Since childhood we have been taught that drinking milk will make us strong and healthy adults. Growing up we learn that thanks to the calcium it contains, milk is essential to prevent osteoporosis. But is this really true? Let’s take a look.
For all mammals nature gives, as a primary food for each baby, breast milk. Its composition of water, sugars, lactose, protein, fat, vitamins and antibodies means that this food is highly specific for each species. So to clarify: every animal has its own specific milk, which differs from all the others for nutrients and enzymes.
I’m sure you are already realizing the next step of this argument; in nature, after weaning, no mammal continues to drink milk. The nutritional needs of the older mammal are completely different from those required as a baby. It is also worth noting that no other animal drinks milk of another species.
Perhaps it is worth thinking about how different the milk from a cow is from that of a female human, and the possible effects this could have on us when we drink cow’s milk.
Isn’t milk good for bones?
It is undeniable that from an organic point of view, milk contains a fair amount of calcium. However what is not considered is the acidity of milk which affects how the body can use the calcium it contains. It is quite ironic that to be able to dispose of calcium, the body actually needs calcium in the first place. It’s like comparing it to a usurer who gives 10 but takes 15.
Calcium is regularly disposed of by the body through urine, faeces and sweat, so our body is constantly taking supplies of calcium from the bones. It’s very important that calcium consumed in the diet is greater than the calcium lost, otherwise the balance is negative, and that’s when you could have trouble with osteoporosis.
It seems strange but it is a well documented fact that in populations which consume a lot of milk, the incidence of osteoporosis is greater, while it is rare in countries where they do not drink milk.
During childhood and adolescence it is extremely important to ensure an adequate intake of calcium. Up to the age of around 30 years, the balance between loss and absorption is generally positive. After this age, the body enters a state of “negative balance”, which means that the bones start to lose more calcium than they can hold on to.
The rate at which calcium is lost from the body depends, in part, on the type and quantity of food proteins and certain lifestyle habits. For example, a diet with a high level of animal protein, rich in sodium, alcohol, caffeine and a sedentary lifestyle can promote the loss of bone calcium.
Without falling into the usual clichés, calcium can be obtained from fruits and vegetables. Breakfast, for example, can include oranges, figs, cranberries and apricots, which will provide almost the same amount of calcium as a glass of milk. The difference here being that calcium would stay in the bones where it belongs because the fruit is a non-acid food.
Should you wish to continue drinking milk, there are alternatives to cows milk. Some people find that they tolerate goat and sheep milk better if cows milk causes them problems with their stomach or skin. If you wish to avoid animal milk altogether, you could try using a nut or seed milk – you can get ones made from almonds, oats, rice or coconut. Soy is quite controversial and people with thyroid issues may be best to stay away from soy milk products. Whatever you do decide, it can be a good idea to regularly change the type of milk that you use so that you get different nutrients. It is also important to check that there are not too many additives or preservatives in the product you buy. Or you could easily make your own milk from nuts, seeds or shredded coconut, Google is full of instructions on how to do this easily at home with your blender.
Finally some results of the scientific research done on milk:
ACNE ADOLESCENTS AND MILK CONSUMPTION
Clement A. Adebamowo, MD, ScD, Donna Spiegelman, ScD, F. William Danby, MD, A. Lindsay Frazier, MD, Walter C. Willett, MD, DrPH, and Michelle D. Holmes, “High school dietary dairy intake and teenage acne”, J Am Acad Dermatol. feb 2005, 52 (2) :207-14.LINK: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15692464
MILK AND OSTEOPOROSIS
 Feskanich D, Willet WC, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA. Milk, dietary calcium, and bone fractures in women: a 12-year prospective study. Am J Public Health 1997;87:992-7.
 Cumming RG, Klineberg RJ. Case-control study of risk factors for hip fractures in the elderly. Am J Epidemiol 1994;139:493-505.
 Huang Z, Himes JH, McGovern PG. Nutrition and subsequent hip fracture risk among a national cohort of white women. Am J Epidemiol 1996;144:124-34.
 Cummings SR, Nevitt MC, Browner WS, et al. Risk factors for hip fracture in white women. N Engl J Med 1995;332:767-73.
ANIMAL PROTEIN TAKEN IN THE EARLY CHILDHOOD AND OBESITY RISK
‘Gunther, A.L., Remer, T., Kroke, A., Buyken, A.E., “Early protein intake and later obesity risk: which protein sources at which time point throughtout infancy and childhood are important for body mass index and body fat percentage at 7 y of age?”, Am j Clin Nutr., 2007 Dec, vol. 86 (6), pp. 1765-1772
TOO MUCH CALCIUM FOR OSTEOPOROSIS DOUBLES THE RISK OF HEART ATTACK
Long term calcium intake and rates of all cause and cardiovascular mortality: community based prospective longitudinal cohort study, BMJ 2013; 346
LIGHT DAIRY AND FEMALE INFERTILITY RISK
Chavarro JE, Rich-Edwards JW, Rosner B, Willett WC., A prospective study of dairy foods intake and anovulatory infertility, Hum Reprod. 2007 May;22(5):1340-7. Epub 2007 Feb 28.
2 PORTIONS A DAY OF DAIRY CAUSING HYPERTENSION IN YOUNG – NEW STUDY
J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013 May 16, Influence of Dairy Product Consumption on Children’s Blood Pressure: Results from the QUALITY Cohort, Yuan WL, et al
NEW HARVARD STUDY CONFIRMS THAT MILK AND DAIRY NOT REDUCE THE RISK OF FRACTURE, COUNTRARY INCREASE IN MEN
Feskanich D, Bischoff-Ferrari HA, Frazier L, Willett WE. Milk consumption during teenage years and risk of hip fractures in older adults. JAMA Pediatr. Published online November 18, 2013.