonal residues in meat products over a lifetime.” If all hormonal and other carcinogenic feed additives aren’t banned immediately, the least we should have is “explicit labeling requirements of use and of [hormone] residue levels in all meat products, including milk and eggs.”


Isn’t the DES story amazing? I had no idea it was used in meat production. Check out Illegal Drugs in Chicken Feathers for more on Big Pharma on Big Farms.

The most dangerous additive used in the meat industry is antibiotics, though. See, for example:

For more on what may be bad for the breast, check out:

And, for what may be protective, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Cancer-Causing Caramel Color

Caramel coloring may be the most widely consumed food coloring in the world.  Unfortunately, its manufacture can sometimes lead to the formation of a carcinogen called methylimidazole, which was identified as a cancer-causing chemical in 2007. For the purposes of its Proposition 65 labeling law, California set a daily limit at 29 micrograms a day. So, how much cancer might caramel-colored soft drinks be causing? We didn’t know…until now… My video Which has more Caramel Coloring Carcinogens: Coke or Pepsi? explores these questions and more.

Researchers tested 110 soft drink samples off store shelves in California and around the New York metropolitan area, including Connecticut and New Jersey. None of the carcinogen was found in Sprite, which is what you’d expect since Sprite isn’t caramel-colored brown. Among sodas that are, the highest levels were found in a Goya brand soda, while the lowest levels were in Coke products, which were about 20 times less than Pepsi products. Interestingly, California Pepsi was significantly less carcinogenic than New York Pepsi. “This supports the notion that [labeling laws like] Proposition 65…can incentivize manufacturers to reduce foodborne chemical risks…” To protect consumers around the rest of the country, federal regulations could be a valuable approach to reducing excess cancer risk—but how much cancer are we talking about?

Johns Hopkins researchers calculated the cancer burden, an estimate of the number of lifetime excess cancer cases associated with the consumption of the various beverages. So, at the average U.S. soda intake, with the average levels of carcinogens found, Pepsi may be causing thousands of cancer cases, especially non-California Pepsi products, which appear to be causing 20 times more cancer than Coke. Of course, there’s no need for any of them to have any these carcinogens at all “as caramel colorings serve only a cosmetic purpose [and] could be omitted from foods and beverages…” But we don’t have to wait for government regulation or corporate social responsibility; we can exercise personal responsibility and just stop drinking soda altogether.

Cutting out soda may reduce our risk of becoming obese and getting diabetes, getting fatty liver disease, suffering hip fractures, developing rheumatoid arthritis, developing chronic kidney disease, and maybe developing gout, as well.

In children, daily soda consumption may increase the odds of asthma five-fold and increase the risk of premature puberty in girls, raising the likelihood they start getting their periods before age 11 by as much as 47 percent.

If we look at the back of people’s eyes, we can measure the caliber of the arteries in their retina, and the narrower they are, the higher the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Researchers performed these kinds of measurements on thousands of 12-year-olds and asked them about their soda drinking habits. Their findings? Children who consume soft drinks daily have significantly narrower arteries. “The message to patients can no longer remain the simplistic mantra ‘eat less, exercise more.’” It matters what you eat. “[S]pecific dietary advice should be to significantly reduce the consumption of processed food and added sugar and to eat more whole foods.”


Prop 65 is lambasted by vested interests, but, as I mentioned, it may push manufacturers to make their products less carcinogenic. Other Prop 65 videos include:

For more background on caramel coloring, see my video Is Caramel Color Carcinogenic?.

There are other soda additives that are potentially toxic, too. See my three-part series on phosphates:

Other coloring agents are less than healthy. For more on this, see Artificial Food Colors and ADHD and Seeing Red No. 3: Coloring to Dye For.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Splenda Side-Effects

On April Fool’s Day, 1998, the Food and Drug Administration approved the artificial sweetener sucralose, aka 1,6-dichloro-1,6-dideoxy-beta-D-fructofuranosyl-4- chloro-4-deoxy-alpha-D-galactopyranoside. But, despite its scary name, the worst it seemed to do was just be a rare migraine trigger in susceptible individuals, to which the manufacturer of sucralose replied that you have to weigh whatever risk there may be against its broader health benefits, “helping to mitigate the health risks associated with the national epidemic of obesity.”

