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Dairy Milk – Sustenance or Killer? August 12, 2010

Like most adults walking the earth today, my brothers and I were brought up on the concept that milk is a whole(some) food. Whenever we were ill, out came the chocolate milk, the cocoa, and cream cakes, custards and Mars bars – the theory being that even if we did not feel like eating food because we were sickly, we would still get all the proteins, vitamins and minerals we would need from that perfect whole food, ie milk.

Now, after a diagnosis of cancer, I annoy all my friends at the dinner table when I see them adding milk to their coffee, or downing their chocolate after-dinner mints by making pronouncements of: “Killer food”!

There is, of course, all sorts of research to both prove and debunk the view that milk is indeed linked to a range of degenerative disease. But I have to say, the pro-milk voice is getting comparatively weaker, and the best it can say is – it ain’t the milk, it is the fat in the milk. Order low-fat milk and you’ll be okay. Say, what?

The perfect food

Macrobiotic sages such as George Ohsawa have said that dairy milk is indeed the perfect food…for cows. Mother’s milk is the perfect food for human babies. It is no accident that in the animal kingdom, the young are weaned after a certain amount of time. Humans, on the other hand, are the only mammals that do not actively wean their young. Surely Mother Nature, in all her wisdom, would have ensured that animals would breast feed their young for decades past infancy if it was required? If we look at the largest mammals on earth – whales, elephants and so on – we see that their bones are phenomenally strong, yet none consume milk past infancy. Why should humans be different?

Effects of milk consumption

1. Auto-immune diseases

Dr T. Colin Campbell in the seminal The China Study[1] links the consumption of dairy products to a range of chronic illnesses, ranging from heart disease, to cancer to autoimmune diseases including MS, Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus.

Fifty years ago an average cow produced 900 kg of milk per year. Today the top producers give an amazing 22,700 kg, made possible by drugs, antibiotics, hormones, forced feeding plans and specialized breeding, all of which set us up for a range of allergies and auto-immune diseases as well as other conditions we are making links to all the time.

Any lactating mammal excretes toxins through her milk. This includes antibiotics, pesticides, chemicals and hormones, including the recombinant bovine growth hormone, which encourages continuous and copious lactation.
A huge study showed that human breast milk in over 14,000 women had been contaminated by pesticides. Further, it seems that the sources of the pesticides are meat and dairy products, which traditional wisdom would have lactating mothers drink to boost the quality of their own milk. These pesticides are concentrated in fat and that’s what’s in these products. By contrast, a subgroup of lactating vegetarian mothers had only half the levels of contamination.
Another report showed an increased concentration of pesticides in the breast tissue of women with breast cancer, compared to the breast tissue of women with fibrocystic disease.

2. Osteoporosis

Diagram: From the China Study, page 207

Doctors tell menopausal women to drink more milk to offset their risk of osteoporosis. Yet we know, for example, that the US is the number one milk-consuming nation on this earth, and at the same time, the country with the highest incidence of hip fractures in the world[2]. Japanese women, on the other hand, don’t consume dairy products as part of their traditional diet and have one of the lowest rates of osteoporosis in the world.

Societies that eat large amounts of meat have a high incidence of osteoporosis. How does this happen?

Well, when you take in more protein than you need, your body cannot store the extra protein, so it converts the amino acids from milk protein into organic acids that acidify the blood. The kidneys are then required to buffer  the acidity by pushing large amounts of calcium into the urine.

After looking at 34 published studies in 16 countries, researchers at Yale University found that the countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis – including the US, Sweden, and Finland – were also those in which  people consumed the most meat, milk and other animal protein. This study also showed that African-Americans, who consume, on average, more than 1,000 mg of calcium per day, are nine times more likely to experience hip fractures than are South African blacks, whose daily calcium intake is only about 196 mg per day. An in fact, cultures who enjoy good bone health often have much less calcium in their diets, but also eat less protein.

