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Healthy Living July Issue
MILK: Friend or Foe?


The Power of the Dairy Association

The magnitude of the dairy industry’s influence on the sale of their products and the political scene in the U.S. is enormous, as shown in Figure 2: Impact of the Dairy Industry in the U.S. . Few of us are aware that 14 percent of the U.S. food budget is spent on dairy products,3 providing an average of more than one and a half pounds per day of these products per person.4 With such an immense sales volume, it is no wonder that the American Dairy Association is a powerful and well-financed organization. A large portion of their dairy revenue is strategically channeled into a huge advertising budget dedicated to a variety of milk promotionals.5 This is why you see so many dairy ads on television, radio, and in print. Furthermore, the ADA holds a considerable amount of political clout in Washington. Some attribute this to its patterns of political support that is secured by providing election campaign funds to as many as 15 percent of U.S. congressional representatives.6



Infants Need Their Mothers’ Antibodies

Scientific research began turning up problems with milk as far back as 1930, when infant death rates were examined in relation to the use of cow’s milk. Prior to the discovery of antibiotics, researchers studied 20,000 infants in Chicago. One group of infants was fed human breast milk and the other group was fed boiled cow’s milk. The results are shown in Figure 3: High Infant Death Rates from Cow's Milk.7, 8

A pediatrician’s standard medical textbook today will state that in the current era of improved medical treatment, breast-feeding is unlikely to provide a survival benefit. However, it still acknowledges that there are situations where it can save infants’ lives. One textbook states, "Although little if any difference exists in mortality rates in formula-fed and breast-fed infants receiving good care, among the lower socioeconomic groups and those living in unsanitary conditions, the breast-fed infant is more likely to survive."9 Regardless of living conditions and the available drugs, an infant’s immune system is compromised by feeding it cow’s milk rather than human milk. Studies today still favor breast feeding over infant formula or cow’s milk feeding.10, 11, 12 For instance, even in the era of antibiotics in the United States, infants fed formula or cow’s milk are 80 percent more likely to develop diarrhea and 70 percent more likely to develop ear infections when compared with infants who are exclusively breast fed.13

What is it about human breast milk that provides infants with such an advantage in terms of immunity? We probably still do not know all the answers, but several important factors are clear. They are listed in Figure 4: Known Advantages of Breast Feeding.

The first advantage of human milk is that it provides a child with the mother’s antibodies, and those antibodies are very protective when it comes to infectious illnesses.14 Conversely, cow’s milk or infant formula is devoid of these protective agents. Second, white blood cells called macrophages can be passed from mother to child through breast milk.15 These macrophages may be able to provide useful immune functions while in the child’s intestinal system. Third, breast milk contains a compound called lactoferrin. This agent tends to block the growth of E. Coli in the intestine.16 This is no small matter today when many are well aware of the deadly E. Coli strains that have claimed the lives of young children. Fourth, breast milk is usually sterile (except when a mother has a breast infection or widespread bodily infection). This can significantly decrease the child’s exposure to infectious agents. On the other hand, cow’s milk is described as being "regularly contaminated" as well as being a "good culture medium" (place to grow) for dangerous infectious agents,17 as we shall see.



Other Advantages of Breast Milk

Human milk is also different from many mammalian milks because of its relatively low content of phosphorous. As I point out in Chapter 7 on protein, phosphorus appears to make calcium absorption more difficult. Thus, a child will tend to absorb more calcium from Mom’s low phosphorus milk than from phosphorus-rich cow’s milk, as explained in Figure 5: Low Absorption of Calcium from Milk.18

Furthermore, high phosphorus intake presents other problems that human milk also avoids. Some of these benefits may further explain why breast-fed infants fare better in the face of infections.19 First, on a lower phosphorus diet children have more acidic colon contents, thus making it difficult for disease-producing germs to grow in the intestine. Secondly, newborns that are on a lower phosphorus breast milk regimen are less likely to come down with a severe complication of infection called metabolic acidosis.

