Milk: It Does No-Body Good

It’s pretty bad, in fact.

The myth that milk does a body good or is in any way a health food is officially crumbling (along with cheerios lowering cholesterol and Nutella being a part of a well balanced breakfast). Large-scale studies over the past few years such as The China Study and The Nurses Health Study contain strong evidence that milk is not the healthy beverage we have always thought, but it is quite possibly contributing to the very diseases it was supposed to prevent, such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and cancers.

Myth: Milk is necessary for bone health 

This tends to be the loudest of all arguments in favor of milk. Parents are very concerned that their children should grow up with strong bones and healthy teeth. And, as women age and their bone mineral density decreases, milk becomes an apparently attractive source for bone health.

So where did the myth that cow’s milk was necessary for bone health come from? Initially, I blamed the cows. They most certainly have some culpability in spreading this myth as they arrogantly walk around their fields, with their huge stature and strong bones. Why wouldn’t humans want to emulate these big boned bovine beasts? But then I realized that cows don’t drink milk. They drink water and eat a plant-based diet consisting primarily of grass.

So far as I am aware there have been no epidemics of osteoporotic cows in America, Europe, Asia or Africa but if that does occur, I have no doubt there will be plenty of milk and synthetic calcium supplements to cure them. Just to be clear, this is not unique to cows. Other large boned animals such as elephants, bison, gorillas, boars, hippopotamus and giraffes all subsist exclusively on water and a plant-based diet, not to mention the 97 million year old 100 ton titanosaur dinosaur named Argentinosaurus who ate nothing but plants and drank no milk but had a femur the size of a house.

Secondly, humans only have a brief relationship with cow’s milk. For millions of years our Paleolithic ancestors lived amazingly healthy lives without the benefit of cow’s milk. Current examinations of their bones show they were slightly taller than us modern humans and had a high nutrient dense diet that was lactose free.

Thirdly, milk is a poor source of calcium. In every 100 grams of calcium, humans absorb 32 grams. This is much lower than calcium rich green leafy vegetables. For example, for every 100 grams of brussel sprouts the body absorbs nearly 64 grams, nearly twice the absorption of milk. Kale and spinach also have much higher absorption rates than cow’s milk. Interestingly, calves absorb nearly 100% of the calcium in cow’s milk.

If you haven’t been swayed, let’s look at the research

In 1976, the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) began looking at factors that influence women’s health. Information was provided by 238,000 nurse participants making NHS one of the “largest and longest running investigations of factors that influence women’s health.” This massive study concluded that there was no “protective effect of increased milk consumption on fracture risk.”

The NHS study also found that “those who drank more than one glass of milk per day had a 45% higher hip fracture rate than those who drank much less milk”.

Is it possible that drinking milk depletes calcium in bones? Another Harvard study found that “in countries with the highest dairy consumption such as Norway, Sweden, and the United States the number of hip fractures is 50 times greater than such countries as New Guinea and South Africa which have extremely low consumption of dairy and other animal products.”

Myth: Milk is a good source of protein because it is a complete protein.

A complete protein is one that contains the 9 essential amino acids that the body does not produce but that are necessary to produce the tens of thousands of proteins the body uses every single day. It is true that milk is a complete protein but there are many healthy sources of complete proteins.

The problem with milk is that in many cases, milk proteins create an immune response or allergy. I am not referring to lactose intolerance. Here I am referring to a specific allergy to the proteins in milk, principally casein and whey. Milk allergy is very common and much more significant in children and can have lasting and damaging affects. Various studies have shown a link between milk allergy and asthma, not to mention gastro intestinal complications.  

Myth: Although milk does contain both bovine and synthetic hormones, they have never been proven to be harmful.

While no one denies there are both natural and synthetic hormones in our milk, the debate is centered upon whether or not these hormones affect us. In the 1950s the majority of dairy cattle were injected with diethylstilbestrol (DES), which was also used as an anti-miscarriage drug in pregnant women.

DES was phased out both in humans and dairy cattle in the 1970’s because it was linked to increased rates vaginal cancer in humans. Currently, dairy cattle are injected with rBGH, which means recombinant bovine growth hormone. Recombinant bovine growth hormone is not only injected into dairy cows but is produced naturally by cows to increase milk production. Rest assured though, you have very little to worry about rBGH, especially if you live in Europe or Canada because in those countries it has been banned. In America, we are still exposed to this apparently innocuous hormone thanks to the hard work of one of the synthetic rBGH producers, Monsanto, and their lobbying efforts.

