Did you know that in Medieval England parents would tie rabbits’ feet around their babies’ necks to ward off illness? Doctors would also spit on wounds because saliva was believed to have healing properties.
Indeed, history is replete with unfounded health beliefs, and to everyone’s detriment, the milk myth is among the most tenacious.
Milk is much more than just a drink; it’s a cultural phenomenon that can be traced back thousands of years. And still today, the milk myth resonates loud and clear: in 2001, the average American child consumed 104 quarts of cow’s milk.
Milk depletes the calcium from your bones
The milk myth has spread around the world based on the flawed belief that this protein and calcium-rich drink is essential to support good overall health and bone health in particular at any age. It is easy to understand that the confusion about milk’s imaginary benefits stems from the fact that it contains calcium – around 300 mg per cup.
But many scientific studies have shown an assortment of detrimental health effects directly linked to milk consumption. And the most surprising link is that not only do we barely absorb the calcium in cow’s milk (especially if pasteurized), but to make matters worse, it actually increases calcium loss from the bones. What an irony this is!
Here’s how it happens. Like all animal protein, milk acidifies the body pH which in turn triggers a biological correction. You see, calcium is an excellent acid neutralizer and the biggest storage of calcium in the body is – you guessed it… in the bones. So the very same calcium that our bones need to stay strong is utilized to neutralize the acidifying effect of milk. Once calcium is pulled out of the bones, it leaves the body via the urine, so that the surprising net result after this is an actual calcium deficit.
Knowing this, you’ll understand why statistics show that countries with the lowest consumption of dairy products also have the lowest fracture incidence in their population (there’s more on this later).
Cow’s milk is custom-designed for calves
Thanks to our creative ingenuity and perhaps related to our ancient survival needs, we adopted the dubious habit of drinking another species’ milk. Nobody can dispute that cow’s milk is an excellent food source for calves. Weighing around 100 pounds at birth, a calf typically gains approximately eight times its weight by the time it is weaned. But unlike humans, once calves are weaned, they never drink milk again. And the same applies to every mammalian species on this planet.
Also, each mammalian species has its own “designer” milk, and cow’s milk is no exception. For example, cow’s milk contains on average three times the amount of protein than human milk which creates metabolic disturbances in humans that have detrimental bone health consequences.
It’s important to bear in mind that mother’s milk is excellent nourishment for human babies, but its composition is very different from cow’s milk.
Scientific studies show that milk increases fracture risk
Many scientific studies contradict the conventional wisdom that milk and dairy consumption help reduce osteoporotic fractures. Surprisingly, studies demonstrating that milk and dairy products actually fail to protect bones from fractures outnumber studies that prove otherwise. Even drinking milk from a young age does not protect against future fracture risk but actually increases it. Shattering the “savings account” calcium theory, Cumming and Klineberg report their study findings as follows:
“Consumption of dairy products, particularly at age 20 years, was associated with an increased risk of hip fracture in old age. (“Case-Control Study of Risk Factors for Hip Fractures in the Elderly”. American Journal of Epidemiology. Vol. 139, No. 5, 1994).
And the 12 year long Harvard Nurses’ Health Study found that those who consumed the most calcium from dairy foods broke more bones than those who rarely drank milk. This is a broad study based on 77,761 women aged 34 through 59 years of age.
In the authors’ own words:
“These data do not support the hypothesis that higher consumption of milk or other food sources of calcium by adult women protects against hip or forearm fractures.” (Source: Feskanich D, Willett WC, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA. Milk, dietary calcium, and bone fractures in women: a 12-year prospective study. American Journal of Public Health. 1997).
Shocking statistics ignored by mainstream medicine
In the Save Our Bones Program one of the topics I discuss is the complete disregard of scientific evidence that discredits milk and dairy products as the best source of calcium.
One exception is Amy Lanou Ph.D., nutrition director for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C., who states that:
“The countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis are the ones where people drink the most milk and have the most calcium in their diets. The connection between calcium consumption and bone health is actually very weak, and the connection between dairy consumption and bone health is almost nonexistent.”
Milk is an acidifying animal protein
Like any other animal derived protein-rich food, milk has a positive potential renal acid load (PRAL) which triggers a protective biological reaction to neutralize all the damaging acidic protein before it reaches the kidneys.
The body is designed for survival, so it sacrifices bone density to protect the kidneys and urinary tract because the latter are essential to survival. And the most readily available source of acid neutralizer is in the bones. So even though milk contains calcium, it ends up sapping your bones of that crucial mineral. But that’s not all because…
Today’s milk is a processed food
Until the end of the 19th century in Europe and the beginning of the 20th century in the US, milk was consumed unpasteurized or raw. Later on, homogenization became the industry’s standard. These processes further alter milk’s chemistry and actually increase its detrimental acidifying effects.
Raw milk advocates claim that if cow’s milk is left “as is” it is a healthy and wholesome drink. It is true that raw milk is less acidifying than processed milk and that pasteurization and homogenization may cause a long list of digestive and other health problems, but I still don’t recommend drinking any kind of cow’s milk.
Nowadays, milking cows are given antibiotics and most are also injected with a genetically engineered form of bovine growth hormone (rBGH). A man-made or synthetic hormone used to artificially increase milk production, rBGH also increases blood levels of the insulin-growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in those who drink it. And higher levels of IGF-1 are linked to several cancers.
This should not be ignored, especially in view of recent information by Samuel Epstein, MD, Professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, and Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition. In an article titled “Monsanto’s Hormonal Milk Poses Serious Risks of Breast Cancer, Besides Other Cancers” (http://www.preventcancer.com/press/releases/july8_98.htm, June 21, 1998) Dr. Epstein concludes that:
“Drinking rBGH milk would thus be expected to significantly increase IGF-1 blood levels and consequently to increase risks of developing breast cancer and promoting its invasiveness.”
Even though organic milk is from cows that are not given antibiotics or rBHG, if you truly care about your bone health and your overall health, you should…
Avoid drinking cow’s milk
But first, I’d like to clarify that unsweetened fermented or cultured dairy products such as yogurt, kefir, and sour cream are acid neutral. Yogurt in particular is chock-full of beneficial qualities. As is the case with milk, organic yogurt does not have rBGH, but even several of the most well-known yogurt brands have stopped using the bovine growth hormone (rBGH). You should call your favorite yogurt company to confirm. One more clarification: when I say unsweetened I mean without sugar or any artificial sweetener. However, you can add honey or stevia, a zero calorie plant-derived sweetener that is delicious and alkalizing as well. I like to carry around stevia packets in my purse so that I’m always able to sweeten food or drinks when I’m on the go.
The best milk substitutes
My favorite milk substitute is unsweetened almond milk, not only because it is alkalizing (as almonds are), but also because it’s delicious and tastes very similar to milk. I even cook with it!
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