Where to begin in discussing milk and dairy products? This is a category of food (along with sugar and wheat) that I strongly suggest to my patients that they avoid in general. The list of health problems associated with dairy is long and well researched but the reasons why are not always clear.
There are entire books written on the problems with pasteurization and the handling of dairy and dairy products. (I imagine I’ll be writing a quite a bit about this topic since dairy products are so ubiquitous yet so harmful.) First there’s the simple observation that humans are the only mammals that continue to consume milk after we’re weaned and we’re the only mammals that drink another mammal’s milk (yes, cats sometimes, but only because we feed it to them). I’m not sure that this fact contributes any scientific reasoning as to why we shouldn’t drink milk but it is an odd fact. Cow’s milk is the number one allergic food in this country. It has been well documented as a cause of diarrhea, cramps, bloating, gas, gastrointestinal bleeding, iron-deficiency anemia, skin rashes, atherosclerosis, and acne and recent evidence suggests links to type I diabetes, heart disease, autism, and schizophrenia. Cow’s milk is also the primary cause of recurrent ear infections in children.
The truth is, like grains, we have only started domesticating cows about 8000 years ago and only started drinking large quantities of milk about 2000 years ago. This is a very short time in terms of human evolution. Yet there is ample evidence that many early societies have been drinking raw milk without any of the health consequences that we see today.
Weston Price in his journeys observed many indigenous people from Africa to Europe who drank raw milk and were healthy. The Weston Price Foundation has been one of the biggest promoters of drinking raw milk, and it’s true that some people who have problems with pasteurized milk seem to tolerate raw milk just fine. The cows of today however are not the pasture-raised cows that Weston Price observed in the early 1930s. The majority of dairy cows in America are raised on high-protein, genetically modified soy and corn-based feeds instead of fresh green grass. Instead of free range grazing, they stand in feedlots and manure all day. The living conditions and unnatural feed requires the use of antibiotics to keep them from getting sick and dying. These antibiotics wind up in the milk you and your family drink and are partly responsible for the antibiotic resistance bugs that are becoming prevalent today.
Two components in milk that are problematic for human consumption are lactose and casein. Lactose is the sugar in milk and approximately 50 percent (up to 90 percent in some Asian and African countries) of the world’s population do not make the enzyme lactase, which is used to break down this sugar. Those who are lactose intolerant are usually very aware of it because of the gastric distress they experience from ingesting milk products. The other component, casein, is the protein that makes up about 80 percent of cow’s milk. It is these proteins that are greatly affected by pasteurization. The problems of pasteurization have been known and written about for many years. I found this quote from the British medical journal, Armchair Science in 1938 in which the author states:
“Besides destroying part of the vitamin C contained in raw milk and encouraging growth of harmful bacteria, pasteurization turns the sugar of milk, known as lactose, into beta-lactose — which is far more soluble and therefore more rapidly absorbed in the system, with the result that the child soon becomes hungry again. Probably pasteurization’s worst offence is that it makes insoluble the major part of the calcium contained in raw milk. This frequently leads to rickets, bad teeth, and nervous troubles, for sufficient calcium content is vital to children; and with the loss of phosphorus also associated with calcium, bone and brain formation suffer serious setbacks. Pasteurization also destroys 20 percent of the iodine present in raw milk, causes constipation and generally takes from the milk its most vital qualities”
Although pasteurization may kill off harmful bacteria, the process also destroys the friendly bacteria found naturally in milk and drastically reduces the micronutrient and vitamin content. Pasteurization also transforms the physical structure of the proteins in milk, altering the shape of the amino acid configuration into a protein that is foreign to your body.
It is equally important to consider that reduced-fat, low fat, or fat-free versions of milk are virtually void of metabolically beneficial vitamin D and calcium. These milks are also typically homogenized, a process that keeps the milk from naturally separating. The homogenization process creates a substance known as xanthine oxidase (XO), which is thought to play a role in oxidative stress by acting as a free radical in the body. When the cream in milk is in its natural state, the fat globules are too large to go through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream. Homogenization changes that by straining the fat through tiny pores under great pressure. This XO attaches to the fat molecules, which have been reduced in size but increased in amount a hundred times and are now small enough to get into the bloodstream and do its damage. Scientists have discovered that a significant amount of XO is present in areas of hardened and blocked arteries. XO is not present in human milk. In clean, raw cow’s milk, the intestines do not absorb XO.
But what about those cultures that have used raw milk as part of their staple for generations, such as the Maasai in Africa and most of India? It turns out that in cattle there are two major types of beta casein protein, known as A1 and A2. In his book The Devil In the Milk, Keith Woodford details the case against a tiny protein fragment known as BCM7, which is released from A1 beta casein. It is this protein that has been linked to Type 1 diabetes, allergies, autoimmune disease, autism and schizophrenia.
Woodford describes how a mutation occurred about 8000 years ago, changing the structure of the beta casein protein. This mutation has subsequently been spread throughout in the western world such that the A1 mutation is only in western cows. The breeds of cows in Asia and Africa do not produce this A1 protein, nor do goats, sheep or humans. Woodford notes that in one animal experiment, one group of mice was fed A2 casein milk and the other A1. None of the mice fed A2 casein got diabetes, but 47 percent of those fed A1 developed the disease. The dairy industry is very aware of the evidence against A1 milk, and there are dairy companies that are producing and marketing only A2 milk. The bottom line for cow’s milk is that it is not a health food. The exception is butter, which is made from the fat of the milk and contains either none or only trace amounts of lactose and casein. It is for this reason that butter is well tolerated by the general population.
Does this mean you should never eat dairy products? Of course not. A little cheese or an ice cream every now and then is not going to harm anyone. But “every now and then” means just that. It should be included in your diet as a treat, not part of one’s daily diet.