Growing up, there are just some things that are part of a child’s education that are virtually universal. Eat your vegetables – they are good for you. Don’t hit your brother or sister – it’s not nice. Don’t sit too close to the t.v. – it’s bad for your eyes. Drink your milk – you need it to build strong bones and teeth. Despite our rebellion (the vegetables taste icky, my brother took my toy, it’s more fun to sit closer to the t.v, milk doesn’t taste good), eventually these words of wisdom become a part of our own knowledge, and we, in turn, teach these same things to our children. How many times have we realized that, oh my goodness, I have just told my kids the exact same words that my parents said to me when I was a child (despite our youthful oaths of “when I have children, I won’t ever say that”? We have a tendency to teach what we have been taught, oftentimes without even questioning whether what we have been taught is true, honest, or right. Children who are educated in a racist family are much more likely to become racist; children who grow up in a violent environment are more likely to become violent within their own families…the list goes on. Breaking these cycles is indeed a difficult task, but one that must be done to protect our children and our future descendants. One of these cycles that must be broken is the habit of drinking milk. “Nature’s Perfect Food” has shown itself to be not so perfect, yet we are virtually blind to this reality because the “wholesome” and “healthy” aspects of milk have been ingrained deeply into our culture and consciousness.
But how can milk be bad for us? Milk provides protein, calcium, and essential nutrients that our bodies need! Milk and dairy products even have their own category in the much-promoted food pyramid for a balanced diet! Milk gives us needed vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D! Celebrities, politicians, and sports stars encourage us to drink milk, and it is served with every school lunch and hospital meal! We love milk and consume it constantly as a beverage, cheese, ice cream, yogurt, etc. How can something so “natural” be bad for us? Let’s explore the “facts” of milk that have been pounded into us by the dairy industry.
Milk is necessary to provide calcium
Calcium is a very important mineral: it maintains bones and teeth, helps regulate the heartbeat, promotes muscle development and prevents cramps, protects against blood clotting, helps transmit nerve impulses, and helps balance pH levels in the body. Yes, milk does provide calcium, but so does virtually every natural food that we eat. Sesame seeds, green leafy veggies, cabbage, broccoli, brewers’ yeast, figs, oats, soy, and many other foods provide sufficient levels of calcium. While we are constantly informed of the dangers of not getting enough calcium, the rest of the world is getting along quite nicely without consuming milk, and are, in many cases, healthier than we are.
Milk prevents osteoporosis
We have all seen the advertisements promoting milk as the most effective preventative measure to prevent brittle bones as we age. Pregnant and nursing women are almost force-fed milk and dairy products (the government’s WIC program gives pregnant/lactating women and young children free gallons of milk and pounds of cheese every month) and they are told that milk consumption is vital to ensure strong bones and good health for the mother as well as for the baby. Yet the Bantu women of Africa, who are primarily vegetarians, consume roughly 250mg of calcium per day (the recommended daily allowance in this country is 800mg/day) and drink no milk. Despite giving birth and nursing sometimes seven babies each, they do not experience osteoporosis. Meanwhile, statistics show that one in three American women (faithful milk drinkers) will suffer serious bone loss in their lifetime.
Ironically, the populations who rely on milk products seem to be suffering the most from calcium deficiencies and osteoporosis. Pasteurization not only reduces calcium content in milk, but it also destroys important enzymes that separate calcium and phosphorus. Phosphorus binds with calcium, preventing it from being absorbed into the body. Our highly acid-forming diet consisting of meat, coffee, junk food, pop, etc. create an acidic environment, forcing us to consume more calcium (milk) to help buffer the acidity; this, combined with milk’s tendency to render its calcium content useless, often creates the negative calcium balance that leads to osteoporosis. In fact, a Harvard study that followed 75,000 women for twelve years showed that increased intake of calcium from dairy products was associated with a higher fracture risk.
We need milk for growth
I remember the milk commercials very well: there is a beautiful teenage girl standing next to a scrawny, short boy who is trying to get her to notice him. The boy tells the beautiful girl that she may not think that he is anything special now, but just wait, because he is drinking milk, and soon he will grow big and strong. At the end of the commercial, the small boy is transformed to a muscular football player, and the girl finally notices him. The message: drink milk to grow strong and tall; drink milk and girls will notice you; milk is needed for strong bones and ample muscles.
