4 Ways Milk and Dairy Can Hurt Your Health

Millions of Americans consume large amounts of milk and dairy products each year. Like many other people, I grew up drinking milk every day, with almost every meal. Is this a bad thing, you ask? Possibly, in light of recent research that indicates too much of a good thing can, indeed, be too much. The problems now go beyond lactose intolerance in humans and the use of antibiotics and hormones in dairy cows. Following are 4 other ways milk and dairy products can negatively affect your health:

•    Osteoporosis and Arthritis. Cultures that consume the most amount of milk and dairy products actually have the highest rates of osteoporosis and hip fractures. The Harvard Nurse’s Health Study (which has followed over 75,000 female nurses for 12 years now) showed no protective effect of increased milk consumption on fracture risk for the women involved. In fact, the study found increased intake of calcium may actually lead to a higher risk for fractures instead.

The problem may arise from a few different sources. A study published in Osteoporosis International conducted by the University Hospital in Lausanne, Switzerland, found that an overly acidic environment created in the body by too much dairy intake can actually result in calcium being leached out of the bones and set loose in the bloodstream. Excess calcium may then end up being deposited into joints and other tissues, creating problems that contribute to the development of arthritis.

•    Cardiovascular Disease. Many doctors, nutritionists, and researchers argue that dairy products (primarily cheese, ice cream, butter, and milk) contribute significant amounts of fat and cholesterol to our diets, causing the growing rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in America. Dr. Dean Ornish is one of many physician-researchers who has shown that diets too high in fat are linked to the development of several chronic diseases, including heart disease, hypertension, and high cholesterol.

The main problem comes, again, from excess: Dairy products–along with meat, fried foods, and fast food– have the highest amounts of dietary saturated fats and cholesterol. And while both saturated fats and cholesterol are actually needed by our bodies for healthy daily functioning, consuming too much of them too frequently is not good for us. Reducing the offending foods, including milk and dairy, in your diet alone can make a huge difference in minimizing the risks of heart disease.

•    Cancer. Some cancers, including ovarian, breast and prostate cancers, have been linked to over-consumption of dairy products. According to another Harvard study on ovarian cancer, the problem lies in the breakdown of dairy products in the body and the enzymes involved. With breast and prostate cancers, the issue may be with insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) in cow’s milk. IGF-1 has been found in increased blood levels in people who eat dairy as a large part of their diet.

Dairy products also do not contain fiber, which helps our digestive tracts function properly and is our body’s primary way of eliminating waste products. Dairy products are also high in protein, which may help stimulate the overgrowth of cancer cells when consumed too frequently and in large quantities in a person’s diet.

•    Diabetes. Completing our list of potential problems, Type 1 diabetes (formerly known as childhood-onset) has been linked to the over-consumption of dairy products. According to a study conducted by the Icelandic Nutrition Council at the Public Health Institute, a specific protein found in dairy creates an auto-immune reaction in the body (where the body attacks itself), destroying insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

Another study at the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes confirmed the link between dairy and Type 1 diabetes. The problem lies again with the milk protein: About 25-30% of the protein in cows’ milk is one called ‘beta casein.’  The A1 beta casein protein specifically, has been shown to cause or aggravate not only type 1 diabetes, but also heart disease and autism. Consequently, children who grow up drinking cow’s milk are most likely to be vulnerable.

So if the research studies are accurate, the bottom line is really to reduce the amount of milk and dairy products you eat, or eliminate them entirely. Milk and diary are traditional foods that we all might have grown up with, but they aren’t truly necessary to our diets. Consider the fact that humans are the only creatures to drink milk beyond infancy–do the other animals know something we don’t?

There are still lots of things to eat as alternatives to milk and dairy, including vegetables, fruit, nuts, and whole grains.  In fact, darky leafy greens (like kale and spinach) and beans are all rich in calcium, which we do need to include in our diets.  Adding in regular exercise (which also helps build bone), stress management techniques, and quitting smoking, will get you well on your way to a healthier life, milk and dairy consumer or not.

About Jackie Thorne, RN, CHC, AADP, Integrative Nurse Counselor

Jackie Thorne thrives in her role as an Integrative Nurse Counselor, sharing her passion for health, happiness and nutrition with others and helping them live their own best lives. She is a counselor, writer, speaker, and educator, promoting health and wellness with a focus on nutrition and lifestyle changes. Through private counseling and wellness workshops, Jackie strives to guide and empower people to take a positive, preventative approach to their own health and well-being. Her work has helped clients with issues from stress and anxiety to weight-loss learn to make lasting changes to their food and lifestyle choices, and feel supported during the process. Jackie lives and works with the belief that helping people learn to be healthier and happier creates a healthier, happier world for everyone. Jackie studied nutrition and health at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City, and is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia and SUNY Adirondack. In addition to her nursing credentials, Jackie is a Certified Health Coach and accredited member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. An avid yogi, gardener, and outdoorswoman, she makes her home in the beautiful Adirondack foothills of upstate New York.
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4 Responses to 4 Ways Milk and Dairy Can Hurt Your Health

  1. Jill Cruz says:

    I think any food in excess could cause problems. The problem is that Americans over-consume just about everything.

    And I recommend raw dairy from healthy, pasture-raised cows. Many of the ills of pasteurized, homogenized, industrially-produced dairy can be avoided with whole fat, high-quality raw dairy.

    The idea that other animals don’t consume milk so we shouldn’t seems irrelevant to me. Since when do we eat the same foods as any other animals? We consume every part of the animal from eyeballs to brains and bones. Why not milk? And my adult cats love raw milk and cream.

    • Thank you for your post, Jill. I understand that the discussion around dairy is one that many people feel very passionate about and are divided on. There is research to support the benefits of raw, unpasteurized, organic and grass-fed dairy. Not only is it better for the animals, it is better for the environment and the people who choose to consume it. However, it is not for everyone, and many Americans find access to it difficult. Where I live in upstate New York, raw milk is illegal to sell and organic, grass-fed meat and dairy is considered by many people to be too expensive to make a regular part of their diets. Consequently, they continue including the less healthy products found in most grocery stores.

      I find that many people are also not aware that over-consumption of dairy has been linked in reliable research studies to the development of several of the chronic health problems facing us today. That is not to say that all dairy is bad, which was not my point. My goal is simply to make people aware of it’s potential problems when over-used in the diet, whether from healthy or unhealthy sources. To your point around what other animals eat, like humans they also consume fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains (though they don’t get them them from a health food or grocery store), as well as the meat from other animals. I believe it is most helpful to educate people around the pros and cons of any particular food group to help them make healthier, informed choices for themselves, as you have done with dairy. I am glad you are able to include the best possible sources in your diet, and support it’s use to others.

  2. Jill Cruz says:

    Raw milk sales are actually legal in NY state. You have to purchase it directly from the farm here. (I’m in NY too) It is inconvenient for sure but certainly doable for a lot of people.

  3. Jill Cruz says:

    Oh, and a great way to include grass-fed meat into the diet is to buy the less expensive cuts such as organ meats (which are very nutrient-dense) and ground and stew meats. And like you said, if people eat less food in general then they don’t buy as much. One nice thing about meat, eggs and dairy is that it is satisfying, so for those that tend to overeat they can reduce how much they eat in general.

    Also, I always advise people who are truly interested in eating grass-fed and organic food that they can save a lot of money by cutting out processed foods. In particular, cereals, crackers, juices, condiments, sweets, chips, etc, are very costly. If those are eliminated from the diet then money is freed up for real food that is high quality. One has to be ready and willing to make a change like that. But the benefits are huge!