20 per cent, they reckoned. As Health Secretary, Margaret Thatcher did something even more unpopular than the poll tax she would introduce when she was Prime Minister: she scrapped free milk for schoolchildren, which earned her the sobriquet 'Mrs Thatcher, Milk Snatcher'. But a new study suggests that Mrs Thatcher may have known more than the doctors: drinking too much milk every day could lead to premature death, and it can even increase your chances of suffering a fracture-the very opposite of what it's supposed to do.
1 Researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden believe the milk paradox is due to d-galactose, a nutrient produced by the body when digesting lactose, a milk sugar. Even at low doses, animal studies have shown that d-galactose accelerates the ageing process, shortens the life span through oxidative stress (the release of damaging free-radical molecules), triggers chronic inflammation-a cause of many chronic conditions, including heart disease-weakens the immune system, and increases the risk of neurological diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
The process of senescence, or ageing, seems to start when people drink one to two glasses of milk a day, and one glass of cow's milk will produce 5 g of d-galactose in the body.
This has hardly been news for nutritionists and alternative therapists who, for years, have been pointing out that dairy is one of the chief food allergens. But the size of the Swedish
study, and its emphatic conclusions, should make everyone in mainstream healthcare finally sit up and take notice.
The researchers tracked the health and diets of 61,433 women, aged 39 to 74 at the start of the study, and 45,339 men, aged 45 to 79 at study entry, for 20 years. What they discovered was astonishing: women who were drinking three or more pints of milk a day were twice as likely to have died prematurely than those who drank less than a pint a day, and every pint represented a 1.15 times higher risk of premature death. Worse, milk wasn't even doing what it was supposed to do: the milk drinkers were suffering from more fractures than the non-drinkers. In fact, they were up to 1.13 times more likely to have broken bones, especially a hip fracture. This Swedish study certainly wasn't the first to highlight the milk paradox. Researchers were pointing it out in
studies nearly 40 years ago; one noted that people in the US and Scandinavian countries consume more dairy products than anywhere else in the world, yet they still have the highest rates of
osteoporosis. 2 Other studies, while noting the paradox, have come up with other reasons for it. Milk is touted as a great natural source of calcium and we are told to consume plenty of calcium to prevent osteoporosis-yet dairy products can increase the rate at which calcium is lost from the body and so hasten osteoporosis.
As well as being high in calcium, dairy is also a high-protein food. Too much protein in the diet-whether from milk products or any other source like meat, fish and eggs-means that the body has to get rid of the excess. To do this, the kidneys have to work harder, and they lose calcium in doing so in a process known as 'protein-induced hypercalciuria'. One pooled analysis found that a low intake of milk was not associated with any important increase in fracture risk in either men or women, 3 while other research involving a group of nearly 78,000 women from the ongoing
US National Institutes of Health-funded Nurses' Health Study who were followed for 12 years could find no protective effect of increased milk consumption on the risk of bone fractures. 4
And there's another problem. The body's ability to absorb and utilize calcium depends on the amount of phosphorus in the diet. 5 The higher the calcium-to-phosphorus ratio, the less
bone loss takes place and the stronger the skeleton, provided the intake of protein is not excessive. Foods that contain higher calcium-to-phosphorus ratios are fruit and vegetables. Nor is low-fat milk any better-it contains 1 per cent butterfat and a full complement of allergy-inciting milk protein.
And osteoporosis isn't the only bone condition that milk can accelerate;
it could worsen, or even trigger, the crippling condition called 'ankylosing spondylitis'. The disease first affects the spine and then fuses together bones in the spinal column. Conventional
medicine is uncertain of the cause, but reckons it could be hereditary. But other research has fingered dairy as a likely culprit. Researchers advised 25 sufferers to cut out all dairy products, including milk, cheese, yoghurt, ice cream and butter, from their diets. After six weeks, 13 patients reported improvement, such as less pain and morning stiffness, fewer joint and spine symptoms, and less of a need for painkilling non-steroidal anti- inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Perhaps surprisingly, none of the 10 sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis showed any improvement, despite sticking with the diet. The reasons behind the success with ankylosing spondylitis are unclear, but the condition seems to be linked to bacteria found in dairy products that survive even the high-temperature processing that dairy products go through. 6
Hard to swallow
When you think about it, it's pretty weird that humans spend their adult lives drinking the milk of another species. We need the enzymes renin and lactase to break down and digest milk. But by the time we reach the age of four or so, many of us lose the ability to digest lactose because we can no longer synthesize the right digestive enzymes. The result is lactose intolerance, which causes diarrhoea, flatulence and stomach cramps; it's reckoned that 90 per cent of adult Asian and black people, and 20 per cent of Caucasian children, are lactose- intolerant.
The level of protein casein in cows' milk is 300 times higher than in human breast milk, which is predominantly made up of the protein lactalbumin, which is easily digestible by babies. Nature has designed the milk of each animal species specifically to meet the needs of its young. Casein is intended to be broken down by the four-stomach digestive system of baby cows. In human stomachs, it coagulates and forms large, tough, dense curds that are difficult to digest. When the protein of another animal is introduced into the body, it may cause an allergic reaction, 1
the most common symptoms of which are chronic runny nose, persistent sore throat, hoarseness, bronchitis and recurrent ear infections. The mucous membranes lining the joints and lungs
can become swollen or inflamed, so contributing to rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.
