Legumes (also known as “pulses” (1) ), which include mung beans, lentils, chickpeas, beans, soybeans, peanuts and more may not be the best nutritional source for your particular feathered friend.
First and foremost humans and other animals, such as our beloved exotic birds may have an allergy to legumes. If your bird shows signs of an allergy to one, specific legume, it could also be allergic to many or all legumes. (2,3)
Symptoms of legume allergies include, but are not limited to vomiting, diarrhea, foul-smelling droppings, dry skin, itching and even anaphylactic shock.
Secondly, plants are grouped in the “estrogenic” (female) or “androgenic” (male) classes of foods. Each and every plant possesses either estrogenic or androgenic properties imparting these female or male hormones to all living creatures who consume them. Legumes are of the estrogenic class imparting estrogen to our birds which we feed any type of legume. (4)
It doesn’t matter how legumes are served; cooked, sprouted or raw a living creature who is allergic will most likely react to most legumes regardless of the manner in which it is served.
Recently one member of our flock has been experiencing very foul-smelling droppings. We did our due diligence and took our bird in for all kinds of tests to learn what may be wrong. Blood tests and fecal smears proved that our bird is in excellent health, but the vet had no idea why our bird had stinky droppings. Our vet wanted to do an x-ray to see if the problem may be liver damage.
Most birds do have some level of liver damage, but I could not fathom that this bird’s liver damage was progressing. I constantly work on our flock’s liver health, and I have seen all of our birds” liver health improve, not decline.
We went home without an x-ray, so I could observe our bird hoping to see if I could figure out what was causing the stinky droppings short of progressive liver damage.
Over the next few weeks what I learned astonished me! I began noticing that every time I fed legumes of any kind this particular bird’s foul-smelling droppings increased leaving a strong smell permeating in the room. When I would remove the legumes for a few days gradually, the smell would leave. Upon re-introducing the legumes, our bird would go right back to the production of foul-smelling droppings! Please keep in mind the legumes I was feeding were “in addition to” our flocks’ normal formulated daily diet our company produces.
Most of the birds we care for in our sanctuary are feather-destroying rehabs. I also noticed that upon consuming legumes and producing foul-smelling droppings this bird’s feather destruction would also intensify. Obviously, the thing to do would be to remove all legumes from this bird’s overall diet to see if overall health improved and foul-smelling droppings and feather destruction lessened. I did remove the additional legumes, and to my surprise, the overall state of health of this bird improved dramatically!
As I conducted my research surrounding the subject of “legume allergies” these allergies don’t only arise from soy or peanuts, but all legumes. It also became clear to me that in addition to legumes as potential allergens, they impart xeno-estrogen hormones (hormones supplied endogenously, or “outside” of the body, not produced by the body). I had wondered if, during the stinky droppings our bird was just hormonal. Did I also smell an overabundance of hormones? I had realized that when this bird produced stinky droppings, it also went into a full-blown hormonal phase becoming very, very aggressive!
It turns out that since legumes are estrogenic, imparting estrogen to those creatures who eat them, that also quite probable our bird’s estrogen levels were dramatically increasing even though this bird is male! I began noticing that when I fed legumes to our hormonal females the symptoms associated with hormones also increased! Wow, I knew I was on to something! As an avian community, we think only soy legumes contribute estrogenic hormones…false. While soy is a major contributor of xenoestrogens, as it turns out all legumes contribute these hormones to our birds!
The majority of us in the avian community feed a lot of various types of legumes to our birds. Many of us also experience very hormonal birds. Some of our female birds experience excessive egg-laying. Could this be one reason why? I personally think so. Remember, the key to nutrition causing our birds to thrive is “BALANCE!”Too much of a good thing, like hormone-supplying legumes, can cause a total imbalance of hormones overall. Layering legume upon legume in our bird’s diets is bound to have a profound and direct effect on our bird’s hormones! Also, we must keep in mind that many of our birds are developing cancerous tumors; too much of any hormone can increase the chances of tumors. Furthermore, an ongoing hormonal imbalance can cause the pancreas to over-produce insulin. This can lead to pancreatitis and avian diabetes as well as osteoporosis, high blood pressure and infertility (estrogen may increase, but fertility can actually decrease causing the symptoms of high estrogen without the ability to lay fertile eggs.)
