It’s by far one of the most controversial food topics, and this week I’m taking it on in my blog – dairy. Coincidentally, June is national dairy month, so it’s a perfect time to bring this topic to the forefront.
While there are many people who believe consuming dairy, especially milk, is healthy, and advertisers have even gone so far as to create major media campaigns around that belief. For example, we’ve all seen the print ads using celebrities and athletes to paint on a white mustache with the caption, “Got Milk?” Well, to the contrary, there is scientific evidence that questions the health benefits of dairy products and indicates their potential health risks.
As someone who follows a plant based diet, I don’t consume dairy products and I don’t advocate the use of them. There are many factors that impacted my decision to alleviate them from my diet, and I want to share some of those factors with you.
First, let’s talk about milk; its main selling point is calcium, and milk-drinking is touted for building strong bones in children and preventing osteoporosis in older people. However, clinical research shows that dairy products have little or no benefit for bones. A 2005 review published in Pediatrics showed that milk consumption does not improve bone integrity in children. While calcium is important for bone health, studies show that increasing consumption beyond approximately 600 milligrams per day—amounts that are easily achieved WITHOUT dairy products or calcium supplements—does not improve bone integrity. In fact, in studies of children and adults, exercise has been found to have a major effect on bone density.You can decrease your risk of osteoporosis by reducing sodium, increasing intake of fruits and vegetables, exercising, and ensuring adequate calcium intake from plant foods such as kale, broccoli, and other leafy green vegetables and beans. *
Individuals often drink milk in order to obtain vitamin D in their diet, unaware that they can receive vitamin D through other sources. The natural source of vitamin D is sunlight. Five to 15 minutes of sun exposure to the arms and legs or the hands, face, and arms can be enough to meet the body’s requirements for vitamin D, depending on the individual’s skin tone. It can also be obtained through vitamin supplements.
Prostate and breast cancers have been linked to consumption of dairy products, presumably related to increases in a compound called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I). IGF-I is found in cow’s milk and has been shown to occur in increased levels in the blood of individuals consuming dairy products on a regular basis. Other nutrients that increase IGF-I are also found in cow’s milk.
Case-control studies in diverse populations have shown a strong and consistent association between serum IGF-I concentrations and prostate cancer risk. One study showed that men who had the highest levels of IGF-I had an almost two-fold increased risk of prostate cancer, compared with those who had the lowest levels.
Furthermore, dairy products account for approximately 65 percent of estrogens consumed. Estrogens (and their metabolites) are a risk factor for breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers due, in part, to their ability to influence cell proliferation. A study suggesting that milk consumption may contribute to breast cancer risk reported that 15 different estrogen metabolites were found in various milk products.
Lactose intolerance is common among many populations, affecting approximately 95 percent of Asian Americans, 80 to 100 percent of Native Americans, 60 to 80 percent of African Americans, 50 to 80 percent of Hispanics,24 and 15 percent of Caucasians. Symptoms, which include gastrointestinal distress, diarrhea, and flatulence, occur because these individuals do not have the enzyme lactase that digests the milk sugar lactose. For those who can digest lactose, its breakdown products are two simple sugars: glucose and galactose. Nursing children have active enzymes that break down galactose. As we age, many of us lose much of this capacity.
Furthermore, many people question the idea of drinking the milk of another species. Humans are the only species that does that. Humans like other mammals, produce milk for a specific purpose – to feed their own babies until the babies are ready to move on to solid foods. Milk from a cow is designed to make a newborn calf grow rapidly in only a few weeks, causing some to believe that it may not be the ideal food for human children or adults.
Finally, I realize that there are many of you who will not remove dairy products from your diet, but I hope that you will consider this information and at least begin to reduce your consumption. I encourage you to conduct your own research, explore your options, and make the decision that works best for you.
Until next time…
Peace, Love & Fitness
* Most of the evidence and research cited in this blog was pulled from an article entitled, “Health Concerns & Dairy Products”, posted on the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine’s website at www.pcrm.org