Cow’s Milk rBGH Growth Hormone Raises IGF-1
Cow’s Milk rBGH Growth Hormone Raises IGF-1. Recombinant bovine growth hormone, also known as rBGH, is a hormone often used in the production of non-organic milk. You’ll also find the hormone called rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin) in non-organic milk. About one third of all dairy cows in the U.S. are injected with rBGH.
Some (but by no means all) of the controversies surrounding milk consumption would be eliminated if milk were consumed in certified organic form and if milk production and processing were kept strictly natural. A long list of unnatural substances, including rBGH, is not allowed in the production of organic milk in the United States. Alternatively, all 25 countries in the European Union, as well as Canada, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand prohibit the use of rBGH in dairy production in general. In Germany, many veterinarians have refused to inject rBGH into cows as a violation of their code of ethics.
The reason that rBGH is used in dairy cows is simple: rBGH increases the duration of lactation (milk production) in cows. It also increases the total volume of milk they produce by about 10%. The mechanism by which rBGH increases milk production has become more and more clear through research efforts over the past ten years. rBGH works by increasing the presence of a second hormone, called Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1), in the body of the cow.
This mechanism is one of the key reasons for opposition to the use of rBGH in dairy cows since elevated blood levels of IGF-1 are dramatically related to risk of cancer. In premenopausal women younger than 51 years of age, high levels of IGF-1 have been associated with a seven-fold increase in the risk of breast cancer. In similarly aged men, high IGF-1 levels have been associated with a four-fold increase in the risk of prostate cancer. And in May 2006, a study linked high IGF-1 levels to increased numbers of twin births. Research has also found that women who drank one daily glass of milk obtained from rBGH-injected cows had 10% higher levels of IGF-1 than women who did not consume the milk.
The role of IGF-1 in breast cancer risk is also corroborated by research on a breast cancer treatment and prevention drug called tamoxifen. Tamoxifen’s ability to lower risk of breast cancer is partly related to its ability to lower IGF-1 levels.
The research evidence regarding rBGH, IGF-1, and cancer risk seems compelling enough to recommend avoidance of dairy products produced with the use of rBGH.
Several companies producing non-organic dairy products have begun to label their dairy products as rBGH-free. But there is also a trend for some companies producing rBGH-derived milk to shy away from the entire rBGH controversy.
Organic dairy products reduce our exposure to a host of other potentially toxic substances and they feature a more optimal nutritional profile as well. Yet they still contain casein, the protein associated with increased risk for developing type 1 diabetes. Some may still contain antibiotics as well. We believe, along with our doctors, that it would be in our best interest to avoid dairy products completely in order to minimize potential disease triggers and drivers.
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