Legumes are not the foods that contribute only estrogenic xenoestrogens, many herbs also increase estrogens such as Black cohosh, red clover, chaste-tree berry, Dong Quai, Evening Primrose, ginkgo, ginseng, and licorice. (5) Other foods high in xenoestrogens are oats, barley, wheat, rice, flax, and alfalfa sprouts. Also, carrots, broccoli, green beans, winter squash, cassava, yams, sweet potatoes, celery, cabbage, and cucumber. Also, extra, synthetic hormones can be introduced by feeding eggs that come from hens who have been given hormones – obviously I do not encourage feeding eggs from hens fed synthetic hormones.
Partial List of estrogenic xenoestrogens:
- Red Clover
- Licorice root
- Sweet Potatoes
- Winter squash
- Sunflower seeds
- Sesame seeds
Partial List of anti-estrogenic xenoestrogens:
- Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, chard, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, arugula, mustard greens, radish and radish greens, collard greens, watercress, rapini, horseradish, turnip, rutabaga, wasabi.
Not many fruits contribute to or reduce hormones, but there are a few.
- Plums Pomegranates
- Melons (feed only 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after all other foods)
Not all xenoestrogens actually cause “estrogen” to rise; some xenoestrogens cause testosterone to rise. Depending on the symptoms your individual bird is displaying will be a huge factor in deciding what foods you may be over-feeding. If your bird is consistently and repeatedly displaying breeding tendencies, found in both male and female birds, you may be feeding too many xenoestrogens that increase testosterone. If your female bird is displaying “nesting” behaviors or excessive egg-laying, you may be feeding too many estrogen-producing foods. For example, foods that would produce testosterone would primarily consist of cruciferous veggies. Foods that would aid in the production of estrogen would be squash, yams, and sweet potatoes. It is factual that the avian community feeds a lot of all of these foods to their companion birds.
Hormone balancing is a delicate tight-rope walk. Both, estrogen dominance or too much testosterone in the system can cause aggression. Therefore a very good identification and understanding of which hormone may be causing your bird’s aggressive behavior must be determined so that you can add, or take away those foods contributing to your bird’s hormonal imbalance.
If your particular bird is displaying breeding/mating behaviors along with aggression you probably want to lower some cruciferous veggies in its diet. (Those who know me know that I do not support the feeding of botanically classified veggies to exotic birds due to the high amount of cellulose fiber parrots cannot properly digest. Cruciferous veggies are at the top of that classification of veggies. If you want to introduce the health advantages of cruciferous veggies I strongly suggest you grow, or buy botanically classified veggie microgreens; they contain the type of fiber (hemicellulose) parrots require for their unique digestive tracts.)
On the other hand, foods like squash, yams, and sweet potatoes, and of course legumes can increase estrogen levels which may not be good for a female bird who displays constant “nesting” behavior along with aggression. Also, if you bird is losing head feathers or abdomen feathers, and it is NOT in breeding/mating mode or egg-laying mode these foods may be contributing to feather loss. Too much estrogen in the diet can lead to feather loss without an actual molt occurring. Too much estrogen can also lead to obesity which becomes a huge problem since estrogen is reabsorbed through adipose fat. However, if your bird is displaying breeding/mating behaviors along with aggression your bird probably needs these foods.
We also want to keep plastic toys and other plastic items away from our birds. This often means storing our birds’ foods in glass or stainless steel. As it turns out BPA is not the only estrogen-producing chemical found in plastics, there are much, much more: http://www.livescience.com/40733-hormone-disrupting-chemicals-health.html. Estrogenic-chemicals are also found in tap water and some bottled waters.
Progesterone – The Hormone Balancer
How can we lower estrogen in our birds who have been fed a high amount of estrogen-producing foods? One way is to feed foods that are precursors to producing more progesterone while working on limiting estrogen-producing foods. The body needs an abundance of Vitamin E, Vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc to produce an endogenous (within the body) adequate amount of progesterone. Fruit, by the way, is low in xenoestrogens and high in Vitamin C. Again, I find it very interesting that Nature provided an abundance of tropical fruit in the indigenous regions where exotic birds originally come from. Nuts and sprouted seed (not sprouted legumes) also contribute to the production of progesterone and are high in plant proteins as well. (Be careful not to food too many seeds (always feed sprouted) or nuts as both are high in Omega 6, the pro-inflammatory Omega.) Foods that we should feed our feathered friends in abundance over any other foods are tropical fruit and tender greens such as cilantro, parsley, dandelion greens, baby arugula.
