For the past 100 years or so, we have been told to consume more dairy. Yet, our ancestors and indeed many cultures today, consume very little milk, cheese and other processed dairy products. As with many of our foods today, they are produced and obtained very differently from those of our ancestors.
For many years I have challenged my patients who consume milk by telling them we do not need milk. The only milk a human being needs is its mother’s breast milk.
This is often met with resistance as we have been told that we need milk for healthy bones; milk goes onto cereal (another highly processed empty food that’s not good for us) and into coffee and tea. Alternatives like soy milk have been slammed due to the phyto-estrogens and hormonal effect on our body. So let me deal with the hormone issue first.
Cow’s milk contains hormones
Every nutrient that our body uptakes into its trillion cells, has to enter that cell via a specific channel or by receptor. Hormones enter cells via receptors – this is basically like a lock and key system. The hormone has to fit into the lock in order to enter the cell. Plant or phyto-estrogens have an extremely low hormonal effect on our cells. Synthetic hormones (those contained in contraception and hormone replacement therapies), animal oestrogens like those contained in cow’s milk and xeno-estrogens (those contained in pesticides, herbicides, plastics, detergents etc) have a high detrimental effect on our body.
Many cancers are driven or fed by oestrogen. In order to block the ‘toxic’ oestrogens, the use of phyto-estrogens has been used. These latch onto the receptors, blocking the more detrimental oestrogen from entering cells. Contrary to much misinformation out there, plant oestrogens do not increase or fuel hormone dependent cancers. Used correctly, they can actually assist.
The fact that cow’s milk is high in oestrogens has not made main-stream media. Yet despite the scientific research available, milk is still touted as a super food.
The Harvard Medical Gazette quotes Dr Ganmaa Davaasambuu as follows:
“The milk we drink today is quite unlike the milk our ancestors were drinking” without apparent harm for 2,000 years, she said. “The milk we drink today may not be nature’s perfect food.” Earlier studies bear out Ganmaa’s hypothesis that eating dairy heightens the risk of some cancers. Butter, meat, eggs, milk, and cheese are implicated in higher rates of hormone-dependent cancers in general, she said. Breast cancer has been linked particularly to consumption of milk and cheese.
Milk consumption actually contributes to cancer, osteoporosis and gastrointestinal diseases
Milk and other dairy products contain many biologically active molecules including hormones and growth factors. Cow’s milk has been shown to contain over 35 different hormones and 11 growth factors (Grosvenor et al., 1992). Some researchers are particularly concerned about the oestrogen content of cow’s milk (Ganmaa and Sato, 2005), suggesting that cow’s milk is one of the important routes of human exposure to oestrogens. The milk consumed now is very different to the milk consumed a century ago. Unlike their pasture-fed counterparts of old, modern dairy cows are usually pregnant and continue to lactate during the latter half of pregnancy, when the concentration of oestrogens in blood, and hence in the milk, increases. Although there is a paucity of research in this field, early evidence suggests the increase in exposure to cow’s oestrogen may be linked to an increased incidence of certain cancers. In one study, cancer incidence was correlated with food intake in 40 countries (Ganmaa and Sato, 2005). Results showed that both cow’s milk and cheese increased the risk of hormone-dependent cancers such as breast and ovarian cancer. Among the dietary risk factors identified, these researchers were most concerned with milk and dairy products because, as already stated, the milk drunk today tends to come from pregnant cows among whom oestrogen and progesterone levels are markedly elevated.
Another bioactive component of cow’s milk receiving an increasing amount of attention is the growth factor called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). The amount of IGF-1 present is higher in milk produced by pregnant cows. The concern is that because IGF-1 in cows is identical to human IGF-1, this growth factor could cross the gut wall and trigger an abnormal response, for example increasing the risk of certain cancers. Indeed, over the last decade IGF-1 has been linked to an increased risk of childhood cancers, breast cancer, lung cancer, melanoma and cancers of the pancreas and prostate (LeRoith et al., 1995; Chan et al., 1998) and gastrointestinal cancers (Epstein, 1996).
Scientific evidence now shows that “consumption of dairy produce is more closely correlated with coronary disease than any other food group, including meat. Cow’s milk allergy is not only extremely common, especially among infants; it is also potentially dangerous, being associated with cot death and gastro-intestinal bleeding. If that wasn’t enough, a growing body of scientists now believes that dairy consumption is contributing to osteoporosis, not preventing it.”
Children are especially vulnerable
Logic would deduce that giving milk to children is setting them up for significant health problems as they grow older. There don’t need to be scientific studies or clinical trials into the effects of giving developing girls and boys extra oestrogen. The facts are known and their implications on developing young bodies are obvious.
For more guidance on what is good for you and your family, I recommend you seek the professional advice of a qualified nutritionist or naturopath.