Milk… Good For Calves Bad For Humans! Is It True?

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Dairy farmers won’t be happy when they learn about a study undertaken by Harvard scientists that challenges the wisdom of drinking milk. No mystery here: generations of mothers have poured, promoted and prioritized milk and it remains the number one choice of parents who believe that the beverage is the safest, healthiest and most wholesome beverage available.

It’s no accident that clinical studies questioning the health benefits of milk have been countered by clever ad campaigns by the dairy industry (e.g., the award-winning “Got Milk?” campaign). Dairy interests have a big stake in reinforcing consumer belief that no beverage offers as many health benefits. Each time science questions that belief, the industry comes up with new threats and reasons why consumers should continue to drink it. For example, milk is increasingly touted as essential to human bone growth and tooth health, but Harvard University’s Dr. David Ludwig just isn’t buying it.

About the Harvard Study
As HMS professor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital and head of the hospital’s obesity research center, David Ludwig has been busy making a case against the health benefits of milk for some time, but his thesis—that milk plays no significant role in advancing health but rather serves as a gateway to addiction—is just beginning to attract the interest of the scientific community. Ludwig concludes that high-glycemic foods like adulterated milk cause the brain to react with pleasure—ergo, that whole cookies with milk connection. Milk as the new heroin? According to Ludwig’s theory, it is. And study findings, after feeding milkshakes to clinical trial participants and then watching brain pleasure centers light up like Christmas trees, proves it.

Study Protocols: Ludwig and his team used sophisticated magnetic resonance imaging to provide a road map through the brains of 12 overweight men. Small sample? True. But Ludwig intends to use this Harvard study as a stepping stone to future research into milk’s addictive nature. Results of the small sampling are telling. Overweight/obese volunteers underwent blood glucose level testing as meals of milkshakes were introduced over four hour periods. Brain contrasts when subjects were fed rapidly digestible carbs (e.g., milkshakes) versus slowly digestible carbs (e.g., dairy-free smoothies) were dramatic: Blood sugar levels ebbed and flowed like ocean tides during these ‘ingest-metabolize-crash’ cycles. Complete findings were reported in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Beyond Addiction: Scientists like Ludwig and other like-minded researchers believe that milk, the quintessential rapidly-digestible carb, may also trigger acne, heart disease, kidney stones, osteoporosis, diabetes and other illnesses. Save our Bones founder Lilian Goldschmidt believes that the animal proteins in cow’s milk can actually leach calcium from bones and teeth. Her research substantiates other studies proving that ingesting milk offers no bone protection. She’s gone so far as to suggest categorizing milk as a processed food, putting it into the same category as American cheese slices. Her mantra? “Just say No to Milk!”

Don’t Benefits Outweigh Consequences?
Not so much. There is no biological need for milk beyond mother’s milk, and no matter how loudly the dairy lobby shouts, there’s no scientific evidence that milk is compatible with the human digestive system. Dr. Ludwig–in concert with Dr. Walter Willett—writes in JAMA Pediatrics, that cancer and weight gain risks don’t measure up to promised nutritional payoffs. Ditto low-fat and non-fat milks that encourage weight gain because today’s commercial milk is regularly laced with sugar and refined carbohydrates to compensate for an absence of fat. Further, Ludwig and Willett are of a like mind on that topic: there’s no proof that fat begets fat.

No Cow Was Harmed While Making This Milk: Up to 60 different hormones given to cows to hasten offspring growth has exponentially upped the number of health risks to milk drinkers. Growing proof that milk laced with hormones encourages cancer cell growth is particularly disturbing to doctors studying its effect on men with a predisposition to prostate cancer. Further, the number of people developing lactose intolerance ailments is staggering: 75-percent of the U.S. population suffers digestive distress related to milk consumption and there’s growing evidence that milk products correlate with increases in allergy, asthma and iron deficiency-related illnesses.

What’s a Mom to Do? Practice the Zen of Milk. There’s no reason to lurch into abstinence when moderation could serve the same purpose. Besides, this probably won’t be the last time you encounter cutting-edge research and theories like those espoused by Dr. Ludwig and his team of Harvard researchers. Stay abreast of information on milk cartons. They’re more than a great way to find missing kids–they’re also fonts of nutritional information and containers will be the first place the U.S. Department of Agriculture posts warnings about additives in the future.

An Objective Viewpoint
Books like Whitewash: The Disturbing Truth about Cow’s Milk and Your Health by Joseph Keon, available in electronic and print formats, tell one side of the story, but there are authoritative works on milk’s benefits worth reading. Besides, a future Harvard study could prove properties in milk protect against catastrophic illnesses and the high Dr. Ludwig describes in his Harvard study could disappear if unadulterated milk hits the market. Common sense makes sense—it’s a philosophy your mom must have impressed upon you as she poured a cold white one!