Needless to say, our male bird no longer receives legumes in his overall diet, not in any form cooked, sprouted or raw. Also, I am taking most of the legumes out of all of our birds’ diets so as to not increase hormonal activity. Yes, there will still be some legumes in their diets, but only limited to what provides “balanced” nutrition.
This leaves all of us at a conundrum as to what to feed to ensure adequate protein intake. Most of us know that legumes are a very good source of plant protein. In fact, many of us use legumes as the primary source of protein in our flocks’ diets. Do exotic birds consume legumes in the wild? To some extent, but probably not nearly as much as we feed to our birds in captivity. In many regions legumes are scarce. A few varieties of legumes, but not many do climb up trees where mid-canopy birds spend most of their time. Most legumes grow at ground level. Therefore it would be understood that ground-foraging birds would consume more legumes that tree-dwelling birds. This fact alone tells us of the species which can tolerate a higher amount of legumes in their diet, but still a lot less than we all probably offer.
However, distinguishing between tree-dwelling birds and ground-foraging birds doesn’t save us when it comes to legumes imparting estrogen to any bird regardless of the species. No matter what species we are feeding a high volume of legumes will increase hormonal activity in our birds, male or female.
If your bird is experiencing foul-smelling droppings, but all lab tests indicate a healthy bird overall then you need to consider removing most or all legumes from your bird’s diet. If you are experiencing high hormonal symptoms, including excessive egg-laying by any of your birds you need to consider removing most or all legumes from those birds’ diets.
What do we feed instead of legumes to supply plant protein? As far as I can find both wheatgrass and barley grass are very high in plant high in protein, but they do not contain a high amount of xenoestrogens, however, alfalfa does (alfalfa leaf is very good for our birds but in balanced amounts). (6)
While it is okay to feed some foods high in xenoestrogens, and in good practice to do so, layering more and more xeno-estrogen via foods high in these types of hormones in our birds’ diet will eventually cause hormonal imbalances leading to all of the hormonal symptoms, and possible ill-health effects none of us want. Again, in good conscience, I must stress “balancing of all nutrition” in our birds’ diets! It is not merely enough to throw a large and diverse variety into our bird’s mashes, chops and other kitchen mixes assuming we are meeting all nutritional requirements. We must always strive for nutritional balance. Diets for our exotic birds must be very carefully formulated using the balance of all nutrients, laboratory tested for nutritional balance before we can feel confident we are not only supplying all nutrients but that we are meeting our birds’ nutritional requirements in BALANCE!
The take away here is that we must lower xenoestrogens in our birds’ diets, plus remove other items from their environment that may impart estrogenic chemicals. The bottom line is that all of us who care for exotic birds have been, and are being told over and over and over again to feed highly processed foods containing many of the foods listed above. We have been told to feed an overabundance of grains and legumes as a reliable protein source! We must realize that the formulation of parrot diets has been derived from POULTRY nutrition! The majority of bird kibble contains wheat, barley, rice and other grains at the top of their ingredient lists. What is the largest concern in the poultry industry? Growing chickens faster and bigger AND TO PRODUCE MORE AND MORE EGGS – NON-FERTILE EGGS! Folks, this insanity must stop for the health of our beloved feathered friends. I directly blame parrot food formulators who actually sit on Poultry Board organizations! (Persons will remain nameless – do your research)
Ref: (1) http://www.fao.org/pulses-2016/news/news-detail/en/c/337107; (2) http://farrp.unl.edu/informalllegumes; (3) http://www.anaphylaxis.org.uk/knowledgebase/allergy-legumes-including-pulses: (4) http://www.allergyfree-gardening.com/articles/55-food-allergy-to-legumes-a-cross-reactivity-to-pollen.html; (5) https://www.nwhn.org/herbs-and-phytoestrogens/#sthash.9LRunYb9.dpuf; (6) http://www.organicfoodee.com/vms/greenfoods
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