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. Jill says:

    What about goat or sheep milk ? ie; cheeses Are they not healthy for humans either?

  2. Heather says:

    Wonderful article!!!!! One minor comment because I've recently researched the topic for school… The second bullet should read "Dairy might be linked to prostate cancer" instead of "Dairy is linked to prostate cancer". The jury is still out on this issue; we have not conducted enough epidemiological studies to conclusively say it 'is' linked to prostate cancer. I recently did an exhaustive review of the studies that investigated this hypothesis and the findings have been mixed.. several found an association and several did not. The meta-analyses (studies that aggregate the results of multiple studies) on this topic are conflicting as well.

  3. elephantjournal says:

    JoDee M: My bf constantly teases me because I tell him I am not a cow so I don't drink cow milk.

    Valerie Mitchell: Ants 'milk' aphids. That's got to be the only example I can think of from the natural world where one animal continues to harvest the milk of another (except in times of desperation / for survival).

    Great article!

  4. Doug says:

    Great article. I didn’t know the USDA has been so clear about the false claims of the American Dairy Assoc…hope your article can help raise more awareness!

  5. sgrate says:

    Can not drinking milk help clear up psoriasis?

  6. Juliana McCarthy says:

    I've read that it can.

  7. Juliana McCarthy says:

    I've read that Goat and Sheep Milk are a little better than Cow's Milk because they are less likely to contain hormones and additives. Plus, Goat's Milk is more easily digestible because its proteins more closely resemble those of human milk. That said, both Goat and Sheep Milk are still hard on the body — they contain lactose, increase acidity in the body, and trigger mucus production, inflammation, and congestion — just like cow milk.

  8. Colin Wiseman says:

    Goats milk is closer to human milk. I have found it just as nice in certain circumstances e.g. Adding it to hot drinks. But nothing comes close to cow's milk for breakfast cereal. Rice milk is awesome though for museli but it's defo not for hot drinks.

    Never tried sheep's milk before. Being Scottish we eat most of the sheep (in it's own stomach no less) but she eps milk…I'll pass.

    But I think i need to take the 2 week challenge though of completely eliminating dairy from animals(currently in the middle of an IBS attack!!!!)

    Ironic thing though is my home town has a large employer in the dairy industry… Wiseman Dairies!!!

  9. meanjoegreen says:

    Great article, Juliana. Important info for all…

  10. Troy says:

    This article reminds me of a past "scare" article saying phenylalanine (aspartame) was killing entire countries of people. This was eventually debunked. At one time, red meat was said to be killing people worldwide. It really does boil down to which marketing campaign you believe in – for or against. It's interesting, but difficult for me to know who's being more honest and what information is being suppressed. Most internet/magazine/TV articles only provide the information that helps lead most consumers in the desired direction. As far as milk goes, maybe we should ask the cows what they think.

  11. elephantjournal says:

    Cows would probably say "stop keeping me pregnant my whole life"!

  12. Juliana McCarthy says:

    I tend to go with what makes me feel good. Not eating dairy makes me feel much better than eating dairy. But as I said, I have no problems with butter and eat it regularly. Many people can tolerate raw milk also, and I'm all for it if it works for them.

    I'm into your skepticism. I'm not a fan of fundamentalism or extremism in any direction. And I'm definitely into experiential testing before believing anything.

    As for the cows, I agree with above. If everyone was drinking raw milk from responsible sources, that'd be a different story.

  13. Philip says:

    Imagine a bunch of us sitting in a field, under a cow, all crowding in, taking turns sucking away? Mother cow looking back in wonder, thinking, what the hell?

    I try to forget that image, however, when eating ice cream.

    It's an adaptable species that can suck the teats of another. And make it all work and seem natural.

  14. Ryan says:

    Vit D can, not milk. Where ever this person read it can they have bad info. Vit D about 5000 IU daily will help.

  15. Juliana McCarthy says:

    I was saying that *not* drinking milk helps clear psoriasis. You may have misread.

