Humans Shouldn’t Drink Cow’s Milk.

Via elephant journal
on Dec 27, 2010
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“Dairy is nature’s perfect food–but only if you’re a calf.”

~ Dr. Mark Hyman

I stopped drinking cow’s milk almost ten years ago.

I can’t remember why exactly I decided to except that I was desperate to alleviate the many health-related ailments I’d developed by my late teens.

What I do remember is that after eliminating dairy from my diet I felt better – physically and mentally – than I ever had in my life.  My digestive system started working properly; my skin cleared; I could concentrate like never before; I felt less depressed; I had more energy; I stopped getting carsick and plane-sick.  The list goes on.  Since then, I’ve continued avoiding dairy with the belief that it must be bad for us.

Before I’d discovered the ill effects of dairy, a British woman once told me (rather passionately) that humans shouldn’t drink cow’s milk.  She pointed out that human babies drink human milk for the first few years of their lives; calves drink cow’s milk until they can fend for themselves; but adult humans do not drink human milk, and adult cows do not drink cow’s milk.  So why, she asked, do adult humans drink cow’s milk?  Further, why are humans the only animals that not only drink milk in adulthood but another animal’s milk altogether?

I remember being angry with this woman at the suggestion that we shouldn’t drink milk.  I had grown up in Texas eating lots of dairy – macaroni and cheese, cheeseburgers, buttermilk biscuits, Blue Bell ice cream.  Not eating dairy seemed anti-America, anti-family, anti-everything familiar to me.

And no wonder.  My whole life, I had learned about the food pyramid, which featured dairy as a significant component; I had seen television commercials promoting milk as a staple of health.

The American Dairy Industry funded both, successfully propagating the cow’s milk-is-healthy myth that is still alive today.

“Milk builds strong bones,” is one of the most popular misconceptions the American Dairy Industry led us to believe.  The truth is exactly the opposite.  As Dr. Walter Willet, the Nutrition chairman of Harvard School of Public Health, explains:

Interestingly, many long-term studies have now examined milk consumption in relation to risk of fractures.  With remarkable consistency, these studies do not show reduction in fractures with high dairy product consumption.  The hype about milk is basically an effective marketing campaign by the American Dairy industry. [Scientific American, Jan. 2003.]

In fact, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asked the USDA to look into the claims of the milk advertisements, and they came to some of the following conclusions:

• There’s no evidence that dairy is good for your bones or prevents osteoporosis — in fact, the animal protein it contains may cause bone loss.
• Dairy may be linked to prostate cancer.
• Dairy is full of saturated fat and is linked to heart disease.
• Dairy causes digestive problems for the 75% of the world’s population (75% of the world’s population does not have the proper enzyme to digest milk.)
• Dairy aggravates irritable bowel syndrome.

Dairy can lead to even more health problems, including:

acne, allergies, anemia, arthritis, colic, cramps, diabetes, diarrhea, ear infections, heart disease, gastrointestinal bleeding, sinusitis, skin rashes, increased frequency of colds and flu, osteoporosis, asthma, autoimmune diseases, and possibly even lung cancer, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease.

As an alternative, many people are now eating raw milk, since it eliminates some of dairy’s health risks (pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and the effects of homogenization and pasteurization.)  But according to Mark Hyman, M.D., most of dairy’s health risks remain in raw milk also.

The truth is, we can get as much calcium as we need from grains and vegetables.  So if dairy has this many health-risks, (and I haven’t even mentioned the ill-treatment of dairy cows), why does it continue to be a huge part of our diet?

I, for one, thought that I would never be able to give up milk products.  I loved them too much.  But now that I have, I honestly don’t miss them.  For me, the benefit of feeling good, physically and mentally, outweighs the temporary pleasure of eating dairy.  (As one of the thirty-seven practices of a bodhisattva goes: “Sense pleasures and desirable things are like salt water. The more one tastes them, the more one’s thirst increases.”) And this is coming from a once-long-time doughnut addict and cheeseburger connoisseur.  Embarrassing, but true.

All of this said, the point of this article isn’t to support a black-and-white point of view about the wrongs of dairy consumption.  For the small percentage of people who can tolerate dairy, eating organic products from responsible sources is best.

In fact, I recently started eating (organic) butter again after learning from a Mark Bittman video that butter is mostly fat, containing trace amounts of lactose (.1% to be specific.)  As far as I can tell, butter has no ill effects on me.  So I have continued to eat it on occasion, despite my opposition to dairy consumption in general.