Beyond the prevention of infection, breast milk has a number of additional benefits. The fat from breast milk is much more easily digested than the fat from cow’s milk.20 Although fat may get a bad rap on today’s commercials and talk shows, it is a critical ingredient for early childhood development. Cow’s milk is also deficient in Vitamins C and D, whereas breast milk generally gives sufficient quantities of these two essential nutrients.21



Lactose (Milk Sugar) Intolerance

American humanitarian aid backfired several years ago when our nation attempted to help certain South American countries. We distributed large quantities of powdered milk that resulted in widespread cases of cramping and diarrhea.22 Cow’s milk is rich in a simple sugar called lactose, or "milk sugar." However, after infancy, many people lose their ability to digest lactose. They develop an insufficiency of the enzyme lactase that is needed to break down lactose into two simpler sugars so that it can be absorbed. The result is that undigested lactose travels to the large intestine where bacteria break this sugar down, producing anything from gas, to cramps, to diarrhea. Lactose intolerance appears to be the main factor in as many as a third of cases of recurrent abdominal pain in children.23

Well over half the world’s population is lactose-intolerant.24 Some races tend to lose the lactase enzyme earlier in life than others. As a rule, individuals of northwestern European descent maintain their ability to digest lactose better than most races, such that a greater proportion of them are able to drink milk into adulthood without untoward intestinal effects. The frequency of lactase deficiency among different races is listed in Figure 6: Lactase Deficiency in Adults.25, 26, 27



Broad Extent of Health Problems with Cow’s Milk

The late Dr. Frank Oski was head of the Johns Hopkins Children’s Medical and Surgery Center for 10 years and professor of pediatrics and department chairman at Johns Hopkins University. He was editor and founder of the journal Contemporary Pediatrics and was a member of the editorial board for The European Journal of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology. He authored or co-authored 300 academic papers and 20 books, including the recently published The Practical Pediatrician. He was not only a credible scientist, but was also one of the most vocal advocates of the dangers of cow’s milk. Dr. Oski wrote the well-documented and very readable book, Don’t Drink Your Milk. Perhaps one of the greatest contributions of his book is its demonstration of the broad extent of health problems linked with milk drinking. From his book and other sources, I have drawn up a list of my 10 major concerns with the childhood health effects of cow’s milk. Six adult health concerns related to cow’s milk are listed and examined later in the chapter. The childhood concerns are listed in Figure 7: Major Childhood Health Concerns Related to Using Cow's Milk.



Cow’s Milk Alternatives are Now Available

For children that are weaned-and adults as well-there are now an abundance of milk-like products on the market that are suitable to use on breakfast cereals. Health food stores usually have a liberal supply of soy milk products of several brands and flavors, and other plant-based milk alternatives such as oat, potato, rice, and almond milks. With their popularity growing and more Americans realizing the dangers of dairy foods, these items are now being stocked in regular grocery chains. Not only have many consumers been surprised to see these products on the aisles of their local supermarket, but they also have been amazed at how nutritious and satisfying some of these beverages are. A comparison of the nutrients in cow’s milk with various soy milk products is shown in Figure 15: Nutrition Comparisons of Various Milk Products.

Several observations of the data in the figure are in order. First, the high content of phosphorus in cow’s milk causes a rather poor absorption rate of calcium, at 25 percent, or about 75 mg per cup. Second, this amount is equal to the amount of highly absorbable calcium in human breast milk, which substantiates that the nursing infant will absorb as much calcium from mother’s milk as one who is on cow’s milk. Notice also the desirably low content of phosphorus in mother’s milk. Third, protein levels of soy milk products are generally similar to that of cow’s milk, and calcium levels for the fortified soy milks are also similar to that of cow’s milk. Fourth, the phosphorus level of fortified West Soy Plus is slightly lower than that of whole milk, which would suggest that the absorbable levels of calcium would be similar. Instasoy, another milk alternative, has slightly higher levels of protein and calcium, with a slightly lower content of phosphorus. A listing of quantities of B12 and other nutrients in various brands of milk alternatives and cereals is found in Appendix IX.



Conclusion

The culmination of my extensive research on the subject of milk is that there is absolutely no reason why any adult human should feel that they need the milk of another species for health. All the nutrients we need can be obtained without resorting to dairy foods-and we can avoid a host of problems by shunning this harmful group of foods. Dr. Oski made a simple but forceful observation regarding the uniqueness of a full-grown mammal that consumes a food meant strictly for babies. His statement appears in Figure 16: Do Mammals Drink Milk?.115

I challenge you now. Take a bold step and determine to do something that will likely make a significant difference for your health and for the health of your family. Determine that by your influence and example you will help others to break free of a disease-bearing product line-even if you feel perfectly healthy today. Make a choice to cease putting money into the coffers of an industry that is telling half-truths at the expense of the health of the American public. Visit your local grocery store or health food store, pick up a sample of several soy, nut, or other plant-based milk alternatives, and embark on a new habit of dairy-free living. You will be surprised at how tasty today’s alternatives are, and you will know that you are following a course calculated to improve your own health, and the health of others around you.



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