In fact, from a macrobiotic perspective, people with bone cancer often find themselves urinating more frequently, even during the night. This is because the body needs to excrete the calcium and this necessitates frequent urination and is why bone cancer is usually accompanied by weakened kidneys.

3. Cancer

There are researchers who postulate that the recombinant bovine growth hormone in milk encourages the aggressive growth of human cells, and opens the doors to uncontrolled growth of mutant (cancerous) cells.

Dr Robert Bibb is working on a book called Death by Dairy. His research reflects that when cows are treated with a genetically engineered growth hormone to boost milk production, they produce more insulin-like growth factor, which stimulates cell growth. Bibb’s theorises that dairy-rich diets may render children less resistant to cancer.

“A gene can be turned on or turned off,” said Bibb, “Suppose your consumption of dairy turned off some of the switches, but you didn’t get cancer. You pass your gene on to your daughter or son and they have some of those turned-off switches … this is all theory, but I believe it explains the phenomenon of prostate and breast cancer occurring in younger people.” In Singapore, for instance, oncologists have noted that we are diagnosing women with breast cancer at an increasingly younger age, sometimes as much as 10 years younger than the average age of diagnosis in the US. Epidemiological studies are under way to assess the possible reasons for this.

The Cancer Project, based in the US, groups physicians together to advocate more responsible medicine. While there is a wide range of information available linking dairy products to a range of cancers from lymphoma to leukemia and all the reproductive cancers, The Cancer Project says that the strongest relationship appears to be between diary consumption and prostate as well as breast cancer: “Prostate cancer has been linked to dairy products in several studies. In Harvard’s Physicians Health Study, including more than 20,000 male physicians, those who consumed more than two dairy servings daily had a 34% higher risk of developing prostate cancer than men who consumed little or no dairy products. Several other studies have shown much the same thing.

Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain this association. Dairy product consumption increases levels of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-1) in the bloodstream. IGF-1 is a potent stimulus for cancer cell growth. High IGF-1 levels are linked to increased risk of prostate cancer and breast cancer.”

Many people are reluctant to eschew milk consumption for the calcium, maintaining that despite the risks, milk is still the best source of calcium.

Alternatives to milk

There is a growing group of physicians who now feel that calcium offered by milk is, in fact, poor quality calcium. Rather, calcium derived from dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, collard greens, kai lan, broccoli and brussel sprouts and all seaweeds is preferred. Analysis has shown that a wide range of minerals account for 7-38 per cent of their dry weight. All of the elements essential to health – including calcium, sodium, magnesium, potassium, iodine, iron, and zinc – are present in sea vegetables in sufficient amounts. Of the wide variety of minerals present, calcium, iron, and iodine are of particular importance to people eating a dairy-free, grain-based vegetarian, or macrobiotic diet. For example, 1 cup of cooked hijiki contains over half the calcium found in a cup of milk and more iron than in an egg. And it is cholesterol free too!

One needs to remember that a lot of the general dietary recommendations that we see are directed at people on the standard modern diet. In the standard diet, people tend to eat protein as the main food component, while vegetables tend to used as a side-dish or garnish. Certainly, if you ate the modern diet, you would need the calcium in milk because you would not otherwise be getting enough.

However, if you dropped the dairy products and animal protein, and increased your consumption of vegetables and seaweed, you would have adequate amounts of calcium to keep your body in homeostasis and in better health.

Now, isn’t that worth giving that ice cream sundae and Sunday roast a miss?

[1]   T. Colin Campbell, PhD and Thomas M. Campbell (2006), The China Study, Benbella Books, USA.

[2] Frasetto :A. Todd KM, Morris C, Jr et al: Worldwide incidence of hip fractures in elderly women in relation to consumption of animal and vegetable foods”, J. Gerontology 55 (2000): M585-M592


One Response to “Dairy Milk – Sustenance or Killer?”


    How much does it take to counter mythology?

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