Oh, good old dairy! I’m sure you remember being a kid and having your mother tell you, Drink your milk! You need it to grow and be strong! Or perhaps your mom was ahead of the curve and saw through the mass marketing campaign designed to convince us that we require milk to live a healthy life.
Aside from the obvious reasons why we don’t need cow’s milk — no other animal drinks the milk from another species; we no longer need milk once weaned from our own mother’s; and cow’s milk is, well, meant for baby cows to grow into giant cows — we most certainly do not need dairy.
This whole dairy façade began upon the premise that we need calcium, which we do, and that we can only get it through dairy products, which is false. There are a number of vegetables that contain even more calcium than milk, including broccoli, kale, cabbage, and watercress, along with a variety of nuts and seeds. But we never see ads on television telling us to eat our broccoli, even though it has many more health benefits than milk. Simply put, there is no lobbying behind broccoli.
Milk is heavily pushed into the mainstream media; of course we all remember those infamous Got Milk? advertisements which used celebrities to endorse milk and which portrayed drinking milk as being both cool and health conscious. And now they have gone even further with the new ad campaign funded by Canadian dairy farmers, Milk Every Moment, with a slogan that pulls on your heart strings: “Not everything made sense when you were a kid, but drinking milk did.” They certainly know their business.
The following video created by Vox outlines the absurdity of milk quite nicely. Have a look!
Milk Simply Isn’t Good For Us
I should be clear about this statement: conventional pasteurized milk is not good for us. The cattle used to create this milk are pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, all of which end up in the milk we are consuming — along with blood, puss, and fecal matter. The pasteurization process, moreover, destroys any beneficial enzymes within the milk. Not to mention that these dairy cows are virtually kept pregnant until retirement, without even having an opportunity for their calves to drink the milk that was made for them in the first place.
It’s a horrific, backwards system. And while many people believe that raw, organic milk does offer many health benefits, it is actually illegal to sell this milk in Canada (go figure). Either way, I still don’t think milk is a necessary staple; cow’s milk is made for baby cows.
A large study coming from researchers at the Uppsala University in Sweden found that drinking milk led to an increased mortality rate and actually made bones more prone to fracturing, not less. Recently published in the peer reviewed British Medical Journal, it was specifically conducted to examine whether high milk consumption is associated with mortality and fractures in both men and women.
The study took place across three different counties in Sweden, and used data from two large Swedish cohorts, one with 61,433 women aged approximately 39-74 years old and one with 45,339 men aged approximately 45-79 years old. They were all administered food frequency questionnaires. The study used “multivariable survival models” that were “applied to determine the association between milk consumption and time to mortality and fracture.
The results were as follows:
During a mean follow-up of 20.1 years, 15 541 women died and 17 252 had a fracture, of whom 4259 had a hip fracture. In the male cohort with a mean follow-up of 11.2 years, 10 112 men died and 5066 had a fracture, with 1166 hip fracture cases. In women the adjusted mortality hazard ratio for three or more glasses of milk a day compared with less than one glass a day was 1.93 (95% confidence interval 1.80 to 2.06). For every glass of milk, the adjusted hazard ratio of all cause mortality was 1.15 (1.13 to 1.17) in women and 1.03 (1.01 to 1.04) in men. For every glass of milk in women no reduction was observed in fracture risk with higher milk consumption for any fracture (1.02, 1.00 to 1.04) or for hip fracture (1.09, 1.05 to 1.13). The corresponding adjusted hazard ratios in men were 1.01 (0.99 to 1.03) and 1.03 (0.99 to 1.07). In subsamples of two additional cohorts, one in males and one in females, a positive association was seen between milk intake and both urine 8-iso-PGF2α (a biomarker of oxidative stress) and serum interleukin 6 (a main inflammatory biomarker).
The study concluded that high milk intake was associated with higher mortality in one cohort of women and in another cohort of men, and with higher fracture incidence in women, though it concluded that, “Given the observational study designs with the inherent possibility of residual confounding and reverse causation phenomena, a cautious interpretation of the results is recommended.”
This is just one example; there have been countless other studies that reveal this same risk.
Okay I’ll Give Up Milk, Now What?
You are not alone! The truth about milk is starting to come to light and many are opting for alternatives.
“U.S. milk consumption has been steadily declining by 25 percent per capita since the mid-1970s. Americans, on average, drink 37 percent less milk today than they did in 1970, according to data from the USDA,” said Nil Zacharias, Co-Founder of One Green Planet, “On the other side, non-dairy milk sales are up 30 percent since 2011, representing a $2 billion category, and growth is expected to continue outpacing dairy milk sales at least through 2018. Consumers don’t want milk anymore, and better alternatives are growing every day.”
Almond, cashew, rice, hemp, soy, and pea-protein milks are all available to you at most grocery stores. The demand for these alternatives is increasing so more options are becoming available all the time. You can even, quite easily, make your own nut milks. Check out this recipe for a homemade almond milk, or this one for a homemade cashew and almond milk blend.
Let’s just leave the cow’s milk to go where it was intended: the baby cows.