For more information about the ills of dairy, I recommend reading Mark Hyman’s extensive article from The Huffington Post titled, “Dairy: 6 Reasons You Should Avoid It at All Costs or Why Following the USDA Food Pyramid Guidelines is Bad for Your Health.” At the end of his article, Hyman suggests going dairy-free for two weeks.  If you haven’t already, try it, and see if you notice a difference.

Mark Hyman, M.D., discussing the health risks of dairy:

Excerpts from his excellent Huffintgon Post article:

The Truth about Dairy

According to Dr. Willett, who has done many studies and reviewed the research on this topic, there are many reasons to pass up milk, including:

1. Milk doesn’t reduce fractures. Contrary to popular belief, eating dairy products has never been shown to reduce fracture risk. In fact, according to the Nurses’ Health Study dairy may increase risk of fractures by 50 percent!

2. Less dairy, better bones. Countries with lowest rates of dairy and calcium consumption (like those in Africa and Asia) have the lowest rates of osteoporosis.

3. Calcium isn’t as bone-protective as we thought. Studies of calcium supplementation have shown no benefit in reducing fracture risk. Vitamin D appears to be much more important than calcium in preventing fractures.

4. Calcium may raise cancer risk. Research shows that higher intakes of both calcium and dairy products may increase a man’s risk of prostate cancer by 30 to 50 percent. Plus, dairy consumption increases the body’s level of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) — a known cancer promoter.

5. Calcium has benefits that dairy doesn’t. Calcium supplements, but not dairy products, may reduce the risk of colon cancer.

6. Not everyone can stomach dairy. About 75 percent of the world’s population is genetically unable to properly digest milk and other dairy products — a problem called lactose intolerance.

So here is my advice for dealing with dairy.

6 Tips for Dealing with Dairy

• Take your Cow for a Walk. It will do you much more good than drinking milk.

• Don’t rely on dairy for healthy bones. If you want healthy bones, get plenty of exercise and supplement with 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily.

• Get your calcium from food. These include dark green leafy vegetables, sesame tahini, sea vegetables, and sardines or salmon with the bones.

• Try giving up all dairy. That means eliminate milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream for two weeks and see if you feel better. You should notice improvements with your sinuses, post-nasal drip, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, energy, and weight. Then start eating dairy again and see how you feel. If you feel worse, you should try to give it up for life.

• If you can tolerate dairy, use only raw, organic dairy products. I suggest focusing on fermented products like unsweetened yogurt and kefir, occasionally.

• If you have to feed your child formula from milk, don’t worry. The milk in infant formula is hydrolyzed or broken down and easier to digest (although it can still cause allergies). Once your child is a year old, switch him or her to real food and almond milk.


~ JM

Image: Rikki’sRefuge/Flickr


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68 Responses to “Humans Shouldn’t Drink Cow’s Milk.”

  1. oz_ says:

    Agreed Duff, when it comes to soy and the idiosyncratic nature of diet and health!

    That said, not finding myself wholly in agreement with your statement about almond milk and other milk substitutes. I'm under the impression that – aside from soy milk – these are pretty safe and healthful. You say 'sugar-based' milks but plain almond milk, for example, contains 0g sugar. Same goes for rice milk. Even the substitutes that have sugar – like hemp and coconut milks – have less sugar by far than cow's milk. Soy milk is the only one I would consider 'worse' than cow's milk, health-wise.

  2. […] advertisers are doing their job—from what most believe or are told to believe, milk/dairy is essential for the betterment of our public’s health. It’s as common as the old adage, an apple a […]

  3. yogajanet says:

    Something compelled people to try milk and that something was called hunger and survivial. Granted, it seems weird, especially on its industrial scale, but people at one time probably were desperate to find some nutrition saw milk as a possible food source and it seemed to work for many. Perhaps in this day and age of abundance and longer life spans, we have a luxury that our ancestors did not. We can analyze and pick and choose what we eat. BTW–I have met many a long lived person who was raised on milk and dairy and continued drinking milk and eating ice-cream into their eighties and nineties. I guess for some, drinking milk is fine, especialy if they have the enzymes and the digestive bacteria to handle it. Others, may not have that digestive ecosystem, so cannot digest it. As the saying goes, one size does not fit all!

  4. yogajanet says:

    Ants actually harvest aphid excretions known as honeydew, which is produced after the aphids suck the juices out of plant leaves. Mosquitos harvest blood.

  5. Linda says:

    From an Ayurvedic perspective, milk is medicinal. Much of the issue with milk is it is taken cold and or as extra gunk in it. However, if you took raw or organic pasteurized milk and brought it to a light boil, the hard to digest proteins are broken down and milk can be taken. Also, milk nourishes all your tissues in 24 hours unlike a meal that takes about 28 days to work its way to the cellular level. It's a great way to deliver spices into the body. And it is very grounding and can help improve ones sleep. I had stopped drinking milk for years but recently experimented with it for my Ayurvedic studies. I use organic and local. I don't drink copious amounts. No extra mucous, no getting sick.