In an unrelated story, the Journal of The American Academy of Dermatology determined in one of many milk/acne studies that they “found a positive association between intake of skim milk and acne. This finding suggests that skim milk contains hormonal constituents, or factors that influence endogenous hormones, in sufficient quantities to have biological effects in consumers.” 

Additionally, recent research suggests a link between rBGH increasing insulin like growth factor (ILGF-1) which may increase breast and prostate cancer.

To be fair, these studies are not 100% conclusive. No one can say that milk in any way causes cancer. Therefore, I will call it a hunch and switch to almond milk.

Myth: Milk is a health food providing essential vitamins and minerals.

I agree with the National Dairy Council that “a single glass of milk delivers a package of nine essential nutrients important for good health, including calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamins D, A and B12, riboflavin and niacin (niacin equivalents).”

But I disagree that milk is a health food. Surrounding these nine nutrients is a dirty blood-based liquid containing hormones, antibiotics, saturated fats and somatic or pus cells. Somatic cells are primarily white blood cells or pus and may contain dead bacteria as well as epithelial cells from inside the cow.

The USDA allows a legal maximum of 750,000 somatic cells per milliliter of milk for Grade A milk. Some level of somatic cell will always be present, however with dairy cows be injected with rBGH to produce more milk, the risk of mastitis goes up, which is why the somatic cell counts in our milk have risen.

Antibiotic use in livestock is creating problems for our bodies as well. 80% of the antibiotics in the U.S. are used on livestock, primarily as a prophylactic against infections such as mastitis from over burdened dairy cows and to help them grow faster. These antibiotics end up in our meat and our milk and reducing their overall effectiveness.

Cow’s milk would be harder to remove from our diet if there weren’t such wonderful alternatives. Many of the nut milks such as almond and hemp have equivalent levels of the same nutrients found in milk and more. Hemp milk, for example, is has essential Omega 3 fatty acids necessary for brain health.

Dr. O’s recommendations:

In order to build strong bones and healthy teeth, both in adolescents and in our senior population, there are three things that are extremely beneficial.

  • Optimize your vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is  a hormone produced in the liver and kidneys after being exposed to sun. It pulls bone building nutrients from the food we eat and helps put those nutrients in the bone. Healthy exposure to the sun without burning is always the best way to achieve optimal vitamin D levels. Secondarily, foods and supplements containing vitamin D will help you achieve optimal vitamin D levels.
  • Get plenty of healthy exercise. P90x and Insanity may work for some people but the majority of the population should look for a sustainable exercise that you enjoy and can do every day. The best exercise will combine both cardiovascular activities such as walking, jogging, and biking with resistance exercises that build muscle. The could be as simple as light weight lifting or walking with a weight vest.
  • Increase consumption of plant-based nutrient packed foods while decrease the processed carbohydrates. Nutrient-dense bone building foods include kale, brocolli, brussel sprouts, collard greens, spinach and a host of other delicious veggies. Although protein is essential and should be included at each meal, plant based proteins are often superior to animal-based protein especially for people with lower bone mineral density. High levels of animal-based proteins can create acidic conditions that pull alkalinizing nutrients such as calcium from your bones. Acids in sodas can also leach calcium from bones so I would recommend leaving those out of your nutritional program as well.

