Got Milk?

By Vaughn Olson, Contributing Writer. Published April 1, 2011

“Got Milk?” This slogan from advocates of drinking more milk might in fact not be promoting a good thing. Throughout our childhoods we are always told that drinking milk will help us build better bones and make us bigger and stronger. Recent studies have begun to question whether drinking milk really leads to being healthier. In fact, drinking milk has been shown to lead to major health risks such as heart disease and cancer. Simply assuming that milk is the healthiest choice is not a good idea.

Recent studies have shown that high rates of milk consumption have lead to higher levels of coronary heart disease. According to a study done by Margaret Moss, MA, director of the Nutrition and Allergy Clinic in Manchester, UK, every country that reduced milk consumption also lowered rates of coronary heart disease. It could be argued that this is due to recent medical advances or some other significant change in the world, however the only country that increased milk consumption was Portugal and they saw increased rates of coronary heart disease. This evidence is hard to refute seeing as the pattern was consistent throughout all of the countries studied. People who think that this study is incorrect might claim that this study was done on too large of a scale. Yes, this is a very large scale study; however the rate of milk consumption was the only obvious constant variable. The study might not be conclusive that drinking milk causes coronary heart disease but it proves that this possibility is definitely plausible. The fact that it is plausible should be enough to encourage more people to research this subject.

In addition to potential heart disease due to drinking milk it is also very possible for a person to develop cancer from milk. According to Alison Stewart, Editor of the Consumer Health Journal, milk contains a substance known as insulin-like growth factor or IGF-1. Milk was originally designed for baby cows and baby humans. When milk is used in these situations IGF-1 is a very beneficial part of milk and helps growth and other functions. There are already traces of IGF-1 in the human blood stream; this suggests that it is a useful ingredient. It has been shown that higher levels of IGF-1 stimulate growth. However in this situation the growth is not favorable seeing as it stimulates the growth of cancer cells. At a certain point an adult has already grown to their full potential and because of this there are really no positive outcomes from this part of the milk. Between the ages of 21 and ~45 drinking milk does not have as strong of benefits as in the other years of life. The American Journal of Public Health did a study that suggested that the Vitamin D in milk has the potential to mitigate damage from osteoporosis. This shows that drinking milk does have some beneficial outcomes.

It has been shown that Vitamin D has the potential to decrease risk for cancer however this is not conclusive. Doctors have done a few studies that suggest that Vitamin D does indeed have the potential to prevent cancer however it is hard to say if the levels of Vitamin D will outweigh those of the IGF-1. The issue of milk health has become a relatively important issue to many pediatricians these days however many people in the public are not aware of the risks. The campaigns for drinking milk have led people to believe that milk is 100% positive and that is not for sure. Many people in the U.S. are willing to simply believe whatever they are told as long as it sounds credible. This is a huge danger and causes confusion in many cases.

Is it not strange that humans are drinking the milk of another animal? When a person suggests drinking goat milk or milk from other animals many people cringe but when it is cow milk people automatically think it is healthy. It is somewhat gross to imagine drinking from the teat of another animal but that is essentially what drinking cow milk is. If humans are going to continue drinking milk after the weaning period it seems like much less of a foreign idea to continue drinking human milk rather than that of cows. Calves drink cow milk seeing as it was designed for them and human babies drink from the breast of female humans. This is how it was meant to be and this is why cow milk isn’t necessarily a perfect fit for humans. It is unrealistic to produce milk from humans seeing as it would require women to create milk when nursing a baby and then distribute it to other people. This is the reason that cow milk is substituted but it is not a perfect swap seeing as they are two different types of milk.

On top of all of this it has been shown that milk can lead to iron-deficiency anemia in infants. On this issue Benjamin Spock, MD said “Dairy products contribute to a surprising number of health problems. They can impair a child’s ability to absorb iron and in very small children can even cause subtle blood loss from the digestive tract. Combined with the fact that milk has virtually no iron of its own, the result is an increased risk of iron deficiency”. The fact that milk does not contain iron makes it a poor substitute for a healthy diet. On many occasions people will believe that due to the high amount of nutrients found in milk that they will be able to eat unhealthy foods as long as they drink milk and still be healthy. This is ridiculous and a well-rounded diet is very important in a person’s health. When Kody Bolk, McKendree University student, was asked what he thought of milk he said, “I drink milk because it has a bunch of nutrients in it. I’ve always been told it’s healthy and I have had no reason to believe it isn’t”. This attitude is very common seeing as the downsides of milk are never widely expressed to the public. If more studies are done then maybe people will start to reconsider grabbing a cup of milk and instead choose water. Milk is not a miracle food and can’t make up for a bad diet and lack of nutrients.

All in all milk has its positives and its negatives and it is up to the drinker whether or not the positives outweigh the negatives. It is important that people learn more about this topic and that milk is not simply assumed to be healthy. It shocked me to learn that milk is not as healthy as I was always told and now I am very interested in looking at other supposedly “healthy” foods to see if they are actually good for humans. Milk was not designed for humans so we need to begin to be careful and research not only the positives of things but also the negatives.

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