(NaturalNews) Most Americans drink conventional, non-organic milk from cows that have been treated with artificial growth hormone, but this more and more has been changing. WalMart is the latest in a string of large retailers to recognize consumer demand for milk from cows not treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). On March 21st, the retail giant announced that its own store brand milk, Great Value, will now come from dairies that have pledged not to use rBGH. In addition, Sam's Club will begin offering milk choices from cows not treated with the hormone.
This move follows suit from other well known retailers. For example, Safeway Inc. changed its store brand milk to non-rBGH milk. Kroger grocery store chains went one step further and decided last month to sell milk only from untreated cows. Since the beginning of 2008, Starbucks has been exclusively using non-rBGH milk.
Despite these positive changes by major retailers, conventional, non-organic milk in this country still comes from cows treated with rBGH, also called recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST). This is a genetically engineered hormone designed to increase a cow's milk production, maximize resources, and earn larger profits for dairies.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of rBGH in 1993. Despite FDA approval of rBGH, this hormone has been the subject of substantial independent scientific studies that conclude it does pose a serious risk to human health. Other studies contradict these findings; however they tend to be produced by the industries that benefit from the use of rBGH.
rBGH – Health Dangers
Independent scientists have studied the effects of rBGH on health. According to Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., author of the book, "What's in Your Milk" and of several internationally recognized scientific journal articles on rBGH, use of this hormone is a serious potential risk factor for cancer.
Milk from cows treated with rBGH contains significantly higher levels of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). Experiments have shown that at higher than normal biological levels, IGF-1 is linked to cancer in humans, particularly cancers of the breast and prostrate, but also others.
IGF-1 is similar in structure to insulin. It stimulates cell division and plays an important role in childhood growth. It also inhibits orderly programmed cell death. IGF-1 is naturally present in milk and in the human body; however, IGF-1 in milk from rBGH treated cows may have up to 20 times the normal levels of IGF-1. Furthermore, there is evidence that the IGF-1 found in milk as a result of rBGH use is a more truncated form which may be up to 40 times more potent than naturally occurring IGF-1, and it can wreak havoc on our cellular signaling systems. IGF-1 simply doesn't belong in our bodies at such high, potent levels.
IGF-1 can either be in free form in plasma or bound in an inactive form to carrier proteins. The heat of pasteurization can free IGF-1 from these carrier proteins, hence raising levels of IGF-1 even higher.
Infants and children may be even more susceptible to the harmful effects of high levels of IGF-1 because intake of higher levels of IGF-1 in milk results in a higher concentration given their smaller blood plasma volume. Some scientists have even suggested that future cancers could be "seeded" in youngsters exposed to high levels of IGF-1 in hormone treated milk.
The Case Against IGF-1
Over the past two decades, there has been much evidence from independent lab experiments that IGF-1 can initiate or promote cancer in the cell. In 1992, the New England Journal of Medicine acknowledged that the class of hormones to which IGF-1 belongs is one of the factors responsible for normal breast tissue developing into cancerous tissue.
There is evidence that certain cancer cells can attract and bind IGF-1. As such, high levels of IGF-1 have been shown to stimulate the growth of these cancer cells.
Furthermore, many population studies corroborate that higher than normal blood levels of IGF-1 are related to an increased risk of breast, prostrate, and colon cancers.
Failure of the FDA
The commercial use of rBGH was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1993. Since then, accumulating scientific evidence has been enough for other governments to prohibit the use of rBGH, including Canada, the European Union, Japan, and others. Unfortunately, the FDA has not followed suit. To date, the use of rBGH is still permitted in the United States.
Don't Be Fooled
Recombinant bovine growth hormone is designed to increase the yield of milk from each cow and thus increase efficiency and profitability of dairy producers' operations. Some industries that profit from the use of this hormone are found to make misleading statements about the safety of rBGH.
"IGF-1 is naturally occurring anyway."
Yes, IGF-1 is naturally occurring, but naturally occurring IGF-1 is found in significantly lower quantities than are found in milk from rBGH treated cows. In addition, the IGF-1 in milk from rBGH treated cows is found to be a more bioactive form.
"IGF-1 in milk cannot be absorbed by the human gut."
Not true. In both humans and rats, studies have shown that many proteins, including IGF-1, are absorbed intact into the blood stream. Furthermore, an infant's gut is more permeable to these proteins.
"IGF-1 from cows doesn't have the same effect as human IGF-1".
Nope. IGF-1 is a protein hormone that is made up of a particular sequence of amino acid building blocks. The amino acid sequences of these proteins are identical. As such, IGF-1 from treated milk can fully interact with and affect human cells.
Prevent Cruelty to Animals
The same governments that have banned the use of rBGH for its negative human health risks have also banned it for the negative health effects it has on the cows. For one, the use of rBGH causes cows to suffer from over stretched udders which easily become infected. Their common infections lead to use of higher levels of antibiotics.
Not all conventional, non-organic milk is from cows that have been treated with rBGH. A number of large and small conventional dairies do not use rBGH or milk from cows treated with rBGH. Therefore, it is important to know the dairy. If in doubt, contact your preferred milk or dairy brand by phone or email to ask about their stance on rBGH. Organic milk and dairy products are not allowed to come from cows that have been treated with rBGH.
Some dairies label their products free of milk from rBGH/rBST treated cows, but are forced to add the statement that there is no known difference between milk from treated and untreated cows. We know this not to be true from many independent studies published in peer reviewed scientific journals. The evidence has been mounting, and it's getting more difficult for the government to deny it. Businesses that benefit from the use of growth hormone have lobbied the FDA for labeling protection, which resulted in the current labeling requirement.
Unlike other industrialized countries, our FDA has not protected us from the health risks of rBGH. We are left with no choice but to protect ourselves.
Fortunately, consumers are increasingly choosing to protect their health. WalMart's latest announcement is indicative of this trend. In the face of mounting evidence of the dangerous health risks of rBGH, WalMart's announcement to change their store brand milk, Great Value, to rBGH-free is an important stand against the use of this hormone.
Share this information with others you know who may be buying conventional dairy. One out of every 2.5 Americans ends up with cancer. Removing rBGH milk from our diet removes one more risk factor.
For more information about the results of independent scientific studies assessing the health risks of rBGH, visit the Cancer Prevention Coalition Web site at (www.preventcancer.com) .
About the author
Leigh Kirk is an investigative nutritionist currently pursuing her Master of Science in Human Nutrition at the University of Bridgeport. Special interests include disorders of metabolism, research on fats, antioxidants, trace minerals, and the ecology of nutrition. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org