Some babies are so sensitive that they may even react badly to the cows' milk that their breastfeeding mother consumes. In one study, breastfed babies reacted to foods eaten by their
mothers-mainly cows' milk and eggs-and once the mothers stopped eating these, the babies' symptoms cleared up. 2 Cows' milk can also clog the arteries of babies and young children. A
pathologist in Derbyshire, England, noted that, out of 16 cot deaths, the only baby with normal arteries was the one who was breastfed. 2
1 J Allergy, 1968; 41: 226-35
2 Freed DLJ. Health Hazards of Milk. London: Bailliere
As unsafe as milk?
Milk contains a great deal more than casein, lactose and calcium. With our intensive farming and modern processing methods, you'll also be getting the accumulated pesticides that have been
sprayed on the grain fed to cattle, and the female hormones that are given to cows to increase their milk production and body fat. Some milk has also been shown to contain trace metals and radioactivity at levels higher than those permitted in drinking water. 1 And at least 20 per cent of milk-producing cows in America are infected with leukaemia viruses which, because milk is pooled when collected, can contaminate the whole milk supply. These cancer-inducing viruses are resistant to pasteurization and are likely to be transmitted to humans too. 2 The average glass of commercial milk may contain:
o Hormones and growth factors. Pennsylvania State University endocrinologist Clark Grosvenor did an extensive review of some of the known bioactive hormones and growth factors found in a typical glass of milk in the US. The list included seven pituitary hormones, seven steroid hormones, seven hypothalamic hormones, eight gastrointestinal peptides (chains of two or more amino acids), six thyroid/parathyroid hormones, 11 growth factors and nine other biologically active compounds. 3
o Pus cells. UK cows suffer from a range of infectious diseases, including brucellosis, bovine tuberculosis, foot-and-mouth disease, viral pneumonia and Johne's disease. The cow responds
to infections by generating white blood cells and these cells, along with cellular debris and dead tissue-in fact, pus-are excreted into milk. According to European Union (EU) regulations, the
white cell limit is 400,000 cells/mL in bulk milk. This means that milk containing up to 400 million pus cells/L can be legally sold for human consumption. 4
o Antibiotics. Sickly cows also mean a constant supply of antibiotics. One study found antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella as a result of antibiotic use in livestock. 5
o Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST). In 1994, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of this genetically engineered hormone in cows to increase milk production. Milk from cows treated with rBST contains elevated levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-1, which is linked to some cancers. 6 What's more, rBST- treated cows have more infections and so are given more antibiotics, resulting in even larger amounts of these drugs, as well as pus and bacteria, in their milk. The EU, along with Canada, Japan and 100 other countries, has banned
rBST milk because of its effects on animal (rather than human) health and welfare. However, there are no restrictions on the importation of rBST-containing dairy products nor any requirement to label them as such-a worrying fact as the UK imports over 1,000 tons of dairy products from the US. 4
1 Freed DLJ. Health Hazards of Milk.
London: Bailliere Tindall, 1984
2 Nemec K. Total Health = Wholeness:
A Body, Mind and Spirit Manual.
Plainfield, IL: Hosanna Publications,
3 Endocr Rev, 1993; 14: 710-28
4 Butler J. White Lies. The health
consequences of consuming cow's
milk. Bristol: Vegetarian & Vegan
5 N Engl J Med, 2000; 342: 1242-9
6 Int J Health Serv, 1996; 26: 173-85
Milk and prostate cancer
For the past 40 years, worrying evidence has continued to emerge that milk may cause prostate cancer. It was first mooted in 1975, when scientists noted a strong correlation between milk intake and prostate cancer deaths. 1 Since then, many more reports have confirmed an increased cancer risk from dairy foods-particularly milk, the most common form of dairy consumed.
Initial explanations for such an association blamed saturated dairy fat, 2 but mounting evidence suggests that the truth could be quite the opposite: that removing the fat from milk may be responsible for the carcinogenic effects. A US prospective study-the first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Epidemiologic Follow-up Study (NHEFS), involving more than 3,600
men and 10 years of follow-up-found that those with the highest intakes of dairy were more than twice as likely to develop prostate cancer as men with the lowest intakes. But when the researchers looked at the individual dairy products consumed, they found that the risk was higher only with low-fat milk, and not for whole milk or any other dairy.
In fact, whole milk had a slight-albeit statistically non-significant-protective effect against cancer. 3 Harvard's Physicians' Health Study arrived at a similar conclusion. This study, involving over
20,000 men and 11 years of follow-up, found that the increased risk of prostate cancer associated with dairy intake was attributable primarily to skimmed milk. Of the five dairy foods investigated (milk in cold breakfast cereal, whole milk, skimmed milk, cheese and ice cream), only skimmed milk showed a significantly positive relationship in men who consumed one or more
servings per day. 4 Similar results were also found in a prospective study of more than 25,000 Norwegian men; 5 and in an analysis of milk-drinking and diet in 41 countries, Dr William B. Grant, from the NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia, found that non-fat milk had the highest association with prostate-cancer death rates. 6
1 Am J Clin Nutr, 2005; 81: 1147-54
2 Salud Publica Mex, 1997; 39:
3 Am J Clin Nutr, 2005; 81: 1147-54
4 Am J Clin Nutr, 2001; 74: 549-54
5 Int J Cancer, 1997; 73: 634-8
6 Altern Med Rev, 1999; 4: 162-9