By Dr. Shahid Athar
It is not required of a believer to always find a scientific justification for divine prohibitions. However, if they look and find it, they must share the information that will increase their faith. On the contrary, however, lack of confirmation should not cast doubt on the authenticity of the Qur’an. We believe that all Qur’anic statements are true. If science has not confirmed some of them yet, it may do so in the future. It may be that it needs to examine its data more deeply or repeat the experiment.
For the benefits of non-medical readers, before we discuss hormonal and behavioral effects of prohibited food, intoxicants and ingredients, we need to define some medical terms and inter-relationships that are involved in this discussion.
These are the powerful secretions of the endocrine (internal) glands. They control the functions of all organs and even individual cells. They are made from protein and are peptides or sterol in nature. Thyroid hormones control our metabolism, energy level, and temperature tolerance. Behind them are para-thyroid glands, which control our calcium metabolism. In the abdomen are the adrenal glands above the kidneys, which secrete cortisone, the life-saving essential hormone, and catecholamines and aldosterone, which control our blood pressure and heart rate. Steroids and catecholamines are derived from cholesterol.
Also in the abdomen are the pancreas, which secretes insulin, which lowers blood sugar, and glycogen, which raises a low blood sugar. Lower down in the pelvis are gonads, ovaries in women, and testes in men, which secrete estrogen, progesterone and testosterone respectively. All these hormones have internal control and influence each other. They control our growth, muscle mass, bone development, temperature tolerance, blood pressure, energy, fertility, sex desire, thirst and well being in general.
HOW DO HORMONES AFFECT BEHAVIOR
Clinically we see various behavioral manifestations in endocrine disorders. Hypoglycemic patients (low blood sugar) suffer from depression and poor mental concentration. Patients with low thyroid have impotency and depression. Those with high thyroid have agitation, irritability, and lack of sleep. Patients with low cortisone (Addison disease) have severe depression; while with high cortisone have hallucinations and psychosis. Patients with high testosterone have been claimed to have criminal tendencies (i.e. rapists) while those with low testosterone have problems in behavior adjustment. Patients with calcium and sodium imbalance likewise have marked mental changes.
Physiologically boys and girls differ in behavior i.e. aggressive versus passive (playing with mechanical toys and guns versus dolls) due to differences in their sex hormone even in prepubertal age. This becomes more obvious after full sex differentiation takes place. In fact by changing the sex hormone level of a given sex, one can change not only the sexual behavior but also the aggressiveness of a particular sex. Homosexual males have been noted to have less male sex hormone, and on the other hand repeated male sex offender can be cured by castration or by injection of the female hormone progesterone. In one experiment female rats whose mothers were treated with testosterone while pregnant, showed male behavior pattern of threatening peers, rough play, and increased sexual activity as compared to the control rat. This shows that the effect of testosterone not only affects the individual but the offspring as well. In humans, girls with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (excessive testosterone secretion) at the age of post puberty, show a tomboy attitude with preference for rough sports, preferring boys as playmates, and low interest in dolls and baby care! Sexual behavior is not only affected by testosterone, but also by the pineal gland, which is turned, off and on by light and darkness.
Hormones, not directly, but indirectly control blood sugar, calcium, sodium balance, affect behavior in general anger, love, anxiety, panic attacks and agitation. The hyperactivity in children could be due to low blood sugar many food preservatives and coloring agent like nitrates and dyes.
HORMONAL AND BEHAVIORAL EFFECT OF PORK AND FAT INGESTION
Pork and pig fat is not only prohibited in the Qur’an,. But also in the Bible because “swine were designed to be scavengers, to eat up filth.” In the Old Testament, Leviticus Chapter 7-8, it is mentioned about swine, “Though he divides the hoof and be cloven-footed, yet he chews not the cud, he is unclean to you. Of their flesh shall you not eat.” There is no mention in the Bible that Jesus ever ate pork in his life. It was Paul who declared all food and drink permissible saying, “To the pure, everything is pure.”
The Habits of Swine
To get a first hand idea, I interviewed farmers of Fisher, Indiana, who breed swine. According to them, “Swine is cheaper to breed, since it does not require pasture. It can live on manure and other such items including dead meat. In fact it can cat its own feces. Their sexual habits are also different than other animals like cows, sheep and goats. They have very little shame i.e. engage in sex acts anytime any place while others sometime wait for darkness. The female hog is very aggressive in sexual activity. When she is in “heat” she does not care about anything (i.e. food or privacy) until she has sex. Swine, also lick the genitalia of their partners after sex like dogs, but unlike other mammals like cows, sheep or goats.”
Why is Pork Fat Different From Other Animal Fat?
Fats are lipids, which are a source of energy. They can be of vegetable source or animal source. Triglycerides are neutral fats with 1 molecule of glycerol and 3 fatty acids. The fatty acids can be saturated or unsaturated. The more unsaturated fats have high melting points. The iodine value of fat gives the degree of saturation. The iodine value of lard is 65, beef 45, and mutton 32. If a person eats the fat of a herbivorous animal, the fat will be hydrolyzed, absorbed, and then resynthesized and stored as human fat, while that of carnivorous fat will not be hydrolyzed and therefore has to be deposited in humans as pork fat in the adipose tissue.
What Has Deposition of Pork Fat to Do With Hormone and Behavior in Humans?
