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Do You Need Animal Products for Hormone Health?

There seems to be a war on social media these days over whether or not animals products (by which I mean meat, dairy, and eggs) are an essential part of a healthy diet.

Despite the WHO and other bodies coming out in recent years confirming that red and processed meat are carcinogenic (i.e. likely to cause cancer), many social media influencers, or proponents of diets such as Paleo and Keto, continue to argue that animal protein is better than plant protein, that the studies (that the WHO and others have used) are biased or untrue, or that we need meat for certain vitamins and minerals (that we can't get through plants, or the plant source is not as effective).

What I don't often hear talked about, however, are the issues I discuss below. These are some of the main reasons that I don't recommend animal products to my clients, or anyone dealing with a hormone imbalance.

Let's dive in...

1. All animal products are inflammatory.

Animal products contain arachidonic acid (AA) which is converted into inflammatory compounds such as PGE2 - the inflammatory type of prostaglandin that is associated with pain (e.g. painful period cramps, but also arthritis, joint pain... all kinds of pain in the body).

Extract from my webinar (introduction to women's hormones): slide showing how AA is converted to PGE2

Since many hormone conditions (such as PCOS and endometriosis) are associated with inflammation we want to try to reduce inflammation as much as possible. If you've been following my content you know that the main sources of inflammation are dietary, stress, and environmental. Within the dietary category animal products are one of the main types of inflammatory foods, so we want to limit them as much as possible (or eliminate them entirely).

2. They may be a source of oestrogen

Many hormone conditions (such as PCOS, endometriosis, and fibroids) are oestrogen-dependent, meaning there is usually an excess of oestrogen causing symptoms such as heavy periods with clots, bloating, headaches, breast tenderness, nausea, and increased body fat.

One of the ways we might be exposing ourselves to excess oestrogen is through diet and consuming other animals. Not only are we ingesting those animals' own inherent hormones (which may be higher than normal during pregnancy - and many cows are now routinely milked whilst pregnant) but we are also ingesting any hormones (and antibiotics) the animal was given (such as growth hormones to make it get fatter quicker).

3. They are not always a reliable source of vitamins and other nutrients

People often argue that meat is an essential source of certain vitamins and minerals. But the quality of meat - and whether or not it actually contains those vitamins and minerals - depends largely on what the animal was fed.

Many animals these days (particularly in factory farms or intensive feedlots) are not fed their natural diet (e.g. grass and foraged foods), but are instead fed on grains that are high in omega 6 and potentially sprayed with pesticides. This means the meat is not only high in omega 6 (which we just saw in the diagram above can increase inflammation) and potentially pesticides and chemicals, but it may not be a reliable source of, for example, vitamin D (if the animal never saw sunlight in its life) or B12 (if it was never allowed to graze off soil - since B12 comes from bacteria in soil). This potentially means people who rely on meat for these nutrients may have a false sense of security and not get themselves tested or take a supplement until a deficiency is well underway.

Worse, many animals are routinely fed other animals (forced cannibalism), and we know that toxins accumulate the higher up we go on the food chain (in other words, animals who eat other animals). So the final meat we eat may have a high toxic load, and toxins are associated with hormone imbalance, as well as poor brain health and many other long-term health conditions. 

4. Animal products are acid-forming

You may (or may not) have heard people talk about alkaline diets before. This is not referring to whether a food tastes acidic, but rather whether the food is acid-forming when digested (for example, citrus fruit tastes acidic but is actually alkaline).

All animal protein is acid-forming in the body; this is because meat and eggs contain "a lot of sulphur-containing amino acids that are metabolized into sulphuric acid". While the pH of the blood won't change, the body maintains this by neutralising the acid using calcium. It was thought that this calcium came from the bones, and so animal products actually increase the risk of osteoporosis, but new thinking suggests it may actually come from the muscles, so high animal protein intake may be associated with muscle wastage.

In any case, having a more alkaline diet is still recommended, especially for kidney health and uric acid clearance.

All animal products are acid-forming so this may be another reason to limit them in the diet. While most fruit and vegetables are alkaline, some plant foods are more acidic (such as grains and most nuts) but are still really healthy - the aim is just for the overall diet to be more on the alkaline side.

Those are my top 4 reasons I recommend avoiding or limiting animal products, especially if you suffer from a hormone imbalance.

If you'd like more info on what to eat, and what not to eat, for good hormones, check out my webinar on how to address hormone imbalance naturally using diet and lifestyle.

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