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.