Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What To Drink Part 2: What's Wrong with Milk?

Here is our second installment in the series: What To Drink
Read the first part here: What's Wrong With Juice?

Milk has been the norm for a child's meal-time beverage for quite some time.  I know in my family we ALL drank milk with dinner.  And since fatphobia was (and still is for the misinformed) still the rage, our milk was the lowest percentage of fat still palatable.  For me, that was 1%.  I always looked upon skim milk with disgust as being cloudy water, but respected those who could sacrifice their sense of taste to drink it.  Skim milk was hardcore.  But do adults really need milk?  Do kids really need milk?

This is a highly debated topic amongst the paleo/primal community.  For many, nutrition is like religion and dairy is one of the saints.  Personal stories take either side of the debate: some being healed by dairy (notice it is raw dairy), others eliminating it from their diets for even better health.  

Let's dive in. 

Can You Be Healthy WITHOUT Milk?

Since milk is a given for most families, let's play devil's advocate.  Does anyone really need milk?  The common argument is over calcium.  If I don't drink milk, can I get enough calcium?  Paleo dieters, the lactose intolerant, and others who withhold dairy from their diets need to get their calcium from other food sources (fish, shellfish, and leafy greens).  It also helps if they and don't muck up their digestive tract's absorption by consuming grains or legumes, which contain phytates that bind to minerals like calcium and which carry an acidic load that leads to calcium loss.  

Can you be healthy without milk?  Yes, even kids can be healthy without milk, following a paleo diet.  Here is Robb Wolf's analysis of the paleo diet for kids.  His conclusion?  It is definitely more healthy than following the USDA guidelines AND you get enough nutrients that it looks like you are taking a nutritional supplement; the recommended dietary allowances (RDA) are blown out of the water!  

However, you might have noticed that calcium is below the RDA.  Before this alarms you, read how Dr. Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet, explains that here.  Basically, your absorption of calcium is improved when you have a healthy gut, so no worries and no need to drink milk.   Leafy greens like brassica plants (ex. kale) have calcium we can absorb better than milk, and a paleo diet keeps the acids and bases in balance so you aren't leaching calcium from your bones.  In fact, the high protein in a paleo diet increases calcium absorption and builds bone rather than breaking it down.  Finally, as a low glycemic diet, the paleo diet controls insulin levels thereby avoiding hyperinsulinemia (elevated insulin), which leads to urinary calcium loss.  

Cordain doesn't include dairy in his diet for numerous reasons, like the proteins most are allergic to, the inflammatory effect, the autoimmune disease risk, etc.  Here are the specifics from his blog's question and answer section:
  • Milk is a source of estrogens and dihydrotestosterone precursors, which can increase the risk of certain cancers and acne.
  • Milk increases IGF-1, and the IGF-1/IGFBP-3 ratio, and this increases the risk of certain cancers and acne--among other diseases--as explained by Dr. Cordain in his 2003 paper “Hyperinsulinemic diseases of civilization: more than just syndrome X” 
  • Milk contains insulin, and bovine insulin differs in only 3 amino acids from human insulin. This feature can increase the risk of Type 1 diabetes in genetically susceptible persons.
  • Betacellulin: is a hormone belonging to the EGF family of hormones. If it is confirmed that Betacellulin is able to enter circulation, then there is a very good possibility that it may increase the susceptibility of certain epithelial cancers.
  • Milk elevates insulin as much as white bread. Constantly elevating plasma insulin levels may lead to insulin resistance, which is at the root of several metabolic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes or hypertension.
  • High calcium intake adversely affects zinc absorption, a key mineral in more than 300 enzymatic reactions.
  • Milk contains several allergenic proteins.
  • Dairy products, especially hard cheeses, yield a very high net acidic load which might lead to calcium and muscle loss and decrease growth hormone.
There's even more explanation here, also on his Paleo Diet Blog.  Here are the main points (see site for citations and much more depth):
1) Milk and fermented milk (yoghurt, for instance), despite having a low Glycemic Index and Load, elicit a very high insulin response and this has been shown repeatedly in intervention studies.   
2) Cow’s milk appears to be involved in certain Autoimmune diseases (AD):
  •  Type 1 Diabetes 
  • Multiple Sclerosis  
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis 
  • Crohn's disease 
  • Sjögren's syndrome 
  • IgA nephropathy 
  • Behçet's disease 
  • Celiac Disease. 
3) Hormones in Milk:  
Here’s a short list of some hormones present in cow’s milk that could be problematic for humans:
  • Insulin
  • IGF-1
  • Betacellulin (BTC)
  • Estrogens (particularly Estrone Sulfate)
  • Precursors of Dihydrotestosterone (DHT)
4) Milk has a very high calcium/magnesium ratio and may contribute to some micronutrient imbalances. 
Unfortunately, there is no comparison of Cordain's list of traits between raw milk and conventional pasteurized milk, so we don't know how much of a difference raw milk can make.  As you will read in our next installment, raw milk makes all the difference in the quality and potential nutrition of the milk. 

