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Don’t Drink Milk
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Don’t Drink Milk

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Diabetes Month: Got Milk? Seriously, don't bother.

Isn’t it weird that humans are the only mammals on earth that drink milk after early childhood? And what's with us drinking the milk of other species?

People are so crazy about milk that we’ve established vast industries to feed and breed animals to produce milk for us. Ever-present advertisements and constant reminders from public health organizations urge us to consume lots of dairy products every day: American adults are generally advised to drink three glasses of milk a day. Milk is big business. There are dairy farms farms in all U.S. states and the U.S. dairy industry is estimated at $140 billion in annual economic output. Milk is touted as a healthy and convenient drink that’s packed with protein, vitamins and minerals, especially calcium. But do the health claims really hold up, and what about some of the stuff in milk they aren’t telling you about?

Milk is Full of Sugar

Lactose is a sugar and milk is full of it. Those three recommended cups of 2% milk a day contain a whopping 37 grams of sugar, and low fat milk contains even more. Our bodies use enzymes to break down sugars. In this case, the enzyme lactase is needed to digest milk sugar, lactose. Unfortunately, only about 30% of the world population (mostly of northern European descent) produces sufficient lactase after childhood – most people are at least partially lactose intolerant, meaning they can’t digest milk sugar. According to the Dairy Council of UK:

The highest rates [of lactose intolerance] tend to be found in South America, Africa and Asia with approximately 50% of the population affected and almost 100% in some Asian countries.

Ethnic groups also tend to lose lactase activity differently e.g. Chinese and Japanese lose 80-90% of lactase activity within 3-4 years after weaning, Jews and Asians lose 60-70% over several years post weaning and white Northern Europeans may take up to 18-20 years for lactase activity to reach its minimal expression.

The reason for this is that dairy agriculture is a fairly recent thing and our bodies have not yet adapted to the change. More on what our bodies are designed to eat A recent long term study published in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) looked at two very large groups of Swedish men and women to find the impacts of drinking milk had on health. The results were shocking: People who drank three glasses of milk a day were MORE LIKELY TO DIE, and every extra up of milk a day increased that risk. Milk-drinking women were almost twice as likely to die than the women in the control group. They also had MORE FRACTURES than the women who didn't drink milk. The increased risk of death was not as severe in men. The researchers suggest the culprit is the sugar galactose (which is one of the components of milk sugar lactose. This sugar is known to contribute to oxidative stress, chronic inflammation, decreased immunity, and can even impact genes.

Milk Contains Hormones – And Not Just the Added Ones

Milk is meant to make baby cows grow, so it naturally contains lots of nutrients like proteins and vitamins. It also contains over 60 hormones, including insulin and anabolic growth hormones like testosterone.

Even organic, unpasteurized, and artificial growth hormone free milk contains loads of hormones – to quote Dr. Mark Hyman:

“There is no such thing as hormone-free milk.”

These hormones interact with the human body in different ways. Some are broken apart by our digestive systems, but others distrupt the hormone balance. The presence of hormones in milk have been linked to prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, acne and other conditions.

Artificial Growth Hormones

Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rBST) is controversial artificial hormone made by Monsanto and other biotech companies. It is injected to make cows grow faster, increasing milk yield in cows by 10 to 15%. However, the hormone causes all kinds of health problems in cows, leading to more antibiotics ending up in the milk (as if all the sugar and hormones weren't bad enough). Artificial growth hormone is banned in many parts of the world including Canada and the European Union, but it is perfectly legal in all 50 U.S. states - and they don’t even have to label it!

Bottom Line

Humans evolved on a milk-free diet and cow dairy products are unnecessary for a healthy diet. You can get all the vitamins, minerals and protein you need from leafy green vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and fish. There’s no solid evidence showing that milk is in any way good for you – not even the “calcium for strong bones” claim holds up. There are many more problems with milk, too, especially regarding the impacts industrial farming has on animal welfare and the environment. A bit of cheese once in a while probably isn't likely to hurt you, but cow's milk should not be a staple of one's diet, let alone in the amounts recommended. For diabetics in particular, it makes no sense to drink something that disrupts hormone balance and contains a lot of sugar.

More info: House Call: Milk Is Dangerous for Your Health (Dr. Mark Hyman) The Milk-Industrial Complex (Healthcare Triage)