  6. Barbara says:

    I follow this simple rule…Dairy is not part of my nutritional diet, meaning I don't use it to get my vitamins. I eat cheese and Ice cream sparingly and as a treat…kind of like chocolate…lol

  7. Hannah says:

    I agree with oz_. This is a ridiculous claim. How were you feed as an infant? You were either fed from human milk or cow milk, with it's protein broken down and hydrolyzed into infant formula. Shame on your lack of vegetarianism in infancy (sense my total sarcasm.)

  8. Mareluna says:

    We are the only species on earth who continues to drink the breast milk of another species. Why don’t we just take a squirt of human breast milk in our coffee every morning? As a race, we focus way too much in food!! I find that eating real foods is most natural. I eat cheese on occasion and suffer for days from it. I have been veg for 11 years and use plain almond milk and never have a single issue. With osteoporosis running in my family, my dr said staying away from dairy is the best thing I can do. I also think people sometime are afraid to do what different. So many people have known nothing but cows milk their whole lives do the thought of it not being as healthy or switching to another milk is daunting. Our bodies are ours, what we choose to do is also ours, this is just my opinion.

  9. jo m says:

    really the gift of milk………….but not for who it is intended …….the calves are ripped away from the mothers……really a gift….i don't think so……….however i understand that you would think so being a farmer.

  10. Science! says:

    This article is sorely lacking peer review and citations to actual studies. Editorials and accounts from a minority to not equate to scientific consensus. Shame on elephant for allowing pseudoscientific rhetoric to be published.

  11. Ricky says:

    There's no reason to attack the woman. Small dairy farms and industry farms are worlds apart. My family used to raise animals, and our cows didn't mind being milked at all. At times they seemed to enjoy it. They were happy and healthy, and there's nothing wrong with that kind of relationship with that kind of animal. Same as a pet dog who gives the gift of protection and companionship.

  12. Debbie says:

    As a child at school we were made to drink a bottle of milk each day. I hated it! One day I was made to drink a bottle of milk that had soured having stood in the sunshine all morning. I threw up. I have never liked milk since but 35 years ago cows milk is all we were brought up with and made to believe that's where our calcium came from. To this day I have never liked milk, only having a small amount in tea. Last year I opted to change from semi skim to using Almond, Rice and Coconut Milk and haven't looked back since.

    I didn't realise there was coconut ice cream. Will try and find this.

    Fab article I wish everyone would read.

  13. Katherine says:

    My experience with eastern teachers is the same. In fact, many have outright said that diet is the least of our worries on this path.

  14. Katherine says:

    Almond milk contains carrageenan, which is believed to cause tummy issues, lecithin & gellan gum. They also have to add calcium and sugar (if you're drinking the sweet kind). Altogether, almond milk is far more processed than organic whole milk, and has many additives that aren't good for people…especially if they are drinking the sweeter varieties. Unless you make your own almond milk at home, it's not a good alternative. Also, homemade almond milk does not contain nearly as many vitamins. It's better to eat a handful of raw almonds if you want any nutrition at all from these wonderful nuts.

  15. Katherine says:

    We get raw milk when we can. We have friends who run a wonderful dairy farm, but it is not close. Their cows are loved and treated wonderfully…and I can attest to them LIKING it when they are milked. Their cows are their family! Also, it is a lie that they have to stay pregnant all the time…once they give birth, they can keep producing milk for a long time after the calf is done. As long as they keep milking, they will keep producing. I think it depends on the type of cow however, some cows naturally make more milk than others.

    They also don't rip the baby from the mother, they either raise the calf with all the cows, or they sell them to other local dairy farms.

  16. Katherine says:

    This is what the vegan heard wants you to believe. We have very close friends who run a dairy farm, and they most certainly do not rip the baby from the mother and sell it for veal. They either raise the calves themselves after they are done nursing, or sell them to other local dairy farms.

    The more you milk a cow, the more milk it makes…just like humans. There is enough for both the calf and humans. Of course, this is a small time dairy farm…but you cannot assume that all dairy farms do that.

  17. Lola says:

    What about the billions, yes billions of folks in the third world who rely upon one cow or one goat for a family’s survival? We evolved relying on other animals for survival.

  18. Cow milk is always beneficial for human being. It makes our bone stronger, it promote sleep and weight loss, it contain potassium which reduce the risk of heart disease. It promote muscle movement, learning process etc.