Jeremy Dale June 17, 2012 at 12:50 PM
As an organic dairy farmer in the UK I would like to take issue with your article. Some points such as the one about calcium are poor science. Grass contains very high levels of calcium which a cows digestive system is able to extract. As humans we need calcium from other sources. I think the whole article is over simplistic and tars an entire industry with the same brush. I can only speak for myself but my cows eat nothing but grass, our cell count is consistently in the region of 100,000 unlike the 750,000 quoted in the article. We never use hormone on our cows and from a nutritional point of view it has been proven that milk from organic or grass fed cows has high levels of omega 3 as well a whole range of essential minerals and vitamins. Grass fed milk is also low in saturated fat. Articles like this throwing generalised accusations at a whole industry are a cheap shot. Support what is good!
Chris Ogilvie, Naturopath June 17, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Jeremy, thanks for reading the article. I appreciate that you are making milk a better product and I agree that grass-fed dairy products are better than conventional. The 750,000 is the upper limit defined by the USDA for Grade A Milk. However, even with increased omega 3 content and less somatic cells, your product is uniquely formulated for calves. Human milk is the best milk for humans but only during infancy. Most of us lose the ability to break down lactose within a few years of life and milk allergies are some of the most common in children. The Nurses Study showed no benefit from milk consumption and the China Study showed that milk consumption may be deleterious to our health. These are massive bodies of research and not considered poor to health practitioners. There's nothing I can get in milk that I can't get from alternatives to milk but without the allergies, hormones, and white blood cells. "There's no reason to drink cow's milk at any time in your life. It was designed for calves, not humans, and we should all stop drinking it today." - Dr. Frank A. Oski, Former Director of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University
Noz June 18, 2012 at 04:00 AM
Milk is poison...dairy is poison...casein in dairy products has been DIRECTLY linked to cancer, various other diseases, etc..and it's in EVERYTHING...from dressings to drinks to whatever else you can think of. Milk, along with beef, has been pushed down peoples' throats so long that it is now the norm....and what an industry it is. Better not get in the way...or you may end up like JFK.
Aaron Kirk June 19, 2012 at 01:30 AM
Thanks for the article Doc! I have been alergic to milk my whole life. I have been avoiding all dairy products since I was 8. Except, when I was 16 . Thought myself invincible...and suffered a two year long recovery process from the damage milk did to my digestive tract. Mis-diagnosis while I was young nearly led to hearing loss from consistant long term ear infections. Now miniscule digestion of milk products induces extrem flu like symptoms in hours. In fact I can tell you if there is milk in a food product in minutes due to histomine reactions in my nose. The only time I ever suffer from the flu or any viral is directly related to accidental digestion of dairy products. I can go years without sickness. And when it does happen the symptoms typically clears up in hours for me. Not the days suffered by friends and family who cling to dairy habits. You ever wonder why the doctors tell you to avoid dairy products while suffering or recovering from the flu? To any one questioning this artical I pose this challenge...remove dairy from your diet for one month. No milk, whey, casein, or sodium caseinate. Read the labels and avoid it totally. At the end of the month live it up and have some milk. Whole, 2%, your favorite cheese it does not matter. The reaction your body has should convince you just how good milk really is for a body. I have yet to meet one person who did not have an adverse reaction after abstaining for 1 month.
Chris Ogilvie, Naturopath June 19, 2012 at 02:06 AM
Aaron, thanks for your comments. So many people don't know they have dairy allergies and live their entire lives in pain. I agree with your recommendation. In my clinic I have seen wonderful result after eliminating dairy for 6-8 weeks. Most people will see a reduction in gastrointestinal symptoms, inflammatory conditions like arthritis and asthma and an improvement in focus and energy.
Leslie Perales Loges June 19, 2012 at 05:48 AM
Chris! I didn't know you were blogging for Patch—how wonderful. :D Glad to read your advice here (let's get it cross posted to Herndon Patch too!). Hope you're well.
Leslie Perales Loges June 19, 2012 at 05:51 AM
(Also just realized this is a column rather than a blog! I'm obviously up too late.)
Chris Ogilvie, Naturopath June 19, 2012 at 11:27 AM
Hi Leslie, great to hear from you. This is the first one. We'll be putting up the column on a weekly basis.
Tim Kruck June 19, 2012 at 02:33 PM
I loved your article I have been a vegetarian for about 4 years and don't drink milk at all. I have psoriasis and it drives me nuts. So I quit eating meat and have slowed it down. Now I will cut out all dairy and see if my allergies clear up. Thanks to Aaron Kirk posting your article on face book and I will be reposting it my self. Any advice for psoriasis. Thanks, Tim Kruck
Mike June 19, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Vincent: Want some bacon? Jules: No man, I don't eat pork. Vincent: Are you Jewish? Jules: Nah, I ain't Jewish, I just don't dig on swine, that's all. Vincent: Why not? Jules: Pigs are filthy animals. I don't eat filthy animals. Vincent: Bacon tastes gooood. Pork chops taste gooood. Also, milk and cheese are gooood!