  16. Ryan says:

    Drink Almond Milk, eat coconut ice cream and SMILE b/c its great for you and the filter cows blood "MILK" can be saved for the calf who will be putting on hundreds of pounds with in the first year of life.

  17. Rosa Bridle says:

    Well, I must be among that 25% of the population who doesn't have any problems with milk. I don't have any of the health issues supposedely associated with it.

  18. Tamara says:

    love this because it's so true. Raw milk and Raw Cheese like they have in Europe contains enough live enzymes to help us digest without the terrible side effects of regular dairy. All in all, i stay away from most dairy (i indulge once in a while) and my health, weight and skin thank me for it. If I'm in the mood for some adult acne and a few extra pounds, i go back to dairy!

  19. DSkrod says:

    Alomd milk is great as well!

  20. Dkrod says:

    sorry almond Milk:)

  21. Padma Kadag says:

    We are very preoccupied with eating, what we are eating, what we should not eat. When taking all of the articles and opinions as a whole on this subject of eating right…if we are buddhist…there is no such thing as "enlightened eating" …if this is the unspoken thesis in this or any food related article. I felt that because of your reference to the Thirty Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva it left the commentary wide open to Buddhist view.

  22. Padma Kadag says:

    I also understand that this article is more health related and could be valuable to a person's health. As a buddhist, shall I be so discriminatiing of my diet ?, this is good this is bad? I do not live my life that way and I do not think,though I am not completely sure, that the Buddha ate that way. I eat as I eat. The spirit in which these dietary "enlightened" eating blogs are written really are all the same…In Dylan's "Idiot Wind" …'you're an idiot babe …its a wonder we can even feed ourselves…" I for one do not ascribe to a politically correct diet for correctness sake…We place too much importance in the outer manifestations and our perception that they in fact are so important already in our daily lives but then we need to write and discuss them in adnauseum? I have lived with Yuroks on the Klamath river for years and ate salmon, deer, pork, beef, acorns,milk. I have lived with Tibetansand ate butter tea, yogurt, cheese, and Milk. It just so happens that the people that I respect the most and actually displayed an authentic wisdom ate what was placed in front of them without our "enlightened PC food" issues.

  23. Padma Kadag says:

    Again..Jules…I understand the value in your health aspect in this article. Maybe my sounding off is a bit misplaced in regard to your thesis. But this is what came to mind.

  24. Jules Mack says:

    Thanks for this response. Very interesting. No, I wasn't coming at this from a Buddhist perspective. But it's an interesting topic. I've found that the more I practice, the more sensitive I become to my body and what works and what doesn't. Actually, I've heard that many Tibetan monks don't eat garlic and onions in monasteries because of the effect it has on them physically and mentally. And I know their diets are based largely on what's available to them — it's difficult to grow vegetables in Tibet but there is a lot of milk and dairy available. That said, I believe in mind over matter, and when the mind is strong and settled, we can probably tolerate much more in our bodies without problems.

    But ultimately, I believe in listening to your own body and doing what feels best. When I feel good physically, I'm much better able to take care of myself and help others — which seems Buddhist. Then again, as you said, I was really just writing this from the perspective of health.

  25. Lorraine L. says:

    Milk is a beautiful product. I am a fourth generation dairy farmer, with my family farming for generations before that in Eastern Europe. Milk, cheese, yogurt, creams, butter have been a part of my family's diet for generations, with numerous family members living into their late 90's, almost 100. My family has had the same herd of cows descended from the cows my family purchased during the Great Depression. Here in my area, the cattle graze on extensive grasslands, converting the grass into milk that is sent primarily to New York City for fluid consumption. Studies in NY are showing a positive correlation between grazing and biodiversity. As dairy farms fall here, they are replaced with large lot subdivisions where the people mow out the beautiful pastures into huge lawns and smash the wild life habitats. I am not telling people to stuff themselves, but a diet with dairy products is healthful and a far cry better than the super processed foods that most Americans are eating. I wish that your readers could share the beauty I have seen in cattle and their gift of milk.

