It’s a well-known fact that humans are omnivores. Right? We have flat teeth for chomping vegetation, and sharp incisors for slicing meat. But our incisors may be little more than an accessory. According to Dr. Milton Mills, MD, PhD, a critical care physician and member of the Plant-based Prevention of Disease, Inc., “We’re [humans] not true omnivores.” Dr. Mills is quoted saying as much in, What the Health, a 2017 documentary exploring the effects of food on health. Dr. Mills’ quote may be controversial to many meat lovers, but it’s one question posed more often by researchers not funded by Big Agra or Big Pharma. As it currently stands, while humans can certainly digest meat, the question may be whether or not we should. Meat and meat products have been cited by the World Health Organization as, “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Diving deeper reveals that nearly all meat, whether processed or labeled all natural, likely contains carcinogenic properties including hormones, pesticides, bacteria runoff, and others. Here is a list of additives, sweeteners, and colorings to avoid.
Where Does it Come From?
There are numerous unhealthy carcinogens, chemicals, and byproducts that come in contact with animals whose meat we consume, and even some fruits and vegetables. These chemicals have been linked to causing cancer, diabetes, and many other medical diagnoses. But what are the sources of these substances? The answer can range from sodium nitrate/nitrite and other preservatives (such as BHA & BHT) typically found in processed meats, to pesticides, to feces-infested runoff. While pesticides and bacteria infested runoff are ingested by farm animals via the water and vegetation they consume, preservatives are added when meats are salted, smoked, cured, or fermented. Even meats that claim to be all-natural may contain cultured celery extract, which likely also contains nitrites and other preservatives.
How Does it Get in My Food?
An animal’s plant-based diet accounts for much of the carcinogens present in the meat we eat. Pesticides sprayed on fields to keep insects away are consumed by animals such as cows, pigs, and chickens. Research on the effects of pesticide in foods is slim. However, a 2006 study found pesticide remains on 30% of produce studied. This still does not address the concern of the long-term affects of pesticide exposure, another subject that is seldom researched.
Administered drugs are another way steroids, hormones, and other substances enter the animals and meat we consume. Bovine growth hormones, for instance, are used to increase the growth and milk production rate of cows. This in turn increases the cows’ risk of infection, which introduces antibiotics. When a cow gets an infection, or chickens are spreading bacteria and getting sick from living in unhealthy close quarters, they are given antibiotics to decrease the likelihood of disease spread. It is also legal to give antibiotics to animals to encourage growth. Unnecessary doses of antibiotics increase the risk of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria developing among the animals and meat we eat.
Even if the chickens aren’t injected with hormones, or the cows don’t ingest pesticide, farm animals, even fruits and vegetables can still come in contact with contaminated water sprayed onto the fields. Research shows that “domestic animal intrusion may present a greater overall risk to agricultural products,” because the feces of domestic animals contains more bacteria. Poorly disposed feces returns to the water supply through irrigation or rain. This water is consumed by animals but also sprayed onto fields for hydration, affecting animal and vegetation. The CDC even acknowledges this issue.
What Does it do to My Body?
The same question is now being researched more than ever. What is becoming clearer is that food carcinogens (hormones, steroids, pesticides, additives and preservatives, antibiotics, and feces and bacteria runoff) ingested by humans through various types of meats contribute to heart disease, diabetes, and cancers. Processed meats clog arteries, which leads to heart disease. Processed meats can also clog blood vessels in the brain, which can be attributed to memory loss. Diseases known as prion diseases are caused by ingesting infectious particles of protein that can be found in meats such as beef. Remember the Mad Cow outbreak? Also known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, symptoms of Mad Cow may sometimes mimic dementia or Alzheimer’s.
About a million people are diagnosed with cancer annually. Split that number in half, and you have the number of people who die of cancer yearly. For a long time, it was largely thought that cancer was just up to genetics. Researchers are beginning to understand the role of hormones in our health, specially a hormone known as the insulin-like growth factor 1 hormone, or IGF-1. Produced almost exclusively in the liver, IGF-1 is nearly identical to insulin in molecular structure and affects growth rate. An excess of IGF-1 can, “promote tumour development.” Processed meats have been linked to increased IGF-1 production.
In addition to these major diagnoses, other food-borne illnesses can be contracted from meat. Irregular hormone levels in women and men have also been linked to meats. It can also generally give you an unhealthy gut. Meat putrefies quickly, which means it should be consumed no more than a couple of weeks after the animal has been killed. At present, meat killed at a slaughterhouse, packaged, shipped, stocked on shelves, bought in store, stored in the home, cooked and consumed, doesn’t meet the appropriate time frame of eating healthy meat. Which means we’re feeding our bodies old, spoiled meat. This increases the risk of unhealthy gut bacteria and food borne illnesses.
People of color are disproportionately diagnosed with various cancers, heart disease, and diabetes. Communities of color are also disproportionately affected by irrigation issues and tainted water supply from farms. Environmental racism is a rising field of studies dedicated to learning and changing the negative effects the environment has on the health of people of color, often at the hands of corporations and organizations.
Is it Permanent?
With all of this information presented at whirlwind speed, addressing the physical health of our bodies can seem daunting. Is the damage permanent? While there is no definitive answer, many symptoms that accompany eating meat are often alleviated with a diet higher in plant-based foods. Dr. Ruby Lathon, PhD and Certified Holistic Nutritionist, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer years ago. Lathon found herself faced with either removing her thyroid and taking medication the rest of her life or changing her diet and watching it change her health. According to Lathon, after committing solely to a plant-based diet, she was not only able to cancel the surgery, but her cancer is in remission.
In a study of 198 patients diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, most “experienced a low rate of subsequent cardiac events,” after sustaining a plant-based diet for nearly four years. The study concluded that more in depth time should be dedicated to researching the effects of plant-based diets on health and possible “reversal” of the damage of unhealthy eating. Although research into what are healthy foods and what aren’t can yield confusing results, science and medicine are coming to the consensus that meat produced in our current agricultural environment is likely unhealthy and contributes to a variety of diagnoses that can be fatal. Plant-based diets may reverse the effects of these unhealthy foods, or at the very least provide a healthy alternative to carcinogen containing meats.