The theory that milk will make a person grow rapidly is very much supported by both the dairy industry as well as those who criticize the frothy white beverage. Milk contains powerful hormones that do affect growth (look for more on milk hormones in our next issue). A study of Japanese children that began in 1946 studied the diets of over twenty thousand people. According to the study, per-capita intake of dairy products was 5.5 pounds in 1950. Twenty-five years later, the per-capita intake of dairy products had risen to an astounding 117.4 pounds! In 1950, a twelve year old girl was 4’6″ tall and weighed 71 pounds, and the average age of a first menstrual cycle was 15.2 years; by 1975, the average twelve year old girl had grown 4.5 inches and gained nineteen pounds, and the average age of a first menstrual cycle was 12.2 years! We have wondered why our children seem to be developing so much quicker than they used to. Maybe we have found our answer.
Drinking milk is a natural and important part of a balanced diet
Have we ever seen a dog nursing a baby kitten, or a mother pig feeding a baby lamb? Of course we haven’t, yet we have been made to think that humans drinking a cow’s milk is natural.
Yes, milk is “the perfect food” – but it is species-specific. Human milk is perfect for human babies, rat milk is perfect for baby rats, lion milk is perfect for baby lions, and cow’s milk is perfect for baby cows. The milk of every mammal is unique and is tailored to the makeup of that animal. Cow’s milk has four times as much protein as human breastmilk and five times the mineral content. It also lacks essential fatty acids – mother’s milk has six times as much of these essential nutrients. It is not recommended for a baby under two to drink cow’s milk – I wonder why!
Another common reaction to cow’s milk is allergies or lactose intolerance. An estimated 90% of the world’s population is deficient in lactase, the enzyme needed for the digestion of lactose, the sugar in milk. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include diarrhea, bloating, gas, abdominal pain and osteoporosis. Symptoms of milk allergy include asthma, eczema, rash, sinus problems, ulcerative colitis, irregularity, depression, migraines and more. Cow’s milk can also cause intestinal bleeding in infants.
Other problems with milk
Many diseases and conditions have been linked with milk and dairy consumption. The high fat content in dairy products contributes to our high cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular disease. Several cancers have been linked to dairy products, such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, and leukemia. Insulin-dependent diabetes (type I or childhood-onset) has also been associated with consumption of dairy products – reports show that milk proteins in cow’s milk stimulate the production of antibodies that destroy insulin-producing pancreatic cells. Food poisoning, kidney stones, tuberculosis, and other conditions have all been linked to milk and dairy products.
Endocrinologist Clark Grosvenor published a review of the known hormones in milk. There are pituitary, hypothalamic, pancreatic, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal, gonadal, and gut hormones. Milk is the leading cause of estrogens in our diet. Estrogen has been associated with a higher risk of stroke and heart disease.
Many cows are injected with an artificial bovine growth hormone which makes them produce more milk than they usually would. (More about this in the next issue.)
Just as drugs and toxins are transmitted from human breastmilk to a baby, a cow’s milk passes contaminants to the calf or human drinking her milk. This includes antibiotics, pesticides, and chemicals. You will also find pus and drug residues in cow’s milk. The Centre for Science in the Public Interest found that 38% of milk samples in ten cities were contaminated with sulfa drugs or other antibiotics. Furthermore, the testing method used for drugs in cow’s milk by the FDA can detect two of the 30+ drugs found in milk!
A modern dairy cow has her calf taken away from her when it is 1-3 days old. The least healthy of the calves are slaughtered and processed into pet food and rennet for cheese making. Some of the female calves end up being dairy replacements for their mothers, and others are sold when 1-2 weeks old to be raised for beef. Many are exported to Europe for veal products. Dairy cows are kept pregnant – in fact, many are pregnant every year. She is milked for about ten months and is forced to produce 10 times the amount her calf would have consumed (thanks to artificial hormones). She often suffers from mastitis and is slaughtered at age five, while a cow has a lifespan of about twenty years. Dairy cows are fed unnatural food containing meat byproducts from other livestock, roadkill and pets. They have little room for exercise and freedom on modern farms and are treated only as a commodity rather than a living being.
Millions of people live and prosper without relying on dairy products. Their bodies are healthy and their bones are strong. Their environments are clean and their livestock roam free – the cows eat grass and greens and live the way they were meant to live. Their cow’s milk is reserved for the calf, and if/when they do consume a bit of the cow’s milk, it is free from artificial substances, man-made hormones, and drugs.
The choice is ours, but the fact remains that we do not need cow’s milk. It becomes a matter of preference, health, and for some, spirituality, rather than of bodily need or nutrition. Are we courageous enough to make our own decisions? “Milk, it does a body good?” We’re not so sure. Pass it on.