These days, it seems like almost everybody does. Celebrities, athletes and even former president Clinton’s head of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala, are all proud to wear the white “milk mustache.” After all, everyone knows that you need milk to be healthy …
Dairy is nature’s perfect food — but only if you’re a calf.
If that sounds shocking to you, it’s because very few people are willing to tell the truth about dairy. In fact, criticizing milk in America is like taking on motherhood, apple pie or baseball. But that’s just what I’m about to do.
Based on research and experience practicing medicine, I typically advise most of my patients to avoid dairy products completely. I like ice cream just as much as the next person but, as a scientist, I have to look honestly at what we know. In today’s blog, I will explore many of the documented ill-effects of dairy, and give you six reasons why you should avoid dairy at all costs.
The truth about dairy
There are many reasons to pass up milk, including:
- Milk doesn’t reduce fractures. Contrary to popular belief, eating dairy products has never been shown to reduce fracture risk. In fact, according to the Nurses’ Health Study, dairy may increase risk of fractures by 50 percent!
- Less dairy, better bones. Countries with the lowest rates of dairy and calcium consumption (like those in Africa and Asia) have the lowest rates of osteoporosis.
- Calcium isn’t as bone-protective as we thought. Studies of calcium supplementation have shown no benefit in reducing fracture risk. Vitamin D appears to be much more important than calcium in preventing fractures.
- Calcium may raise cancer risk. Research shows that higher intakes of both calcium and dairy products may increase a man’s risk of prostate cancer by 30 to 50 percent. Plus, dairy consumption increases the body’s level of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) — a known cancer promoter.
- Calcium has benefits that dairy doesn’t. Calcium supplements, but not dairy products, may reduce the risk of colon cancer.
- Not everyone can stomach dairy. About 75 percent of the world’s population is genetically unable to properly digest milk and other dairy products — a problem called lactose intolerance.
Here are some important conclusions:
- Everybody needs calcium, but probably not as much as our government’s recommended daily allowance (RDA). The body better utilizes calcium from your diet, including greens and beans, with less risk than calcium supplements.
- Calcium probably doesn’t prevent broken bones. Few people in this country are likely to reduce their fracture risk by getting more calcium.
- Men may not want to take calcium supplements. Supplements of calcium and vitamin D may be reasonable for women.
Plus, dairy may contribute to even more health problems, like:
- Sinus problems
- Ear infections
- Type 1 diabetes
- Chronic constipation
- Anemia (in children)
Due to these concerns, many have begun to consider raw milk an alternative. But that isn’t really a healthy form of dairy either. Yes, raw, whole, organic milk eliminates concerns like pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and the effects of homogenization and pasteurization. But, to me, these benefits don’t outweigh dairy’s potential risks.
From an evolutionary point of view, milk is a strange food for humans. Until 10,000 years ago, we didn’t domesticate animals and weren’t able to drink milk. If you don’t believe that, consider this: The majority of humans naturally stop producing significant amounts of lactase — the enzyme needed to properly metabolize lactose, the sugar in milk — sometime between the ages of 2 and 5. In fact, for most mammals, the normal condition is to stop producing the enzymes needed to properly digest and metabolize milk after they have been weaned.
Our bodies just weren’t made to digest milk on a regular basis. Instead, most scientists agree that it’s better for us to get calcium, potassium, protein and fats from other food sources, like whole plant foods: vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds and seaweed.
So here is my advice for dealing with dairy.
5 tips for dealing with dairy
- Don’t rely on dairy for healthy bones. If you want healthy bones, get plenty of exercise and supplement with 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily.
- Get your calcium from food. These include dark green leafy vegetables, sesame tahini, sea vegetables and sardines or salmon with bones.
- Try giving up all dairy. That means eliminate milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream for two weeks and see if you feel better. You should notice improvements with your sinuses, post-nasal drip, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, energy and weight. Then, start eating dairy again and see how you feel. If you feel worse, you should try to give it up for life.
- If you can tolerate dairy, use only raw, organic dairy products. I suggest focusing on fermented products like unsweetened yogurt and kefir, occasionally.
- If you have to feed your child formula from milk, don’t worry. The milk in infant formula is hydrolyzed, or broken down and easier to digest (although it can still cause allergies). Once your child is a year old, switch him or her to real food and almond milk.
Still got milk? I hope not! Remember, dairy is not crucial for good health. I encourage you to go dairy-free and see what it does for you.
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, M.D.