One question that has popped up a few times in my email ‘in box’ relates to the issue of hormones in whey protein supplements. Are there hormones in your whey? It's not a simple “yes” or “no” answer I am sorry to say, but the short answer is, people have nothing to fear.
Being an animal based product derived from milk, whey, like any animal based product, could potentially contain some naturally occurring hormone(s). The issue is, which hormone and in what amounts? Modern testing abilities being as sensitive as they are today, being able to search for things in parts per million (ppm), parts per billion (ppb) or even parts per trillion (ppt) in some cases, some hormone of some kind can be found in virtually anything we humans ingest, especially if it is derived from an animal source (though plants also often contain some naturally occurring hormones or hormone-like compounds).
So what's the scoop on whey? The major concern seems to revolve around:
Steroid based sex hormones (e.g., testosterone, etc.) Growth hormones and or growth factors (e.g., IGF-1, bovine growth hormone or bovine somatotropin, etc) Non-hormonal compounds such as anti biotic contamination. I will attempt to address those in particular to clear up any fears or confusion over the matter.
Are there any steroids in your whey?
Steroid hormones being highly lipophilic (soluble in fat) will be found in the lipid (fat) portion of whey, or any milk based product for that matter. Any high grade whey isolate (WPI) is essentially fat free (read my article “The Whey it is” to understand the differences in the types and quality of whey proteins in back issues of Muscular Development or at my web site at: http://www.brinkzone.com/wheyitis.html).
For example, CFM? isolate contains less than one tenth of one gram of actual dairy fat per 20 gram (20,000 milligrams) serving, which is approximately one standard scoop found in most products. The additional fat listed on the can of most whey isolate products generally comes from the addition of small amounts of lecithin, which is not an animal based lipid, and or the flavoring system being employed. An ion exchange whey - though not an optimal whey protein in my opinion as explained in “The Whey it is - will contain even less fat.
So, the reality is sex hormone levels in the lipid portion of milk fat and or fat in whey is so low as to be either non -testable or virtually non testable. Add to that fact that whey isolates are virtually fat free, and it's easy to see this is a non-issue.
Are there any growth hormones in your whey?
As for growth hormone(s) such as bovine somatotropin (BST) and IGF-1, etc., that's a bit more complicated. Growth factor hormones (e.g., BST, IGF-1, etc.) are protein based hormones (versus steroid based hormones discussed in the previous section) and thus, can be found in the protein fraction of animal based products, such as muscle, milk, etc. However, we will keep the discussion of these hormones specific to whey as that's what this article is about right? Milk, and thus whey protein, does contain minute amount of BST.
BST is simply the bovine (cow) form of growth hormone cows produce naturally. In humans, it's called Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which is produced in the pituitary gland and is also a popular anti aging drug many people are using to fight the effects of aging.
However, and this is the essential point, BST is not found in higher levels then would be found if the animals were not treated with BST. That is, whether they treat the animals with BST or not, they find the BST levels in milk to be found in minute amounts and in the normal “background” levels. What are the levels of BST found in milk? It ranges from approximately zero – ten parts per billion (PPB) and typical level found in milk is 3ppb. That translates into approximately 1 mcg (one millionth of a gram) per liter. That ladies and gents is what we call a truly miniscule amount.
To add to the above, protein based hormones such as BST-naturally occurring or otherwise - are quite delicate and digestion of these proteins means they are destroyed when ingested. To sum up, I consider the risk from BST to be again, a non-issue. Don't forget, the issue has been looked at extensively by the scientific community.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) looking at this issue stated "The composition and nutritional values of milk from bST-supplemented cows is essentially the same as milk from untreated cows... (M)eat and milk from rbST-treated cows are as safe as that from untreated cows." (NIH Technology Assessment Conference Statement on Bovine somatotropin. JAMA. 1991:265:1423-1425).
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) said on the issue "The FDA has answered all questions and concerns about the safety of milk from bST-supplemented cows..." (JAMA. 1990:264:1003-1005).
The journal Science stated "The data evaluated by the FDA documented the safety of food products from animals treated with rbGH." (Bovine Growth Hormone: Human Food Safety Evaluation. Science. 1990:249:875-884.). Yes folks, no matter what hysterical issues some people have tried to raise with BST, the data and the facts simply does not support the hysteria. It's a non-issue to human health. However, and it should be noted, that may not be the case for the cows themselves, just as large amounts of HGH can be problematic for humans, and that issue is currently being evaluated.
They may stop giving cows BST due to the health issues it presents to cows, but not due to any health issues to humans. So read my lips here gang, it won't matter if the milk is taken from “organic” non BST treated cows or not, the BST levels appear to remain the same and are (a) found in miniscule amounts and (b) in all probability are destroyed during digestion. Yes, there can differences in the amounts of some compounds (pesticide for example) between some organic foods (e.g., fruits and vegetables) and non-organic foods, but BST simply is not one of them.