Is Milk Bad for You?
Every year the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) spends millions of dollars on advertising campaigns for the dairy industry. Using slogans like “Milk. It does a body good,” consumers are led to believe health stems from dairy consumption. Additionally, taxpayer-funded government subsidies have induced artificially low dairy prices, allowing these products to be purchased more readily and by some of the poorest in society. Dairy products mandatorily show up in our kids schools, food banks, and Women Infant Children (WIC) programs. The result is that people, in many respects, have lost the ability to question why they are drinking milk. This begs the question, is dairy really good for you?
What Research Really Says About Milk
Can Milk Cause Cancer?
Newer research has correlated cancer with the over consumption of calcium stemming largely from the excess and availability of dairy products. The Harvard School of Public Health has associated milk with two specific types of cancer:
- Ovarian Cancer: A study looked at women with high intake of lactose (milk sugar) consuming approximately 3 cups of milk daily. It showed they had a mildly increased risk of ovarian cancer. Researchers have hypothesized that this may be due to do how farming practices have changed and the hormone contents of milk are bringing on more hormone-related cancers.
- Prostate Cancer: A study out of Harvard where men consumed 2 or more glasses of milk per day, showed that they were twice as likely to get prostate cancer as those who didn’t consume milk at all. This study concluded that the results may be with calcium itself, showing consumers of more than 2,000mg of calcium/day were twice as likely to develop prostate cancer compared to those who consumed 500mg or less daily.
Milk is High in Saturated Fat
In a strange caveat, the USDA guidelines encourage Americans to consume more fruits and vegetables and to avoid foods high in saturated fats, yet they pour tax dollars into subsidies for dairy farmers and give nearly nothing for farmers producing fruits and vegetables. Is our government getting it twisted? Fat is a healthy component of a balanced diet, but high saturated fat intake (especially saturated fats from animal products) has been associated with heart disease. What about fat free dairy products? While it is true that fat free dairy products like skim milk have the fat removed, consumers typically get that saturated fat back from other dairy products like butter, ice cream, or processed foods.
Milk Increases Risk of Death
A Swedish study with 61,000 women and 45,000 men evaluated participants using food frequency questionnaires. The women were tracked for twenty years while the men were tracked for eleven years. The study looked to evaluate the mortality risk of milk consumption between genders. The results showed that the women in the study with high milk intake (3 or more glasses per day) had two times the risk of death and heart disease. Men also had an increase in mortality, albeit much smaller.
Researchers are saying a possible explanation may be from the milk sugar galactose, present in milk. Galactose can cause oxidative stress leading to inflammation and stress within the body.
Milk Puts Women at Higher Risk of Fractures
The same Swedish study discussed above also looked at fracture risk associated with milk consumption. For women, the study showed that drinking more than one glass of milk per day increased fracture risk by 7%. Additionally, drinking more than two glasses of milk per day increased fracture risk in women by 16%. The study did not show an association in fracture risk for men.
What About Calcium and Bone Health?
Don’t We Need to Drink Milk to Get Enough Calcium?
Calcium is a mineral; it is found in soil and absorbed into the roots of plants. Cows eat these plants to get the calcium they need, but the real source of calcium is PLANTS. Dairy milk does have calcium, approximately 300mg/cup, but it is not as bioavailable (meaning the amount your intestines can actually absorb into your body) as some plant sources. For example: milk has 300mg of calcium in a cup, approximately 30% of that (90mg) is absorbed, compare that to 1½ cups of kale, which has approximately the same calcium content as a cup of milk but nearly double the absorption rate. Following a diverse plant-based diet can provide a person with all the calcium they need.
Can I have Healthy Bones Without Drinking Milk?
Research has compared the bone density of those on long-term plant-based diets (vegans) and compared them to their omnivore counterparts and found that while the vegans did take in less calcium and protein, their bone density was exactly the same. Science has a possible explanation for this, as your protein and sodium intake increases (processed animal products such as dairy), your body naturally loses and excretes calcium, potentially leaving you depleted unless you consume even more. Additionally, the body is very adaptable to lower calcium intake and in turn will become more efficient at absorbing calcium at a higher rate into the intestines.
While milk has been promoted, advertised, and injected into the food supply around every corner, taking a step back from it may have real health benefits. Dairy is not necessary to get enough calcium or to ensure bone health, and recent research on its correlation with mortality risk should really turn your mind to other options. Because of the billion-dollar industry that dairy is, I wouldn’t expect any big changes coming to a supermarket near you. Money talks, and health changes don’t seem to appear until evidence has manufacturers completely surrounded.
What Can You Drink?
If you think you’ll be missing the taste of milk, the market is growing with milk alternatives such as almond or coconut milk and don’t forget to drink plain old water. No one can argue the benefits of water.
Ho-Pham, L., Nguyen, P., Le, T., Doan, T., Tran, N., Le, T., & Nguyen, T. (2009). Veganism, bone mineral density, and body composition: A study in Buddhist nuns. Osteoporosis International, 2087-2093.
Ganmaa D, Sato A. The possible role of female sex hormones in milk from pregnant cows in the development of breast, ovarian, and corpus uteri cancers. Med Hypotheses. 2005; 65:1028–37.
Genkinger JM, Hunter DJ, Spiegelman D, et al. Dairy products and ovarian cancer: a pooled analysis of 12 cohort studies. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2006; 15:364–72.
Giovannucci E, Rimm EB, Wolk A, et al. Calcium and fructose intake in relation to risk of prostate cancer. Cancer Res. 1998; 58:442–447.
Giovannucci E, Liu Y, Platz EA, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. Risk factors for prostate cancer incidence and progression in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. International Journal of Cancer. 2007; 121:1571–78.
Michaëlsson Karl, Wolk Alicja, Langenskiöld Sophie, Basu Samar, Warensjö Lemming Eva, Melhus Håkan et al. Milk intake and risk of mortality and fractures in women and men: cohort studies BMJ 2014; 349 :g6015
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