  26. BenRiggs says:

    Jules Mack… This was an informative post…
    If everyone is lactose intolerant, I am lactose repellent! But that doesn't seem to stop me. I haven't had a glass of milk in years, but cheese and ice cream… Wait not scratch that Blue Bell ice cream (I live in Louisiana, where Blue Bell is also what it is all about!) It does seem pretty common sense though to say, that a cows milk was not engineered by evolution for anyone other than a calf! And definitely not a human…

  27. Padma Kadag says:

    You are right about food and meditation. The simpler the diet the better. The easiest to digest the better. But we that meditate know this from experience. I think that probably my comments regarding your article were meant really to say that our "enlightened selves" still don't know how to eat? That we need to be writing articles about PC food as much as we do? Are we concentrating on the right things in order to gain some kind of "ultimate health? So as I said, my comments are really about this subject as a whole…not to single your article out. This food topic can be so volitile politically and morally. It really is a waste of time. From my experience with those teachers I hold in great esteem…a discussion on food was rarely discussed. Particular practices do have food restrictions. usually not for the reasons we associate to them. It's interesting.

  28. Most people replace dairy with sugar-based "milks" that sound healthier but are often worse like soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, etc. I did this for 11 years as a vegetarian and found out I was allergic to soy which was causing stomach problems, fatigue, and contributing to me being underweight. Dairy has been a godsend for me. Just goes to show–nutrition is highly personal.

  29. To me the real problem (i.e. the MORAL problem) with milk is industrialized factory farms which pretty much guarantee mistreatment and abuse of animals.

  30. Michele Fife says:

    Great article! Milk/dairy can be hard to avoid in today's Western world, but in my experience it has been well worth it!

  31. namastehon says:

    If you want to investigate the other side of the debate (especially where raw milk is concerned as well as the dangers of processed soy) visit and if you want to find sources of raw milk go to
    I began drinking raw milk a few years ago to help me recover from menopausal symptoms so severe I required surgery for fibroids, endometriosis, and ovarian cysts. I later attended Kripalu School of Ayurveda (and am now a certified consultant and yoga specialist) and learned that Ayurveda considers milk and ghee to be superior foods for boosting ojas and nourishing all dhatus. Many cultures have included milk and milk products from various species – buffalo, goat, horse, camel, sheep… if a mother cannot nurse her baby it's nice to have the possibility of making a similar food. If an adult needs added nutrition or a grounding food milk is wonderful (heat til foamy with some cardamom and nutmeg!). Ghee is a perfect anupana for various medicinal herbs and spices and is better for cooking than butter, which can burn.

    What should be avoided (not just with milk but with any other food, including veggies) is highly processed, adulterated, and violently produced food – no genetic modification by unnatural means (normal crossing is fine…), no factory/industrial torture pens, no added poisons (like the hexane which is used to extract protein from soy), or clearcutting of forests and jungles to grow acres of soy or run millions of head of cattle.

    What should be encouraged is the development of urban "farms" so inner cities can reap the benefits of healthy food, and raw milk and cheese from clean small dairies should be legal everywhere.

  32. Alan Haffa says:

    Milking a cow doesn't hurt it. I am a vegetarian and I don't see any humanitarian reason to avoid milk or dairy. If you have an idiosyncratic response to dairy like the author, then I applaud anyone who can modify their diet to avoid dairy. But as someone who doesn't have any adverse reaction and who loves cheese, milk and butter, I do not plan to make any changes and don't see any connection between eating dairy and doing yoga.

  33. Dan says:

    I'm not sure that something which has been taken can be considered a "gift".

  34. kirstin says:

    Have you read the China study? (
    The extensive list of peer-reviewed research that is behind the book can be found on the Cornell University website:

    That's a lot of research, but some not-too-shabby academic institutions…

    (aside: since reading the China Study, I haven't touched dairy, the link to cancer, and all disease, is too close for my comfort. Bonus, I haven't had a cold or flu in the years since I got it out of my diet …!)

