Milk has long been touted as a supreme health food. It is a complete protein, contains a number of important vitamins and minerals, is relatively inexpensive, and is widely available. Raw milk has been shown to increase adrenal function and to be useful for rebuilding body tissue5. So what is the controversy about? Who should be consuming dairy? What’s going on with milk processing? Here is an in depth and comprehensive guide to the health aspects of dairy consumption, for your enjoyment.
”Who can handle milk?”
Other forms of dairy aside, it is a plain fact that the majority of the global citizenry should not be drinking milk. While it is clear that the overwhelming majority of Northern Europeans (with no Jewish background) can handle lactose—the sugar in milk—just fine, fully seventy-five percent of the rest of the adult population cannot digest lactose1. 97-100% of African blacks, 90-100% of Asians, 70-75% of North American blacks, 70-80% of Mexicans, 60-90% of persons of Mediterranean descent, 60-80% of persons of Jewish descent, 7-15% of North American whites, and 1-5% of Northern Europeans are intolerant of lactose6.
We must also consider that lactose is not the only problem. Many are also allergic to casein, a protein found in milk which is particularly difficult to digest2.
It is postulated that somewhere along the line of humankind’s agricultural developments, humans made the adaption to be able to digest the milk of the animals they held in captivity—namely ruminants (cows, sheep, goats, and other grass grazers)3. But of course, not every ancient society made this adaptation. Studies of traditional societies by Weston A. Price and others find a number of groups who thrived on milk—such as Swiss dairy farmers in the Loetschental Valley and the Masai herdsmen, near modern Kenya and Tanzania—and a number who thrived without milk3.
Many of us who are currently drinking milk have merely adapted to an allergic food—in other words, the allergy has gone undiagnosed. This is partially because lactose intolerance is commonly diagnosed only upon a strong showing of related symptoms. Breath testing is an easily and readily available method of testing, but it is not used often enough6. Some may be able to correctly diagnose their lactose intolerance through an elimination diet under the guidance of a specialist.
Still, though many of us are unable to handle milk, many do fine with other dairy products.
”Finding the least allergenic dairy products”
For some, simply avoiding dairy is a wise option. Potential calcium or other mineral deficiencies can be allayed with adequate consumption of cooked greens (especially collard greens), molasses, sesame seeds, broccoli, and tofu1. Dairy is by no means necessary, and for many it does more harm than good.
But for many, completely avoiding dairy is unnecessary.
First of all, many who are sensitive to milk or cheese will be able to digest yogurt or kefir. These cultured milk products contain beneficial bacteria with a number of benefits. First, the bacteria breaks down much of the lactose in milk, helping to make milk more digestible4. Second, the bacteria contributes to the friendly bacteria that colonize the large intestine, preventing dysbiosis (colonization of the large intestine by bad bacteria) and leading to the production of a number of friendly vitamins including biotin, folic acid, vitamins A and K, and a number of B vitamins4.
Those wishing to cook with butter but trying to avoid cream can render the butter into ghee, a healthful cooking oil which contains no lactose or casein.
Another important alternative is that those who still have problems with dairy from cow’s milk often have no problem digesting goat or sheep’s milk products, especially yogurt4. These milks are known to be much more similar to human milk than cow’s milk3.
Finally, a number of people find it easier to digest raw—unpasteurized—dairy because the enzymes that help to break down the food constituents are left in tact4.
”Pasteurization and the industrialization of dairy”
Until the early 20th century, all milk went unpasteurized. As small farmers moved to the city, the need to have sources of milk that were easily distributed became apparent3. Raw milk was problematic for a number of reasons.
First, it doesn’t keep as long as pasteurized milk because it has enzymes and beneficial bacteria in it—the same enzymes and bacteria which many say are beneficial to our ability to digest lactose, casein, and other milk constituents—that break the milk down. Pasteurization, which destroys these enzymes and bacteria, thus allows the milk to last much longer without going bad.
Additionally, pasteurization destroys any bad bacteria in the milk. Tuberculosis, botulism, and other serious health threats were found to be caused by contaminated milk4. Because the milk no longer came from small farms that were individually accountable, pasteurization became an effective method of cleaning up the milk. Otherwise, one farm could ruin the entire batch. This, of course, calls into the question the wisdom of nationally distributed milk.
For these reasons, and at the behest of national milk distributors, cities and states began enforcing pasteurization in various ways. Pasteurization simply involves cooking the milk. The longer and hotter you cook the milk, the more bacteria and enzymes will be destroyed, and the longer the milk will last on a shelf. Many states prohibit the sale of raw milk entirely.
Most mainstream nutritionists and physicians are decidedly in support of pasteurization. Marion Nestle writes that the lost in taste found in pasteurized milk is “not matched by a loss in nutritional value, at least according to research on food composition”7. Research, I should add, Nestle does not cite. Her argument is that pasteurization only “reduces the amounts of some of the more delicate vitamins,” and it “minimally inactivates some of the proteins”7. She does not mention enzymes or living bacteria.
To me, her nonspecific arguments in support of pasteurization are indicative of the general lack of suspicion amongst most mainstream health professionals regarding the thing we should be more than a little worried about, processed food.
Let’s kick the facts.
”Pasteurization and your health”
It is my view that the pasteurization of milk is a disaster. We had dirty milk; that was a serious problem. But to argue that pasteurization was a better way to deal with this problem than making the cows healthier and situating them in disease free environments seems unwise when there are numerous documented problems with pasteurization and other aspects of milk processing.
We pasteurize to avoid pathogens, which is ironic because raw milk actually contains “lactic-acid-producing bacteria that protect against pathogens,” which are destroyed by pasteurization2. Anecdotally, this is supported by the fact that all salmonella outbreaks have been the result of pasteurized milk, whereas no reported outbreaks of any kind were caused by raw milk in recent years2.