The idea that milk is needed for strong bones is a widespread belief, but research is now showing there may be significant flaws to this supposition. Many people are unaware that humans never possessed the enzyme necessary to break down the sugar in milk (lactose) in the first place, and many still don’t. At some point in human evolution, some of us experienced a mutation in the LTC, or lactase, gene, which allowed a small portion of us to process lactose as adults. Approximately 65-75 percent of the population, however, remains incapable of properly processing lactose, which begs the question, is consuming the milk that’s meant for young cows really natural and healthy for human beings?
Calcium can be found in abundance in many plant-based sources, but all we hear about, unfortunately, is milk and calcium supplements — a reality which clearly serves both the dairy and the pharmaceutical industry.
Millions of people in the United States take calcium supplements, but does anyone ever ask why? Sayer Ji from Greenmedinfo.com explains the situation:
The seemingly universal popularity of taking elemental calcium supplements results from the promotional efforts of conventional health “experts” and organizations like the National Osteoporosis Foundation (whose corporate sponsors include the calcium manufacturers Oscal and Citrical). Also, the World Health Organization created a radically new definition of “normal” bone density in 1994 when it took the 25-year old young adult standard (which is peak bone mass in a women’s life cycle), also known as the “T-score,” and applied it to all women, irrespective of their age. (source)
There is no shortage of concerning research on calcium supplementation. One notable example, published in the journal Heart, found a 24-27 percent increased risk of heart attack in those who took 500mg of elemental calcium a day. These findings were also confirmed by another study that was recently published in the British Medical Journal. (source)(source)
This particular study involved 24,000 people between the ages of 35 and 63, finding that those who took regular doses of calcium supplement increased their risk of having a heart attack by an alarming 86 percent, compared to those who took no calcium supplements at all. The University of California Berkeley reiterates:
However, studies published in the past few years have probably made many people wonder if they should stop taking the pills. First, some studies have linked calcium pills to increased risk of heart disease. And in 2012, the influential U.S. Preventive Services Task Force dropped a bombshell when its draft recommendations concluded that standard doses of supplemental calcium and vitamin D don’t prevent fractures in postmenopausal women. (source)
These studies do not come without criticism. For the particular study cited above, Dr. Deepak Bhatt, a cardiologist at Harvard Brigham and Women’s hospital stated,
The study did not provide iron-clad evidence of a connection between calcium supplements and heart attack. Although it’s not the first report suggesting this connection, no study has definitely proven that excessive calcium intake contributes to plaque formation and heart disease (source)
Harvard says calcium supplements are still safe to take, and it’s important to keep in mind that many other studies have not found a link between calcium pills and coronary risk, but some have.
It’s no secret that calcium is needed for many bodily functions, and getting adequate amounts of calcium during childhood is very important for bone health (though it’s important to mention that many studies have shown that calcium is not as important for bone health as we believe).
For example, a study conducted by researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden found that drinking milk actually led to an increased mortality rate and made bones more prone to fracturing — not less. (source)
And a study published in the American Journal of Public Health showed that dairy consumption might actually increase the risk of fractures by 50 percent. (source)
In a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, Harvard pediatrician David Ludwig emphasizes that bone fracture rates tend to be lower in countries that do not consume milk compared to those that do, also noting that there are many other sources of calcium. (source)
Sayer Ji had this to say about why we shouldn’t really be surprised by the dangers of calcium supplements:
People really should not be so surprised at the idea that calcium supplementation may be toxic to cardiovascular health. After all, many subject themselves to coronary and cardiac calcium scans in order to ascertain their risk of cardiovascular events and/or cardiac mortality. This is because we know that calcium of the wrong kind in the wrong place can result in serious adverse health effects. There are, in fact, quite a few in the field of nutrition who have long warned against supplementation with elemental calcium; which is to say, calcium from limestone, oyster shell, egg shell and bone meal (hydroxylapatite). (source)
Why Calcium From Food Is Better
There are a number of foods that can provide one with adequate amounts of calcium. The list is quite long in fact, including things like kale, oranges, beans, green peas, chickpeas, quinoa, seeds, hemp, and more. Apart from the information listed above, why take supplements when you can simply take food, especially if there is research showing these pills are potentially harmful? Moreover, your body is actually “hardwired” to reject low quality calcium sources, because supplements are not usually bound to the amino acids, lipids, and glyconutrients that are commonly found in food and which aid in absorption:
Inorganic or “elemental” calcium, when not bound to the natural co-factors, e.g. amino acids, lipids and glyconutrients, found in “food” (which is to say other living beings, e.g. plants and animals), no longer has the intelligent delivery system that enables your body to utilize it in a biologically appropriate manner. Lacking this “delivery system,” the calcium may end up going to places you do not want (ectopic calcification), or go to places you do want (e.g. the bones), but in excessive amounts, stimulating unnaturally accelerated cell-division (osteoblasts), resulting in higher bone turn over rates later in life. (source)
Other great ways to strengthen your bones include consuming more planet-derived calcium, magnesium, Vitamin K2 (from grass-fed organic animal products), and trace minerals, as well as getting natural sunlight (vitamin D). Although the mainstream medical industry won’t emphasize this, one of the best ways to have healthy bones is to eat a diet rich in raw, fresh whole foods that maximize natural minerals, so your body has the materials it needs to do what nature intended it to do.
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