  35. Jennifer says:

    Im so glad I came across this article. I'm going to try and go without dairy and see how I do mentally and physically. I was amazed at how a lot of the issues I deal with were in this article. I believe that all things happen for a reason. I looked forward to starting my journey dairy free and to feeling better. Thanks so much for writing this article; its an eye opener for me.

  36. […] more sociological questions arises, such as: Why is it that we don’t cringe at the thought of cow’s milk, goat’s milk, or even sheep’s milk, but the idea of human milk, which we are […]

  37. Jojo says:

    Great article and a fresh reminder.

  38. […] fair share of the stuff. So recently when Elephant Journal published an (awesome) article entitled “Humans Shouldn’t Drink Cow’s Milk,” I was surprised and intrigued. I was surprised because I was always told as a child that, since I […]

  39. heather grimes says:

    Oye, it's amazing how trained we are. I feed my 15 month old daughter organic cow's milk because I was led to believe she needs it. Also, she eats things sporadically, so I can't guarantee she'll get when she needs in other veggies, especially leafy greens. But everything you are saying makes perfect sense. I appreciate the good information.

  40. Love this article! So informative and so well written. I just wrote a little article supporting this:

  41. […] male athletes, but partaking in this activity can assist in the prevention of diseases such as osteoporosis, prostate conditions, heart problems as well as impotence. Therefore, irrespective of your age or […]

  42. paisley says:

    Because thy take the baby away from the mother and make veal from it, means it just not right or kind. Milk is mucus with blood in it ,It is not vegetarian

  43. Morgan says:

    so… what about those who are allergic to raw fruits and veggies?? if milk is bad, and I cant eat leafy greens and such… am I stuck with meat only??…

    this is bull!! lol to each their own. plenty of people live healthy lives eating all kinds of different food, but I have a hard time believing that the ONLY variable you changed in your diet was dairy and all of a sudden you dont get car sick, and your face cleared up, etc… just saying!!

    I have irritable bowel syndrome, and yogurt helps me! I also have horrible stomach and gal bladder pains that doctors can not figure out, but milk helps!! it has its advantages! I dont think you should be going around telling people its bad just because YOU feel better without it!

  44. Morgan says:

    "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."

    you think this is maybe because those people have less bad shit they put in their bodies?? like McDonalds, and any processed foods??? this cant be concluded JUST from milk!!

    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.

    GAH!! Bitch you're all kinds of crazy!!

  45. Morgan says:

    Here is a NON-BIAS, factual and informative article about dairy.. BOTH it’s pros and it’s cons!! And also real percentages of people effected my lactose intolerance.

    Please people.. Make your decisions off of this:

    It’s much more informative than this ladies opinion of the matter!

  46. Cow's milk is for cow babies, the word "milk" is so profound and how did it get to relate to only cows anyway , the "milk" of human kindness now includes almond, hemp, rice, soy, sunflower, oat milk. Whatever your philosophy or dietary preferences or limitations our planet cannot afford to keep all these cows, wake up and smell the methane, we will all have to go to a plant based diet soon enough. We help animals in India and there are 400 million vegetarians there but that is still a lot of cow's milk and India's cows are not treated well anymore, the land of Ahimsa is no more

  47. oz_ says:

    Goat milk is considerably more healthful (less unhealthful) that cow's milk. Get it raw, if you can (most likely need to purchase a 'goat share').

    Also worth noting: while cow's milk is acidic in the body (which results in leaching of calcium carbonate – a base – from bones, thus weakening them), goat milk is in fact alkaline in the body, and so helps to maintain a healthful pH balance.

    I like the self-experimentation suggestion in this essay – spend a month off of all dairy to clear your system. If you do decide to reintroduce dairy, try raw goat's milk first (many or most folks who have trouble with cow's milk can digest goat's milk).

    A couple of pieces to consider on the question of 'raw' vs 'pasteurized':

  48. oz_ says:

    I'm having a hard time understanding this reply. If milk is mucus with blood in it, would you suggest not breastfeeding infants, despite the abundant evidence of it's immense benefits? Sorry, but this response seems a little incoherent to me…