So now you know the argument against dairy.  Personally, I play with dairy in my diet, adding in quality sources and indulgences now and then, and I routinely use raw, grass-fed butter.  But I have tried the N=1 dose and response test after eliminating dairy from my diet, so I know my limitations and that I definitely do have a reaction to dairy, some forms more than others.  We'll talk more about that in our next installment, which answers the question: Can You Be Healthy WITH Milk?

Bottom line: You don't NEED milk to be healthy, even as a kid AS LONG AS you are eating your vegetables and a healthy, balanced diet of meat (and fat) and veggies (and some fruit).  How counter-culture is that?


  1. I have gone through your article, I feel it is good, expecting more such articles from you, I will be visiting your website often will refer your website to my friends. Even i have found good information about Health Information

  2. I didn't enjoy milk in my younger years (and still today I can barely drink it by itself) so it was hard for my mom to find a substitute (I didn't start liking most vegetables until High School, I still can't stand a majority of them) so she was worried about my growth and health. I ate a lot of cheese and yogurt, and although they might not be the best substitute (especially cheese) i was still able to get my vitamins and the calcium I needed. It's always good to find alternatives to things that people think we need on a daily basis, and really, not drinking a glass of milk but a slice of cheese instead will not cause you to deteriorate.

  3. Great post; will you be mentioning anything about goat milk in any of your installments? Thanks for all you do!

  4. Thank you for the comments! Glad you enjoyed the post! I know what you mean, School Daz Inc, I think vegetables can meet our calcium needs, but when there aren't enough veggies in the diet, turning to dairy you can tolerate is a good idea. I imagine many parents have this problem too. We'll get into which dairy is best in a future installment of this series. Thank you both again!
    Best wishes,

  5. Cordain also doesn't distinguish between types of dairy. Cow milk isn't the only option. Goat dairy, as a prime example, is very nearly another sort of food entirely. Its closest analogue is...human breastmilk. It's homogenized naturally (just like human breastmilk) and unsurprisingly, most of the groups who turn up 'lactose intolerant' natively can consume goat dairy with ease (and sometimes sheep, or yak, or horse, or sometimes simply other types of cow than the one breed that dominates commercial milk production).

    I think the dairy discussion tends to be too heavily skewed towards cow dairy, without an understanding that milk from one or two cow breeds that are heavily inbred is not quite the same situation as 'dairy creates xyz problems when people consume it'. In some ways, there's an echo of the 'saturated fat is bad' meme regarding dairy.

  6. Thank you for the feedback! I agree our emphasis is on cow dairy, but that is because it is the most prevalent source of dairy, at least in the US. I am interested in learning more about the milk of other animals, especially since others seem more palatable to our stomachs. Thanks again!
    Best wishes,