Circulating hormones are in bound from and free form. The free form has to be attached to the receptor in fat tissue before becoming active. Obesity decreases the number of receptors. Therefore hormones cannot utilize them. Therefore, if the hormone is insulin, it leads to diabetes (type 2), and if it is testosterone, it leads to sub fertility and amenorrhea. The amount of fat also controls hormone release. Therefore we see menarche is delayed in athletics girls with less fat, and occurs early in sedentary overweight girls. It can be postulated that in humans who have pork human fat deposit, there is derangement in the binding of hormones. It is possible that sexual promiscuity and deviant sexual practices of pork eating society is due to what they eat! After all, it has been said by nutritionist, ” You are what you eat.” Since this is an essay on hormones and behavior, the effect of pork on cholesterol, sodium and the relationship to heart disease are not mentioned here.
EFFECTS OF DEAD MEAT AND BLOOD INGESTION
Dead meat is the meat of an animal, which dies before slaughtering, and its blood was not drained out. Blood ingestion is not only the drinking of blood, prevalent in the days of ignorance in Arabia or even now in Africa, but also the blood which is retained inside the meat by improper killing of the animal. All hormones and antibodies are retained in the blood. All infective organisms, including virus, flourish in the blood. Therefore ingestion of such will be dangerous. It may also induce animal instincts similar to those found in carnivorous animal like dogs, cats and lions.
HORMONAL EFFECTS OF ALCOHOL
Both in acute and chronic alcoholism, endocrine glands are affected. Hypoglycemia may result in acute alcoholism, which may be severe and can lead to coma. This should be recognized and treated with IV dextrose since it may not respond to glycogen. Low magnesium with resultant low calcium is another effect of resulting in poor concentration, muscle twitching and even seizure. Increase in urine flow is due to suppression of antidiuretic hormone. Chronic alcoholism leads to pancreatitis with failure of pancreatic endocrine system sometime (diabetes) and exocrine gland (malnutrition). This leads to protein deficiency leading to reduced production of testosterone. This leads to impotency, gynecomastia in men and amenorrhea in women. Alcoholics liver disease causes increased clearance of testosterone with testicular atrophy leading to true hypogonadism. Sperm formation is also affected leading to infertility. Infants born to alcoholic mothers can also have undescended testes and labial hypoplasia. In addition, the cortisol levels are increased during withdrawal while I.H and I.H-RH levels are suppressed during chronic alcoholism.
BEHAVIORAL EFFECTS OF ALCOHOL
Alcohol being a CNS depressant, depresses both facilitatory and inhibitory pathways. It is the suppression of the latter that discards the shame and removes control. Therefore, what an average person des not normally do i.e. use abusive language, undress in public, etc. he may perform under the influence of alcohol. There are more serious behavioral disorders described to include brain dysfunction in 50-70%: memory loss, depression, both acute and chronic, high suicide rate, mood fluctuation, delirium tremulous (DTS) in withdrawal state, and blackout spells during acute drinking. One third of all auto accidents are due to alcoholism. Under the influence of alcohol, mental judgment and motor skill are affected. Sometime the level of consciousness is also affected. Alcohol has been also found to be at the root of family violence, sexual violence, rape, assault, and child abuse. Alcohol is not aphrodisiac as it is claimed. It not only depresses the central nervous system effect on libido but also actually lowers the penile blood flow and tumescence (Swelling) thereby decreasing performance.
EFFECTS OF NARCOTICS (COCAINE AND MARIJUANA) ON HORMONES AND BEHAVIOR
Both LSD and cocaine causes decrease in plasma testosterone and LH. The aphrodisiac effect is due to local anesthesia, causing prolonged erection and central stimulation causing general well being. Also by inhibiting inhibitions, they encourage engagement in unusual sex acts like a false sense of euphoria flowed by depression, anxiety and agitation. Panic attacks, suicidal tendencies, violent behavior are not uncommon. Chronic usage may lead to schizophrenia, paranoia and a variety of psychiatric disorders. Even infants born to cocaine mothers show signs of withdrawal.
EFFECTS OF INGREDIENTS ON HORMONES AND BEHAVIOUR
If prohibited ingredients i.e. pork, lard, alcohol, cocaine etc. are consumed, the effect will be as described earlier, though because of the small quantity it may be slow and cumulative. More serious are items like sugar which causes reactive hypoglycemia, sodium which may lead to hypertension, nitrates and nitrites (used in meat preservation) linked to cancer, DES (diethylstilbestrol, a female hormone given to cattle to increase fat and muscle content) linked to vaginal and cervical cancer in women, and artificial sweeteners like saccharin related to bladder cancer in rats, and asperate related to brain damage.
More research is needed on all of the above areas especially those affecting the lifestyle of Muslims to determine their affects more accurately. Though usage of prohibited items are not commonly found in Muslims, the dangers also may come to their health and spirits by the effects of non-prohibited items like western rock music, dress (i.e. tight jeans affecting testicular temperature) and sexual practices, and cigarette smoking.
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- Qur’an: 2:173, 5:4, 6:145, 16:115, 2:219, 4:43, 5:90, 5:91.
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Courtesy of Dr Shahid Athar. He is currently a clinical associate professor of medicine, Indiana University, School of Medicine, Indiana University, School of Medicine and Chief, section of Endocrinology at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is president-elect of Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA) and has authored 6 books and over 120 published articles on Islamic topics.