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Meat Hormones & Female Infertility

What is behind the purported link between poultry consumption and anovulatory infertility?

November 26, 2009 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited

Acknowledgements

Image thanks to Jamiesrabbits.

Transcript

In fact, everyone, and pregnant women in particular, may want to stay away from all meat. In the first recorded volume of my Latest in Nutrition series back in 2007, we learned that meat is so packed with sex steroid hormones that when pregnant women eat meat it may affect the development of their sons genital organs while still in the womb, such that when they grow up they have decreased fertility. When moms eat meat during pregnancy it “may alter a man’s testicular development in utero and adversely affect his reproductive capacity.”
But in this study they just looked at beef, and we know that all meat has these hormones, and they only looked at the fertility of the next generation. So in effect this study showed eating meat may lead to fewer grandchildren, but what your own fertility? Is there any direct effect of meat consumption on fertility in women? Fact, or fiction?
Fact, and not just any study, but the famous Harvard Nurses study, which followed 18,000 women trying to get pregnant for 8 years and measured what they ate. They found that meat intake was in fact associated with infertility. Adding just a single serving of meat per day was associated with a 30% greater risk of anovulatory infertility, meaning the meat consumption appeared to interfere with ovulation, and this increased risk was due mostly to the intake of poultry.
To break it down: eat a single serving of any meat and you increase your infertility risk 30%, and red meat increases risk 40%, but just a single serving of chicken, half a chicken breast a day, and women increase their infertility risk more than 50%—more than bacon and hot dogs!
Now while animal protein was associated with increased risk of infertility, consuming protein from vegetable sources appeared to have the opposite effect, improving fertility. The researchers aren’t sure why, but they think it might have something to do with the fact that animal protein intake increases the levels of a growth hormone called IGF-1, which has been linked not only to infertility but to cancer. Whereas eating veggie protein doesn’t seem to have that adverse effect.
In summary: they concluded that by replacing animal sources of protein, particularly chicken, with vegetable sources of protein—like beans—may reduce the risk of infertility because of anovulation, or failure to ovulate.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out theother videos on hormones. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

For more context, check out my associated blog posts: Stool Size and Breast Cancer RiskHow Do Plant-Based Diets Fight Cancer?, and Treating Breast Pain with Diet

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on hormones. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

    • Christie

      Dr. Greger, I’ve been trying to find nutrition information that relates to the hormone prolactin, but I haven’t been able to find anything on the site. Is there anything natural you’re aware of that can reduce prolactin levels?

      Thank you!

      • http://www.DonForresterMD.com/ Don Forrester MD

        I am not aware of studies relating prolactin and diet. The causes for elevated prolactin can be due to normal conditions such as pregnancy and stress, medications, tumor or abnormality in the pituitary gland, among others. It is best managed by a physician who is knowledgeable in this area. Of course eating a low fat whole food plant based diet with Vitamin B12 supplement will help prevent, reverse, cure, and/or stabilize alot of chronic conditions which are best avoided.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/drew/ Drew

    Fantastic site…love the video format as well.

    Is there any way you can provide a pdf link to the articles you are referencing? I would love to read the full article.

    I will be sure to tweet about this video to my followers…great job!

    Drew

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Whenever available I always try to provide PDF links to the full-text of the papers in the Sources Cited section beneath each video. More and more journal publishers are joining the “open access” movement to provide unrestricted online access (check out this graph to see the trend). Since many studies are taxpayer-funded it only makes sense that we should have access to the results, right? Unfortunately, there are some holdouts, journals that continue to charge readers exorbitant rates to view papers they publish. In this case, you’re left with a few options: 1) You can check WorldCat to see if there are any local institutions that have the journal in question (such as university libraries). 2) You can also request a copy (so-called “reprint”) from the author (usually they list a contact email address in the PubMed abstracts to I link). 3) Worse comes to worst, you can pay on the journal website or order it for a fee through the federal Loansome Doc program. I’m privileged to live biking distance from the National Library of Medicine and so have easy access to just about everything, but unfortunately it’s not legal for me to directly share copyright protected materials. Otherwise I would post all the papers on the site!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/ChrissyMosley/ Chrissy Mosley

    Similarly, what do you think of the research suggesting full-fat dairy boosts fertility? And what would you suggest as good nutrient dense foods for getting body fat high enough to allow for reproduction?

  • Susan

    Can you comment on the likelihood of a woman over 40 who eats a plant-based diet to produce a child with birth defects? It seems like the current statistics are based on studies where the population of women is typical of American society, which means most eat meat, dairy and/or eggs. 

    • Toxins

      IT depends what is eaten on this diet specifically. If one is truly whole foods plant based with unrefined whole foods, than an issue could possibly be from over consumption of pesticides. But even pesticides found in meat are greater than those of plants due to bio accumulation.
      http://nutritionfacts.org/video/can-pesticides-be-rinsed-off/

      • Susan

        I saw that video. Very informative. Let’s assume the person is eating organic fruits and vegetables and whole grains and legumes. What is the likelihood of a woman over 40 (say 40 – 45) who eats such a diet to produce a child with birth defects? (compared to the average woman).

  • Amber

    I’d love to see a post addressing PCOS sometime. Thank you!

    • http://www.DonForresterMD.com/ Don Forrester MD

      The current science supports a low fat whole food plant based diet as helpful in PCOS (e.g. Stamets et al, Fert & Ster, 81:3, 3/04). As you are probably aware PCOS is associated with increased male hormones, insulin resistance, obesity, decreased menstrual cycles and infertility. Losing weight consistently helps. Insulin resistance is increased with increased fats in the diet. This is why type 2 diabetics respond to a low fat diet(decreases insulin resistance and improves mitochondrial function in cells… it is a sugar processing problem caused by fats in diet). Since animal products are high in fat they need to be eliminated from the diet. Low fat also increases the sex binding hormone in the blood resulting in less free male hormone. High fiber intake further removes sex hormones from the body courtesy of increased gut transit time and decrease in the enterohepatic circulation. Of course you can go on a plant based diet and still not lose weight if you eat high calorie dense foods. A plant based diet is also higher in inositol which is present in grains, nuts and fruits and has been shown in one study to improve insulin function( Gerli et al, ERMPS 2003;7:151-9). So my recommendations for patients with PCOS is go on a low fat whole food plant based diet with Vit B12 supplements. If they have trouble I make sure they understand the concept of calorie density (best source Jeff Novick’s DVD Calorie Density: Eat More, Weigh Less and live longer and some of the potential traps leading to “Fat Vegans”. See John McDougall’s article in his Dec 2008 monthly newsletter free on his website. I did a brief pub med search for more recent articles and found many addressing PCOS but none to change or modify my recommendations. I hope this helps until Dr. Greger weighs in so keep tuned in to Nutrition Facts as the science keeps coming and our understanding keeps improving. Be well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrea.kladar Andrea Kladar

    Great info! Thank you.