Milk has long been considered a healthy staple of the American diet. It has been lauded as a delicious way to build strong bones, maintain a healthy weight, and support overall wellness. This story—largely propagated by the American Dairy Board—has been swallowed hook, line, and sinker by the American public. The USDA Marketing Service reports that at least 56% of Americans consume between two to five glasses of milk daily, and that 10% consume a gallon or more every single day.
Now experts warn that milk consumption may actually contribute to a variety of health problems, including the very problems it’s supposed to help prevent. Let’s take a look at the unfortunate truth about milk and its many health risks.
How the dairy industry’s credibility crumbled
The notion that milk builds strong bones (and is therefore a healthy dietary choice) is a decades-old trope. But as it turns out, when subjected to the scrutiny of researchers, this claim simply doesn’t hold up.
Confidence in the dairy industry’s claims began to erode with the 1997 publication of the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, which followed more than 77,000 women for twelve years. The researchers reported that milk conferred so protective or preventative effect against skeletal fractures, even in the group of women with the highest milk consumption.
Subsequent research further suggests that calcium (the main nutrient in milk credited with bone-building properties) is “unlikely to boost bone health or prevent fractures.” We now know that calcium in and of itself is not sufficient to preserve skeletal integrity and prevent conditions like osteoporosis. In fact, as we discussed in our article about vitamin D3 and vitamin K2 utilization, calcium can cause as many problems as it fixes, if it’s not implemented properly.
Finally, in 2012, a study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine went a decisive step further by reporting that milk consumption can actually increase the risk of bone fractures. The study tracked incidences of bone fracture in nearly 7,000 children, and found that active children who consumed the most milk experienced more fractures than children who consumed less milk.
Once confidence in the dairy industry was sufficiently shaken, researchers and regulators deepened their scrutiny. In 2005, the FTC challenged the industry’s claim that milk consumption can cause weight loss, to which the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board responded by discontinuing all relevant advertising and marketing.
False weight loss and bone strengthening claims are the tip of iceberg, though—researchers have uncovered many more worrisome health risks that should make you think twice about milk consumption.
Milk’s many toxicities
Did you know that milk is the #2 most prevalent allergy in the United States, second only to peanuts? Epidemiological studies have shown that nearly 20% of all children are allergic to milk (i.e. allergic to casein, a protein in milk). Other findings suggest that at least 65% of the entire human population (and up to 90% of people from specific ethnic groups) are lactose-intolerant.
Taken together, these data suggest a less-than-rosy picture of milk’s effects on the human body. These facts alone would be enough to indicate that milk should be approached conservatively, rather than glorified as a health food. But this natural incompatibility between human biology and milk is only the beginning of the story.
For those able to tolerate both casein and lactose, raw, organic, grass-finished milk can be a healthful (or at least not harmful) dietary addition. Raw milk is exceedingly difficult to source, though—it’s actually still illegal to sell in most states. And needless to say, milk that meets the further qualifications of organic and grass-finished (i.e. sourced from cows who are exclusively grass-fed throughout the lives) is quite rare.
Store-bought milk bears little resemblance to this more healthful variety.
For starters, conventional milk is far more common than organic milk. Conventionally raised cows are kept in deplorable conditions, fed diets of toxic grains, and treated with growth hormones, antibiotics, and other chemicals. Residues of hormones, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and even radionuclides have been found in store-bought milk.
To add insult to injury, the legally required process of pasteurization ensure that milk is stripped of all its beneficial nutrients and probiotic components.
Given this long list of potential toxicities, it should come as no surprise that osteoporosis and bone fractures aren’t the only health risks associated with milk consumption. For example, recent studies have provided data suggesting that men who consume over 2,000 milligrams of calcium daily (i.e. men who consume a lot of milk) are nearly twice as likely to develop prostate cancer. A subsequent meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition clarified and confirmed the finding by concluding that “high intakes of dairy products…may increase total prostate cancer risk.”
Researchers are only just beginning to reexamine the risks and limitations of milk consumption. Many experts suggest links with various ailments and diseases, including diarrhea, cramps, gas, bloating, anemia, gastrointestinal bleeding, acne, rashes, atherosclerosis, type II diabetes, arthritis, leukemia, and infertility.
The bottom line is that you should consider minimizing your consumption of dairy products, and whenever possible, seek out raw, organic milk or non-dairy alternatives.