What about the nutrients? Pasteurization decreases the availability of important amino acids including lysine and tyrosine, destroys B12, promotes the rancidity of unsaturated fats, and decreases the availability of calcium. Pasteurized milk putrefies when left out, while raw milk merely ferments or turns sour; the same changes can occur during digestion5.
Pasteurization strains the digestive system. All enzymes in the milk—enzymes which help the body assimilate vitamins and minerals—are destroyed, and the pancreas is forced to try to produce enough digestive enzymes to make up for the pitfall2. The test for successful pasteurization, in fact, is one that ensures enzyme destruction8. Lipase, a fat digestion enzyme, is destroyed, making fat digestion difficult2. The difficulty in breaking down milk constituents often leads to molecules passing through to the small intestines undigested; undigested particles can build up around the microvilli lining the small intestine, leading to poor nutrient absorption and allowing the intake of toxins2.
Dr. Ronald F. Schmid writes, “pasteurization denatures all enzymes and heat-labile nutrients, changing the chemical structures of proteins and fats in the milk”3. Well, if the protein and fat structures have been fundamentally altered, what are our bodies supposed to do with them?
Unfortunately, pasteurization is not the end of the problems with milk.
”More about industrial milk”
Lets start with the cow. Farmers have selectively bred Holsteins over other cow breeds because they produce three to four times as much milk as those varieties2. Unfortunately, this does not mean three to four times as much nutrition—quite the contrary.
Traditionally cows are given large pastures on which to roam on. They are ruminants; their stomachs are designed to ferment grass. Modern dairy production confines wild amounts of cows to very small areas, and the cows are fed grain instead of grass. This unnatural diet leads to poor digestion and a variety of illnesses. The high protein soy meal in particular has been shown to increase milk production—as well as rates of mastitis, sterility, liver problems, and shortened lives4. The close quarters these cows live in allow disease to travel quickly.
Most cows, therefore, suffer from reoccurring mastitis infections, wherein the udder becomes swollen and irritated. This has two unfortunate consequences. First, most dairy cows are fed a constant dose of antibiotics, ones which get into our own bodies through the milk—potentially instigating a supervirus crisis in the future. Second, there is pus in the milk2.
The next issue is growth hormones. Growth hormones are used to cause cows to reach maturity quicker and also because they extend milk production. Prosilac, a common growth hormone produced by Monsanto, increases mastitis rates (according to Monsanto’s manual for the product) and thus requires the use of more antibiotics4. Various studies show growth hormone usage resulting in sick cows, abnormal calf births, enormous spleen growths in rats, and extremely high cancer rates among receiving cows4.
Growth hormones are water soluble, meaning they end up in the milk that we drink, with a number of resultant health problems2. Specifically, growth hormones increase the insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1); this molecule is the same in cows and humans, and the result may be increased cancer growth rates4.
Milk companies who don’t use growth hormones have been forced to adulterate their labels with a statement that “no significant difference has been shown between milk from treated and untreated cows”4. This is the result of a dubious rat study conducted largely by Monsanto scientists that was far too short to indicate any meaningful results4. Why the FDA would require this statement, which clearly favors some companies over others and is not grounded in real science, is beyond me.
Homogenization. Homogenization is linked to heart disease2. How could that be? In homogenization, milk is forced “through a fine filter at pressures equal to 4,000 pounds per square inch, making the fat globules smaller by a factor of 10 times or more”4. This prevents the molecules from separating, but the small size of the molecules allows some substances to bypass digestion, “so that proteins that normally would be digested and broken down in the stomach are not broken down, increasing the chances of incomplete protein digestion in the small intestine”4. This could trigger an immune system response, leading to a dairy or other allergy and other problems4.
The show goes on. Chemicals are added to milk to impact the taste2. Vitamin D2 and D3 are added; “the former is toxic and has been linked to heart disease while the latter is difficult to absorb”2, 3”. ”Powdered milk is often added to commercial milk; the resultant oxidized cholesterol is harmful to the arteries, the resultant cross-linked proteins and nitrate compounds are potent carcinogens, and the resultant free glutamic acid is toxic to the nervous system2.
What is clear is that milk is not the problem. Various populations have thrived for millennia on on a variety of dairy products. But what is just as clear is that the industrialization of dairy production and the processing of dairy products haven proven to be failed experiments. It is my recommendation that industrial dairy products be completely avoided—I haven’t even talked about the environmental problems—and that more healthful dairy options be sought out by those whose bodies can digest them.
Luckily, in Connecticut raw milk is widely available and can be purchased at farm stands, farmers markets, and. health food stores. I get mine at Fiddleheads of New London.
1 Weil, Andrew. (1998). Ask Dr. Weil. New York: Great Bear Publications, LLC.
2 Fallon, Sally. (2001). Nourishing Traditions. Washington, DC: NewTrends Publishing, Inc.
3 Schmid, Ronald F. (1997). Traditional Foods are your Best Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
4 Chek, Paul. (2004). How to Eat, Move, and Be Healthy. San Diego, CA: CHEK Institute.
5 Bieler, Henry G. (1965). Food is Your Best Medicine. New York: Ballantine Books.
6 Pizzorno, J. E., Murray, M. T. (2006). Textbook of Natural Medicine. St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingston Elsevier.
7 Nestle, Marion. (2007). What to Eat. New York: North Point Press.
8 Croxton, S., Mcafee, M. (2009). The Real Scoop on Raw Milk. Online: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/UndergroundWellness/2009/04/08/The-Real-Scoop-on-Raw-Milk