Did you know plants have hormones? We hear about hormones all the time with reference to people – they’re those things that make teenagers and pregnant women crazy. They’re responsible for inducing and regulating a lot of physiological processes, and not just in humans. All multi-cellular organisms on this planet produce hormones. It’s part of how things grow – you and trees both get bigger, in very distinct ways of course, because of hormones.
Hormones are essentially chemicals that are produced in the body and bind with receptors in cells. It takes only tiny amounts of these chemicals to be effective, as each has a unique chemical structure designed to produce specific results. In short, living things regulate their systems with internally-produced chemicals. The natural process can be interrupted by exposure to other chemicals that trick the cell’s receptors into thinking that it received the hormone, or that somehow block the reception of the natural hormone.
For example, people with type-1 diabetes don’t produce enough of the hormone insulin. They can take insulin shots to help make up for this lack, so all the receptors that require insulin will receive it. Another example is the phytoestrogen (plant estrogen) in soy milk. It mimics the human estrogen hormone and interacts with the receptors for estrogen. For some people, that’s a good thing.
Danger, danger, danger
Where we start getting into trouble is with the chemical soup that’s in our food supply, our air and water, and, by extension, in us. But it doesn’t end there, because we’re spraying these chemical insecticides and herbicides all over the place. Since all plants and animals produce hormones, they’re potentially in danger as well. It’s not well-understood how all the various chemicals we’re continuously exposed to are affecting us physiologically, but the evidence is slowly mounting.
A study of 268 men who had presented themselves to an infertility clinic in Massachusetts showed a direct relationship between levels of testosterone and the amount of insecticide present in their urine. (The insecticides present in these men are mostly manufactured and sold by Dow, known by the trademark names Dursban, Lorsban, as well as the trademark Sevin made by Bayer.)
Widespread insecticide spraying was our answer to west nile virus in many cities across the US, and many cities use insecticides in their parks.
Monsanto’s at it again
Case in point:
Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) is a genetically-engineered hormone manufactured by Monsanto. It’s similar to a natural hormone found in cows that spurs them to produce milk. The problem is that giving milk-cows enough of this hormone to turn them into cash-cows doesn’t come without side effects.
Cows that are injected with the GE hormone rBGH have a greatly increased (79%) susceptibility to udder infections, called mastitis, leading to increases of bacteria and somatic cells (pus) in the milk (and, yes, there’s a legally allowable limit of pus in milk). Eeewww. And that’s only the part that affects milk-drinkers. The poor cows also get digestive problems and lesions on their knees and hooves. Then there are the antibiotics that are used to treat the mastitis. Yes, you end up drinking those, too. rBGH benefits Monsanto and no one but Monsanto.
You probably know that we’ve just managed to devastate bee populations with insecticides. What you might not know is that what’s actually killing them is a manufactured hormone that’s part of the chemical make-up of the insecticides. Even less-than-lethal doses severely damage a bee’s ability to navigate, communicate, forage, and work communally.
Disruption of the natural hormonal systems in human populations can cause asthma, cancerous tumors, birth defects, diabetes, obesity, developmental disorders, infertility, etc. And what about the dangers to other living things that rely on hormones? We cannot possibly know the extent to which the introduction of so many different chemical compounds will act on the hormone balances of other species, including plants. Sadly, we may be about to find out.