Bob Parr June 19, 2012 at 10:28 PM
Why is our local news site serving as an outlet for vegan propaganda? It isn't a local issue and Dr. Ogilvie's use of his medical credentials to advance a dubious agenda is ethically questionable. Endurance athletes recognize chocolate milk as an especially effective recovery drink. But maybe we can enjoy a nice glass of kale instead.
Chris Ogilvie, Naturopath June 19, 2012 at 10:51 PM
Hello Bob, thanks for reading the article. I'm not a vegan and have rarely recommended it. I had a delicious grass-fed pastured steak for father's day, which is how all steaks were before we started to add hormones and chemicals the cows. I too am an endurance athlete and would not recommend chocolate milk as a recovery drink. However, if it works for you, continue. My recommendations would be a smoothie with protein and complex carbs, some of which may come from kale.
Kati Delahanty June 19, 2012 at 11:23 PM
Thanks for this article. I have cut out all dairy products for 7 months now because I'm nursing my daughter and we found blood in her stool when she was 2 months old. Taking dairy completely out of my diet has completely changed my life. I've also taken out soy and I'm not sure how much that has contributed to how wonderful I feel. I'm sure it's because eliminating those two foods has forced (invited, really) me to do without processed food in general. My question, though, is about what I should do once I stop nursing my daughter. I don't have an end date in mind, but once she does wean (I'm hoping she'll do it on her own when she's ready) should I not give her cow's milk, which is what her pediatrician and GI doctor are suggesting?
Don johnson June 20, 2012 at 03:33 AM
Paleolithic man only lived to the age of 35. With a large enough cross section of doctors, you can find any number of them bucking conventional wisdom about everything, from vaccinations to smoking...,
James Cullum June 20, 2012 at 04:01 AM
Thanks for the comment, Don! Does that mean you think drinking milk is ok for our bodies? Also, what do they say about smoking?
Mike June 20, 2012 at 04:47 AM
Why drink milk when there is beer? Well, maybe for the cereal.
Chris Ogilvie, Naturopath June 20, 2012 at 10:11 AM
Hi Kati. Thanks for reading the article. Removing milk and processed grains is not easy but it sounds like you are feeling better, which is most important. Whatever you decide to do, please work closely with your pediatrician to ensure the safety and health of your child. I have an 8 month old who won't be put on cow's milk. We will focus on feeding her real organic fruits, veggies, and proteins.
Sally Spangler June 21, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Malarky - Hype, not necesairily any truth in any of the article. Stuff to sell a product or to destroy a product. With the idea of milk is not a good substance to ingest - what about cheese? butter? hmm?
Mike June 21, 2012 at 05:02 PM
My "vegetarian experience" was having a roommate vegetarian who had to shove suppositories where the sun does not shine because of an iron deficiency.
Chris Ogilvie, Naturopath June 21, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Hello Mike, thanks for the comments. Vegetarianism works for some people but definitely not all people. There is quite a bit of historical data to suggest we are meat eaters. Many vegetarians end up being "junk-etarians" meaning they eat vegetarian processed foods. I have NEVER recommended using iron suppositories, nor have I heard of others recommending it. Other than B-12, a vegetarian should be able to get all of their nutrients from food.
Sally Spangler June 21, 2012 at 09:14 PM
Dear Dr. Ogilivie - expound, if you please on the content/uses of B-12. Right now it seems to be very much a non-perscription additive to "our" diet. I've heard/read that it should not be used and the reverse of that. Would you care to expound and clarify?
Chris Ogilvie, Naturopath June 21, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Sure Sally, B-12 or cobalamin deficiency killed 10,000 people per year up until 1926. B-12 helps keep your red blood cells small and strong. B-12 require adequate stomach acid to be absorbed. We know as we get older, our stomach acid tends to decrease or become less acidic. Things that also reduce stomach acidity would be all antacids and heart burn medications. Some obvious signs that your B-12 is low are fatigue and peripheral neuropathy, meaning pain, numbness, or lack or coordination in your hands and feet. If your B-12 is low, it is important to supplement either with sublingual, oral, or shots of B-12. Your doctor knows you best so ask them first before adding or subtracting any nutriceutical.
Chris Ogilvie, Naturopath June 22, 2012 at 01:57 AM
Hey Tim, Thanks for reading the article. Always have to rule out food allergies. Eliminating wheat and dairy for 8 weeks is a great start. After that I would recommend finding a Naturopath who could work with on some homeopathy, acupuncture, possibly doing some hydrotherapy (saunas, colon hydrotherapy) even fasting. Our bodies are so unique that rarely is there a one size fits all but if you find a professional who can guide you through the process. Please don't attempt these things on your own. It will be a journey, in my experience psoriasis can be quite stubborn but it sounds like you are on the right track with nutritional interventions.


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