The Milk Myth

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Are there no sacred cows any more?  We have had it drummed into us that milk is good for us and that a high level of calcium intake is essential for bone health.  And here we have Dr Thompson blowing this all away.  It seems that there is a distinct possibility that milk is not all that it is cracked up to be.  Is drinking milk for health a myth?

The prime reason to consider when about to drink milk is why on earth are we drinking something that is meant to grow baby cows? – or possibly goats or buffalos.  Milk is for babies.  As has been pointed out, stone-age man would hardly have chased down a deer to milk it.  However, had he gone to this trouble, at least the milk would have been wholesome unlike the dead white substance consumed today.

So these days the milk we drink has been pasteurised and homogenised and usually skimmed or semi-skimmed to reduce the dreaded fat content. First myth: full fat milk is actually only 5% fat – that makes it 95% fat free.  So this is hardly a high fat food.  Second: pasteurisation is a good thing.  When Louis Pasteur pasteurised milk, be did this for 30 mins at a temperature of 145°F or 63°C.  Nowadays milk is typically either heated to 161°F / 72°C for 15 – 20 seconds or to 275°F/135°C for 1 second.  These higher temperatures kill the beneficial enzymes in the milk, making it a dead substance.  If a bowl of unpasteurised milk is left out of the fridge, in a few days it will turn to buttermilk.  Pasteurised milk just turns to a horrid smelly mess. If milk is to be a source of calcium and other nutrients, in order for the body to uptake the nutrients, the milk needs its enzymes intact and have a minimum of 5% fat.

Third myth: homogenised milk is improvement on milk that separates when unshaken.  Homogenisation involves forcing it at great pressure through tiny holes which reduces the size of the molecules and the fat is then held in the milk – but this means the proteins are badly damaged and become completely indigestible. So if milk must be drunk, then it at least ought to be not homogenised.  There is a huge argument for drinking raw milk, if it can be sourced.  But most people get very excited at this idea and still seem to think this more dangerous than the white stuff they usually drink.

Fourth myth: it is insisted that milk and dairy are vital for strong bones.  The problem with this sacred cow is that countries that have low dairy intake, such as Japan, have much lower rates of osteoporosis than they have in the United States where dairy consumption is the highest in the world1. Calcium and milk: Whats best for your bones and health?    This linked article contains food for thought and many citations to studies on osteoporitic hip fractures -all of which blow away the myth that milk is essential for strong bones.

And now the potential fifth myth – that calcium is an essential mineral in high quantities.  Calcium has certainly be linked to causing prostate cancer2 .  As Dr Thompson points out, calcium hardens bones which is not the same as strengthening bones.  Bones constantly break down – partly to keep the body in an alkaline state3, – but also as a response to the physical stresses of life, as a result of some medications and as a result of toxicity.  Bones are considerably more complex than just sticks of calcium and need a wide variety of nutrients to keep them healthy, including Vitamin D.  Even Bupa agrees.  Cows, of course, do not take calcium supplements, drink their own milk or eat cheese for their calcium; they make it from their diet4.  And so should we.  So a healthy diet with good levels of protein, fat and vegetables, especially the dark green ones,  which we digest properly will give us healthy bones.   That we should be drinking milk for health seems to be a myth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. SSF Leung, WTK Lee, JCY Cheng, S Fairweather-Tait.  ‘The calcium absorption of Chinese children in relation to their intake’ HKMJ Vol 1 No1 Mar 1995 6 1 Leung et al []
  2. Butler LM, Wong AS, Koh W-P, Wang R Uan J-M, Yu MC.  Calcium intake increases risk of prostate cancer among Singapore Chinese.  Cancer Res June 15, 2010 70; 494.   The conclusion states: In conclusion, our findings warrant further experimental exploration into the possible roles of calcium, as opposed to other dairy product components, in prostate carcinogenesis. []
  3. A popular vegetarian argument is that meat is very acidic.  Now the most acidic food we eat is actually cheese.  When we become acidic, the body does all it can to keep us slightly alkaline and to do this it will draw minerals and nutrients out of the bones.  These minerals need to be redeposited – and this requires a very healthy diet and good digestion. []
  4. There is a new and worrying trend in dairy farming and that is to put cows permanently into a vast shed/factory.  They never go out into the fields.  Now common sense says this cannot be right.  Lets hope that at least they are given decent supplementation to replace the lost sunlight and natural goodness from the grass []

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