There are a mind-boggling number of chemicals in circulation, over 85,000. Most people are not exposed to anywhere near that many compounds. Our water, food, and the air we breathe have only about 3,000 chemicals . We only need to worry about 3,000 chemcials if we don’t have additional occupational exposure. Yikes! That’s still a really big number. The nastiest of the nastiest chemical groups are classified as POPs: Persistent Organic Pollutants. POPs can take years to decades to break down, store in fatty tissue, bioaccumulate up the food chain and are toxic to both humans and animals. So what the relationship of POPs: Persistent Organic Pollutants, Cheese, Milk, Meat.
POPs and the Stockholm Convention
In 2003, the growing awareness of the health threat of POPs brought together scientists from all over the world. The Stockholm Convention was created out of that first meeting. This international group of scientists dedicate themselves to “protecting the health of humans and the environment from POPs”. They continue to meet every two years to identify new chemicals to add to the list of POPs and to develop worldwide strategies to eliminate or reduce their use. For more about the Stockholm Convention and the chemicals they banned, go to http://chm.pops.int/Home.
PCBs (polychlorinated bisphenols) and PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) are two of those persistent health-damaging chemicals commonly found in dairy products, even organic ones! Decades ago the US banned PCBs. The US started phasing out production of flame-retardant PBDEs between 2006-2014
POPs in Dairy
Why are these banned chemicals in milk? Because they take a really long time to break down. They end up in air and water and eventually wind up in the food chain. Essentially, grass is grass; there is no such thing as organic grass. Grass-fed animals are all exposed to whatever is in the air and water. This phenomenon of fatty chemicals concentrating in animals is called bioaccumulation. I had a really hard time accepting that grass-fed cows, sheep and goats could be so toxic. So I dug up a few studies to try to get to the bottom of this story and help you decide if you really want cream (or butter) in your coffee.
Cows, Goats, Sheep
It is shocking to find that cow milk had lower levels of PCBs and PBDEs than goats or sheep. I have helped hundreds of families get off cow milk because they and/or their children are allergic, simply to discover that cows are better detoxifiers of these chemicals than sheep and goats (1). It was also disappointing to find that the three different regions of California (one is where I live) did not have significantly different overall chemical levels. Bummer, we just can’t get away from these persistent chemicals. Its like there is a thin layer over the entire world!
Another finding was that dairy cows had higher levels of PCBs than cattle raised for meat. Dairy cows eat more grain and grain can be more contaminated with these chemicals. What about dairy cows that eat organic grain?
Outdoor Free Range Vs. Barn Housed
Sorry, still looking for that answer. What about meat? “Poultry in outdoor farming systems is more exposed to infectious agents and chemical contaminants than those in barn housed. Higher dioxins levels in eggs from some organic systems than from conventional ones substantiate this. Both general and local environmental pollution with dioxins are probably responsible for it.”(2) Darn! You might point out that this study is all the way back to 1992. Maybe things have changed and there is less dioxin now. Unfortunately, dioxin is a byproduct in the production of an array of chemicals still being produced. Dioxin is on the Stockholm Convention POPs list so it can’t be banned without banning many industrial processes, including incineration.
The Best and the Worst Meats
I looked at another 2017 study about POPs and meat from cows, sheep and chickens. That study found no significant difference between the quantity of chemicals in organically grown and conventional meats. However, the organically grown meat in this European study was from big super markets. I wish we had a third study group from animals from small family farms. Would chemical levels be lower? Since these animals are mainly living on grass, I am not sure small farms would make a difference. By far the most chemical laden meat was lamb, followed by beef and then skinless chicken. Higher levels of chemicals were bio-accumulated in animals with more fat concluded the authors. That does make sense, but also makes me sad. It challenges me to make the best recommendation possible to accommodate the keto and the cleanse in keto-cleanse.
Vegan Diets Win
In the end, I have to conclude that the moral of the story is stick to vegetables. If you want to decrease your exposure to POPs; Persistent Organic Pollutants, stop eating Cheese, Milk, Meat.. You will of course still be exposed from eating vegetables (cows are vegan after all). But, you will avoid bioaccumulation.
- Polychlorinated biphenyl and polybrominated diphenyl ether profiles in serum from cattle, sheep, and goats across Ca Sethi S, Chen X, Kass PH, Puschner B.Chemosphere. 2017 Aug;181:63-73.
- Organic chemicalsentering agricultural soils in sewage sludges: screening for their potential to transfer to crop plants and livestock. Wild SR et al. Sci Total Environ. (1992)
- Consumptionof organic meat does not diminish the carcinogenic potential associated with the intake of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Hernández ÁR et al. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. (2017)
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