You Are What You Eat: Researching the impact of animal treatment on the ultimate health of the consumer

You are what you eat
, so it is said. In that light I would like to propose a series of studies that might be of interest. For the majority of Americans who eat meat, said meat is usually the product of American agra-business conglomerates who generally treat the food animals with the same disregard that they show the consumer. The animals are often piled into cramped and minimally sanitary conditions and slaughtered with little regard to the suffering of the animals. Now I'm not going to argue the merits, morality or limitations of eating meat. What I am going to propose is that if meat is going to be consumed, that we should study the potential human health affects of inhuman treatment of food animals. If not for purely humane reasons might there not be practical reasons for treating the animals well. Ok Pliny, what they heck are you driving at? Simply this; is it possible that animals that are poorly treated produce meat that contains higher than normal concentrations of stress hormones? If that is true, is the consumption of those hormones a potential health risk?

The background:

Ok, we know that animals produce stress hormones when stressed (duh). Cortisol is one such hormone. Excessive cortisol is harmful to humans. It leads to central obesity, hypertension, poor wound healing and a myriad of other problems with prolonged exposure. We have seen a change in the pattern of obesity in the US. This could be from a number of factors. Could one such factor be exogenous cortisol present in food? (answer: unknown).

One might argue that such hormones would be digested. But keep in mind that oral administration is a common route for steroid therapies. Plus in many cases it is the break down products derived from metabolism of a substance that may be harmful.

The study:

I suspect that this might be studied in stages. Stage one: compare assays of tissue hormone levels from two animal cohorts. One might be a selection of range feed animals vs the typical agra-business processing. If tissue levels were similar, then the experiment might be over. But if not, then additional studies might be indicated. The first might be too study the bioavailability of the hormones when subjected to digestive enzymes say. Later studies might examine matched populations who consume range feed animals vs more factory processed meats.

I'm not saying that this would show any health risks but it seems like it might be time to consider the impact of the food animal's health and treatment to the ultimate health of the consumer.


Harvey said...

Stress hormones like cortisol are largely inactivated by most cooking processes. Unless one ingests massive quantities of raw or very minimally cooked meat, it is unlikely that significant impact would be expected. America's love of corn fed rather than range fed beef, however, would certainly add to the fat content. Although I am a carnivore by preference and like it very rare, it seems unlikely that such intake, providing it is part of an otherwise reasonably balanced diet that includes other sources of animal protein such as fish has had much impact in the 70 years I have been eating like this.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Thanks for the input Harvey - I should have emphasized the importance of breakdown products resulting from the process of cooking rather than the intact hormones themselves. Not all of those would necessarily be destroyed through cooking. Of course many of our dietary problems are multifactoral but it might help to break out some of the potential contributors and look at them individually.

I completely agree that king corn is a big issue in its own right. And the impact of vast quantities of fructose consumed by the gallon probably needs more study as well.

I also think that younger people have more at stake here than those of us who grew up before the era of agra-business. I know that everyone I knew growing up ate locally raised range fed food animals. Kids today though are exposed to years of processed foods that may or may not be all that healthy in the long run.

You are spot on with the call for 'moderation in all things' but that seems to be in short supply with regards to American appetites ;)

GearHedEd said...

This is sort of a link between this post and the last one, but there are questions regarding the consumption of female hormones (given to dairy cows) in milk that have allegedly caused the average breast size in women (American only? I don't know...) to increase by a full cup size (from B+ to C+, if I remember right.