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Hormones in Food: Should You Worry?

There is an assortment of foods that can be found with hormones in them, most of them naturally occurring. Humans continue to eat animal-based foods, and “animal science experts have developed practices to efficiently grow animals and optimize food cultivation” [2]. Hormones can also be found in dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter. Yes, these hormones can make it easier for industries to produce larger quantities of food for growing markets, but how do hormones affect our bodies?

Hormones are described as “a class of signaling molecules produced by glands in multicellular organisms that are transported by the circulatory system to organs to regulate physiology and behavior” [2]. Both humans and animals have hormones that contribute to our growth, reproduction, and overall development. Although it has been said that many products containing hormones have a low dose that can’t affect us, it’s shown that this statement is not necessarily true. With dairy products, it is found that “compounds even at very low doses may have significant biological effects” [1].

In dairy, you can find the following hormones [1]:

1. Prolactin (PRL) - found in the milk of “cows, sheep, goats, saws, rats, and humans” [1], this hormone aids breast development and the production of milk in the female species.

2. Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) - found in cow’s milk, this hormone aids our ability to metabolize glucose, and to grow.

3. Steroids - found in cow’s milk, steroids can come in many different names. Some can increase the amount of milk that cows produce, and some cows will be injected with these hormones.

A study done in the 1960s observed that as meat production grew along with dairy products, there was “a decrease of semen quality” [3], as well as “an increased incidence of cryptorchidism, hypospadias, and some hormone-related cancers (testicular, prostate, breast, endometrial cancer)” [3].

It’s always important to know what’s in your food, and it can be beneficial to look out for certain hormones when buying meat or dairy products. Alternatives to dairy or meat can lower the risks of developing any health problems from hidden hormones.


  1. Malekinejad, H., & Rezabakhsh, A. (2015). Hormones in Dairy Foods and Their Impact on Public Health - A Narrative Review Article. Iranian Journal of Public Health, 44(6), 742–758.

  2. Palacios, O. M., Cortes, H. N., Jenks, B. H., & Maki, K. C. (2020). Naturally occurring hormones in foods and potential health effects. Toxicology Research and Application.

  3. Snoj, T. (2019). Hormones in Food as a Potential Risk for Human Reproductive and Health Disorders. Acta Veterinaria, 69(2), 137–152.



Author: Kayjah Taylor

Editor: Sara Giarnieri

Health scientist: Aseelah Saiyed

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