Milk and our Health
We used to take for granted that cow's milk was good for us. Indeed many people believe that their health will be jeopardized if they don't have milk regularly. The idea that milk may help to cause the very diseases it's meant to prevent is controversial.
The idea that cows' milk is the most complete food to serve youngsters is widespread. Even as long ago as 1974, the Committee on Nutrition of the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) was answering the question, "Should milk drinking by children be discouraged?" with a "maybe". Today the AAP has changed its mind and now recommends dairy products for children.
The story of milk is one of evidence and counter-evidence. At stake are enormous commercial interests, deeply rooted patterns of agriculture and consumption - and our health.
It is widely accepted that some people are allergic to milk, although this implies that problem lies in the individual's constitution, rather than milk. Yet, when you look at it more closely, the extent of lactose intolerance is extraordinary.
Lactose is the sugar in milk, which needs to be broken down by lactase in our intestines and bowels. If the lactose we absorb is greater than our lactase capacity, undigested lactose travels to the large intestine, where it ferments, producing gas, carbon dioxide and lactic acid, which in turn causes bloating, cramps, diarrhoea and wind.
In 1965, investigators at Johns Hopkins found that 15% of all the white people and almost three-quarters of all the black people they tested were unable to digest lactose.
In practice I often see a link a between digestive problems and milk, as well as skin problems, glue ear, sinus problems, asthma, eczema and more.
PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH MILK
The anti-milk lobby claims that consumption of dairy products contributes to diabetes and can aggravate rheumatoid arthritis and has been implicated in colic, acne, heart disease, asthma, lymphoma, ovarian cancer and multiple sclerosis. Studies suggesting a link between milk and prostate cancer have been appearing since the 1970s, culminating in findings by the Harvard School of Public Health in 2000 that men who consumed two and a half servings of dairy products a day had a third greater risk of getting prostate cancer than those who ate less than half a serving a day. In the same year, T Colin Campbell, the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, said that "cows' milk protein may be the single most significant chemical carcinogen to which humans are exposed".
BENEFITS RELATED TO MILK
To milk advocates, this is outrageous and they present counter arguments. They counter that milk actively protects against a whole cluster of diseases, reducing the risk of hypertension and perhaps kidney stones, that it helps remineralise tooth enamel and can be positively anticarcinogenic (particularly against colon cancer). What's more, Harvard University's huge Nurses' Health Study found a lower risk of breast cancer in pre- (but not post-) menopausal women who consumed a lot of low-fat dairy foods such as skimmed milk. Even more dramatic is a Norwegian study of premenopausal women that showed those who drank three glasses of milk a day had a 50% lower incidence of breast cancer. But before you reach for the milk, another Norwegian study found that those who drank three-quarters of a litre or more of full-fat milk a day had a significantly greater risk of breast cancer than those who drank more modest amounts. And so it goes.
CHILDREN AND MILK
The best milk for babies and infants is breast milk. The worldwide average age for stopping breastfeeding is about four years old - and this is ideal, but in Australia and other western countries it tends to be much lower.
After the first year of life children don't necessarily need milk so long as they are having a diet that provides the balance of nutrients needed in sufficient quantities. It's best to come and see me if you have a small child and want to work out whether to include milk in their diet and which type. It's very important that a small child is receiving the right nutrition and milk can be useful and easy for many children, depending on how a child responds to it.
There's often the idea that milk helps to protect against osteoporosis because of the calcium content.
Mark Hegsted, a retired Harvard professor of nutrition, has said, "To assume that osteoporosis is due to calcium deficiency is like assuming that infection is due to penicillin deficiency." In fact, the bone loss and deteriorating bone tissue that take place in osteoporosis are due usually not to calcium deficiency but rather to its resorption: so it's more an issue of our bodies excreting too much calcium.
To help protect against this the key thing is to have a balanced diet. For example too much protein has been linked to a leaching of calcium in the body, so the most important thing is to get the balance in.
I also recommend supplementing with a balance of minerals. To make sure that calcium is absorbed in the body, it also needs to be taken with a balance of other minerals. Many practitioners consider osteoporosis to be more of a magnesium deficiency rather than a calcium deficiency, as a magnesium deficiency opens the door to a leaching of calcium from the bones and prevents its absorption also.
CHEMICALS IN MILK
There are other controversies with milk too and only today I read about chemicals found in milk in the Daily Mail (UK) in an article titled 'It's not all white: a cocktail of up to 20 chemicals in a glass of milk' The article states, "A glass of milk can contain a cocktail of up to 20 painkillers, antibiotics and growth hormones, scientists have shown. Using a highly sensitive test, they found a host of chemicals used to treat illnesses in animals and people in samples of cow, goat and human breast milk. The doses of drugs were far too small to have an effect on anyone drinking them, but the results highlight how man-made chemicals are now found throughout the food chain. the highest quantities of medicines were found in cow's milk."
My recommendation is for adults to mix up the types of milk you consume and rotate them. There are some different types of cow's milk on the market today as well, which are healthier, including A2 milk, which is worth including in the milk rotations you adopt. Different milks include goats milk, sheeps milk, Almond milk, oat milk, A2 milk, lactose-free milk, rice milk, and soy milk (only recommended in moderation).
An example of how this could work is to have some cow's milk in your tea, Almond milk in your cereal and perhaps cook with goats milk - then on another day mix it around. The thing is to avoid too much of one at any given time and to have variety.
With infants, if the ideal situation of breastfeeding has ceased early, then I recommend that you monitor how your child reacts to cow's milk or goat's milk, either the formulas or milk from the carton. It's not recommended to introduce other types of milk to small children. Come and see me with any questions relating to this.
In consultation, I can also do a very simple and quick allergy test at the Galleria to see if you or your family members are sensitive to milk, and this is well worth doing.
There are also some useful homeopathics that help to correct milk intolerance that can be applied. Additionally, probiotics help to correct milk allergy too.