The government sure is milking the “mustache” gag. They’ve helped to promote dairy so much that “Got Milk” is now a national catch phrase. But why are they promoting milk so heavily? And is milk really that important to good health? The answers may surprise you.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends three glasses of milk a day. Why? Because milk builds strong bones and combats osteoporosis. At least that’s what the government tells you.
Milk is considered one of nature’s great building blocks. That’s because it has enjoyed heavy endorsement for many years. Much of that promotion comes from the USDA Food Guide Pyramid. But several of the “experts” who designed the pyramid are dairy industry insiders.
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, family medicine practitioner and Advisory Board member of the Food as Medicine Program at Georgetown University’s School of Medicine, USDA dietary recommendations primarily protect industry interests… not your health.
The government tells us that milk is good for us because it:
- Builds strong bones
- Combats osteoporosis
- Rebuilds muscle
Here is the government’s argument for you: Milk is rich in calcium. Calcium builds strong bones and teeth. Therefore, milk will strengthen your bones.
However, many leading experts hotly refute this. In fact, two studies conducted by leading nutritional scientist and Harvard University researcher Dr. Walter Willet provide evidence that eating dairy does not reduce the risk of fracture.
In fact, one of these studies – an extensive 12-year review of 78,000 women – concluded that dairy may actually increase the risk of fractures by 50 percent.
“Milk is a primary source of calcium and vitamin D and therefore might be expected to decrease osteoporotic bone loss and fracture risk, yet research has not generally supported this assumption,” concluded the study.
Dr. Willet’s follow-up study was published six years later in 2003. It showed that milk consumption “conferred a weak, non-significant reduction in fracture risk.” The study also found that with “higher daily intakes of milk, there was still no evidence of a protective effect.”
Some experts believe that the idea that osteoporosis is caused by calcium deficiency was created to sell dairy products. It’s not surprising that they believe there is no truth to it, when you consider that American women are among the biggest consumers of calcium in the world, and yet they still have one of the highest levels of osteoporosis in the world.
Vitamin D More Effective Than Calcium for Preventing Fractures?
Research also shows that Africa and Asia have the lowest rates of osteoporosis. These countries also consume the lowest rates of dairy and calcium.
Although dairy and calcium were not shown to reduce the risk of fractures, Dr. Willet’s Harvard study did identify a compound that can help.1 According to the study, “An adequate vitamin D intake is associated with a lower risk of osteoporotic hip fractures in postmenopausal women.”
The study suggests fatty fish – such as wild salmon, sardines, and mackerel – as good food sources of vitamin D. While these are the best food sources, they still do not contain nearly the amount of vitamin D your body needs. By far, the best way to get the vitamin D you need is to allow direct sun exposure to your skin (without burning).
Credible Link between Calcium and Cancer?
As you can imagine, you can get too much of a good thing. In fact, some studies show an association between cancer and excess calcium in the diet.
One of these studies reviewed the links between dairy and prostate cancer. The research concluded that the more dairy a man consumes, the more it raises his risk of cancer – by up to 50 percent.
Researchers believe that as calcium increases in the blood, vitamin D drops. Vitamin D has been shown to have amazing anti-cancer properties. Therefore, by decreasing those levels in the body, the risk of cancer potentially increases.
Then there are the more commonly recognized problems with dairy. It’s reported that approximately 75 percent of the world’s population2 is unable to properly digest lactose (a type of sugar found in milk). This “lactose intolerance” lies in our origins: We didn’t domesticate animals – or drink their milk – until about 10,000 years ago. Ten thousand years is the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms. Our ancient genetics haven’t evolved to match our modern diets.
Furthermore, most humans stop producing significant amounts of lactase – the enzyme needed to metabolize lactose – between the ages of two and five. Simple conclusion: we weren’t meant to digest milk on a regular basis.
The Migraine-Milk Connection
Intolerance to milk and dairy can manifest itself in many different ways. Milk became a real headache for one concerned mother.
“When my son started kindergarten he developed what looked like acne around his mouth,” explained “Sarah.” “We discovered it was caused by the milk he was drinking at school. We never gave him milk at home, because our family has a history of lactose intolerance. We started giving him a lactase pill every day so he could have all the dairy he wanted at school….we didn’t want him to feel left out on ice cream day. But he started having headaches that became more and more severe as he got older. They eventually turned into migraines that were so bad he could hardly function and was getting them about every five days.”
When the doctor couldn’t provide a solution, Sarah researched the connection between migraines and milk link for herself.
“I discovered that dairy can cause migraines in people who are allergic to milk. My doctor apparently was unaware of this. We immediately put my son on a dairy-free diet and the migraines disappeared. He is now a very different little boy… no migraines, doesn’t miss school, and is happier.”
Campaign Claims Not Backed by Science
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently requested that the USDA back up the “milk mustache” campaign claims with science. The panel of scientists concluded the following:
- There was no compelling proof that dairy builds strong bones.
- Dairy causes digestive problems for the 75 percent of people with lactose intolerance.
- Dairy aggravates irritable bowel syndrome.
- Milk doesn’t offer sports benefits. It does not improve athletic performance.
- Dairy may be linked to prostate cancer.
Given all the findings about dairy, it’s probably a good idea to get your vitamin D, potassium, protein, and healthy fats from other food sources, including lean meats, wild fish, fruits and vegetables… and of course, frequent sun exposure.