Thanks to the overwhelming success of ad campaigns conducted by the dairy industry, milk is widely believed to be essential to health, particularly the strength of bones and teeth. But scientific studies have consistently contradicted that assertion.
There are numerous problems with dairy products, which, for people who have been diagnosed with a serious illness, could tip the balance in favor of the disease.
The first is that whole milk, whole milk cheeses, and ice creams are high in saturated fat, which, as we have seen, promotes heart disease and cancer. In Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, Dr. Willett reported the following:
“In nine separate studies, the strongest and most consistent dietary factor linked with prostate cancer was high consumption of milk or dairy products. In the largest of these, the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, men who drank two or more glasses of milk a day were almost twice as likely to develop advanced or metastatic (spreading) prostate cancer as those who didn’t drink milk at all.” Saturated fat, as I showed earlier, is highly inflammatory and oxidative, thus supporting any existing illness.
Milk, cheese, and yogurt increase blood levels of a compound known as insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which has been shown to promote the onset and growth of cancer, especially cancers of the breast and prostate. A study published in a 1998 edition of Science showed that men with the highest levels of IGF-1 had four times the risk of prostate cancer than men with the lowest levels of IGF-1. Women with high levels of IGF-1 have higher rate of breast cancer.
Concerns have been raised about milk’s possible link to other types of cancers, as well. Willett pointed to earlier research done at Harvard University by Daniel Cramer, M.D., and reported in the medical journal, The Lancet. Cramer found that, once consumed, the sugar in dairy products, known as lactose, is converted to another form of sugar called galactose. Galactose is broken down by enzymes produced by the liver. However, when the body’s ability to break down galactose is exceeded, the sugars build up in the body and affect a woman’s ovaries. Women who have low levels of the enzyme needed to break down galactose have three times the rates of ovarian cancer than other women.
Milk, like all animal proteins, are high in the sulfur amino acids, which increase the acid levels in the blood, according to a report published in the May 2001 edition of the professional journal, Dietitian’s Edge. In order to protect the body’s delicate acid-alkaline balance, the brain signals the bones to release phosphorus and calcium whenever acid levels become too high. Phosphorus is the body’s natural alkalizer. But as phosphorus is released, calcium is lost, as well, resulting in weaker bones. “We know that dietary protein intake influences urinary calcium losses with each gram of dietary protein, increasing urinary calcium losses by 1-1.5 mg.,” wrote Belinda S. O’Connell, M.S., R.D., L.D. “This means that a person who is consuming a high protein diet requires more calcium in his or her diet to maintain calcium balance than someone who eats less protein. In situations where dietary calcium intake or absorption is sub-optimal, a high protein diet may further worsen calcium imbalances and increase the risk of osteoporosis.”
This promotes bone loss and increases the risk of osteoporosis, a disease that results in the thinning of bones and sometimes fatal fractures. In fact, studies have associated milk consumption with higher rates of osteoporosis. The Harvard Nurse’s Study showed that women who consistently drink milk and have much higher rates of bone fractures than women who eat very little dairy products, or avoid them altogether.
Studies have shown that the countries that consume milk products have the highest rates of osteoporosis. On the other hand, populations such as the Chinese that avoid milk experience exceedingly low rates of osteoporosis. Not only do the Chinese avoid milk, but they also eat relatively low levels of animal protein. On average, the Chinese consume 64.1 grams of protein per day, 60 of which is from plant sources. Americans, on average, eat between 90 and 120 grams of protein, of which only 27 grams come from plant sources. The average Chinese person consumes 544 mg. of calcium per day. Yet, the Chinese have exceedingly low rates of osteoporosis. We, on the other hand, are experiencing an epidemic of osteoporosis.
“There’s no solid evidence that merely increasing the amount of milk in your diet will protect you from breaking a hip or wrist or crushing a backbone in later years,” writes Dr. Willett, in Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy.
Milk is touted as the ultimate source of calcium, but there are many other good sources that do not pose the same health risks, especially to people who are already suffering from serious illness. A cup of milk contains 300 mg. of calcium. A cup of cooked collard greens contain 360 mg. A cup of kale contain 210 mg.; a cup of cooked bok choy, 250. Many other green and leafy vegetables are rich sources of calcium, as are many fish. A three-and-a-half ournce serving of salmon contains 290 mg.; the same size serving of mackeral, 300. A tin of sardines contains 480 mg. of calcium.
Researchers are increasingly concerned about chemicals and allergens found in milk. Many milk products are often contaminated with bovine growth hormone, antibiotics, and pesticides, among other drugs. No one knows as yet what the effects of these substances are on human health, but many health authorities have already expressed concern that they may adversely affect the immune system.
A 1992 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and since repeated in more recent research, including a study published in Diabetes Metabolism Research Reviews (January-Feburary 2001), showed that dairy protein triggered an auto-immune response in sensitive children that caused immune cells to attack and destroy the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, thus triggering the onset of juvenile (type-1) diabetes. Population studies have shown an association throughout the world between milk consumption and higher rates of insulin-dependent diabetes.
Willett points out in Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy that about 75 percent of the world’s adult population cannot digest milk sugar, or lactose, including some 50 million Americans. People who are lactose intolerant suffer from a variety of digestive disorders when they consume milk, including cramping, diarrhea, nausea, and bloating.
Citing the tendency of milk to create constipation, iron deficiency, and allergies in infants, The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that parents avoid giving their infants any cow’s milk products before the age of 1 year.
“How dairy foods came to be considered essential despite their high content of fat, saturated fat, and lactose is a topic of considerable historical interest,” wrote Marion Nestle, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University, author of the book, Food Politics, How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (University of California Press, 2002). “As it turns out, nutritionists have collaborated with dairy lobbies to promote the nutritional value of diary products since the early years of the twentieth century. Recently, however, some scientists have raised doubts about whether dairy foods confer special health benefits. In addition to concerns about lactose intolerance, some question the conventional wisdom that dairy foods protect against osteoporosis or, for that matter, accomplish any public health goals. Others suggest that the hormones, growth factors, and allergenic proteins in dairy foods end up doing more harm than good.”