As I discuss in my video Effect of Sucralose (Splenda) on the Microbiome, the hope was to offer a harmless sugar substitute to provide a sweet taste without the calories or spikes in blood sugar. However, that’s not how it appears to have turned out: Population studies have tied consumption of artificial sweeteners, mainly in diet sodas, with increased risk of developing obesity, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. But, an association is not causation. You’ve got to put it to the test.

Indeed, if you give obese individuals the amount of sucralose found in a can of diet soda, for example, they get a significantly higher blood sugar spike in response to a sugar challenge, requiring significantly more insulin—20 percent higher insulin levels in the blood—suggesting sucralose causes insulin resistance. This may help explain the links between artificial sweetener consumption and the development of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. So, sucralose is not some inert substance. It affects the blood sugar response. But how?

The Splenda company emphasizes that sucralose is hardly even absorbed into the body and, as such, stays in the digestive tract to be quickly eliminated from the body. But the fact that it’s not absorbed in the small intestine means it makes it down to the large intestine and may affect our gut flora. Studies have been done on artificial sweeteners and the gut bacteria of rats going back years, but there hadn’t been any human studies until fairly recently. Researchers tested saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame, the artificial sweeteners in Sweet & Low, Splenda, and NutraSweet, respectively, and found that non-caloric artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the microbes in our gut. The human studies were limited, but, after a few days on saccharin, for example, some people got exaggerated blood sugar responses tied to changes over just one week to the type of bacteria they had in their gut.

Acesulfame K, another common artificial sweetener, also was found subsequently to be associated with changes in gut bacteria. So, all this time, artificial sweeteners were meant to stave off chronic diseases but may actually be contributing to the problem due to microbial alterations. Some in the scientific community were surprised that “even minor concentrations of a sweetener [in this case, aspartame] are sufficient to cause substantial changes in gut inhabitants…” Others were less surprised. Each molecule of aspartame is, after all, metabolized into formaldehyde. That may explain why some people who are allergic to formaldehyde have such bad reactions to the stuff. “Therefore, it is not unexpected that very small amounts of the sweetener can modify bacterial communities…” However, the reports about the safety of aspartame are mixed. “All of the studies funded by the industry vouch for its safety, whereas 92% of independently funded studies report that aspartame can cause adverse health effects.”

That should tell you something.

“Undoubtedly, consumers of these food additives, which are otherwise perceived as safe, are unaware that these substances may influence their gut bacteria. This may be of particular importance to patients with diseases correlated with modifications of the gut [bacteria], such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel diseases” (IBDs) like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. People may not realize artificial sweeteners may be affecting their gut.

Might the effect be large enough to be actually see changes in the incidence of inflammatory bowel disease? Let’s look at Canada, the first country to approve the use of sucralose. Their rates of IBD did seem to double after the approval of sucralose. What about in the United States? After decades of relatively stable rates of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, rates did appear to start going up. In China, after the approval of sucralose, IBD rates rose 12-fold. Again, these could just be total flukes, but such correlations were also found on two other continents as well. Indeed, the more graphs you see showing this rise in rates of IBD after sucralose’s approval in different countries, the harder it is to dismiss a possible connection.

The good news, though, is that after stopping artificial sweeteners, the original balance of gut bacteria may be restored within weeks. Now, of course, the negative consequences of artificial sweeteners should not be interpreted to suggest that we should all go back to sugar and high fructose corn syrup. For optimal health, it is recommended that we all try to cut down on both.


Can’t get enough of artificial sweeteners? Check out:

Erythritol May Be a Sweet Antioxidant, but there are some caveats for it and other nontoxic, low-calorie sweeteners. See:

Does it really matter if our gut flora get disrupted? You’re in for a surprise. See:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations: