HIJ – No Milk Mustache For Me, Part 2
In my April column I discussed the revered place of cow’s milk in the American diet. I also mentioned a few of the reasons that milk has achieved this distinction, not the least of which is the millions of advertising dollars spent in promoting it as a viable food. I pointed out that the issue is not that clear-cut and that health professionals have raised serious questions about cow’s milk as a part of the human diet. Naturally, I received a number of e-mails and phone calls, mostly from folks who had no idea that cow’s milk was even an issue. Let’s continue the discussion.
Constituents of Cow's Milk
Like all milks, cow's milk is composed of sugar, fat and protein, along with vitamins and minerals suspended in water. The sugar (lactose) and protein are the constituents that are so indigestible to both infants and adults. The fat may pose cardiovascular problems later in life and the vitamins and minerals may not be as easily absorbable as once was thought.
Cow's Milk Protein
Although it is the lactose in milk that has drawn most of the attention from medical professionals, cows' milk has more than 30 constituent proteins, some of which are indigestible by humans and capable of giving rise to an allergic responses and other ailments like inflammatory joint disease. Beta-lactoglobulin, a protein not found in human milk, is the most common offender of cow's milk proteins.
A common reaction to the invasion of a protein so foreign to our digestive systems is a gushing of mucus from the nasal and throat membranes, creating chronic runny noses, sore throats, hoarseness and chronic ear infections.
The amount of protein in human breast milk diminishes as the child grows older. Starting at 2.38 percent at birth, it diminishes to 1.07 percent by the time the child is six months old. Cow's milk is 16 percent protein, a huge amount, which has been implicated in crib death.
Most of the worlds mammals are fed breast milk exclusively until they have tripled their birth weight, which in humans is about one year. After weaning, somewhere at a point between 1 and 4 years of age, approximately 70% of the population begin losing their ability to manufacture lactase, the enzyme which digests the lactose in milk. This is a normal process which occurs in most humans. It appears that nature never intended humans to consume lactose-containing foods after they were weaned.
Lactose is the only sugar present in milk and most of the people in the world are lactose intolerant. The most intolerant are people from Northern Europe and Central Africa who lack the gene that creates lactase.
Lactase is present in the upper part of the small intestine and is most concentrated shortly after birth. If the amount of ingested lactose is greater than the amount of lactase available to digest it, the undigested lactose goes to the large intestine where it interacts with normal bowel flora and is converted to carbon dioxide, gas and lactic acid. The large lactose molecules also create an osmotic gradient across the intestinal wall, attracting water into the colon. The combination of gas and water creates abdominal pain, bloating, flatus and diarrhea. Other common symptoms of lactose intolerance are bad breath, headaches and lack of energy.
Lactose containing foods in descending order include whey, milk, acidophilus, skim milk, whole milk, buttermilk, ice milk, yogurt, low fat milk, Velveeta cheese, ice cream, orange sherbet, half and half cream or sour cream, hard cheeses, American pasteurized cheese, Ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, cream cheese and lastly butter and margarine, which have no lactose. Fermented dairy products are generally poorly digested in the lactose intolerant; however, there are some "friendly" bacteria in yogurt which can break down the lactose. Strains of bacteria such as streptococcus thermophilus and lactobacillus bulgaricus can break down lactose and turn milk into yogurt. Freezing can destroy enzyme activity, inhibiting lactose break- down (such as in frozen yogurt). The streptococcus lactis bacteria in buttermilk can only digest lactose if phosphorous is added. Lactobacillus acidophilus milks do not break down the milk's lactose.
Antibiotics, stomach viruses or parasitic infection can kill lactose digesting bacteria in your colon but they return with time.
The Mid-Atlantic Milk Marketing Association was recently cited by the Maryland Attorney General's office for advertising that whole milk has less than 4% fat. The truth of the matter is that whole milk gets more than 50% of its calories from fat, making it the second largest source of fat in the American diet after hamburgers. The marketing group had to pay a $3,500 fine to be used for consumer education.
There are many studies that implicate butter fat consumption in early childhood with increased atherosclerotic risk in later life. Of course, the use of partial or whole skim milk can eliminate the butter fat problem, at the expense of fat soluble vitamins A and D.
Medical Conditions Associated With Cow's Milk Consumption
The list of serious conditions associated with drinking cow's milk is staggering and I could write several columns based on the research I have done in this area over the years. Hundreds of studies have implicated milk in causing or contributing to juvenile diabetes, allergies, gastrointestinal bleeding, cataracts, ovarian cancer, abnormal thirst, sweating, bed wetting, chronic ear infections, asthma, abdominal pain, extremity aches, recurrent tonsillitis, eczema, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory and cerebral problems, failure to thrive, chronic diarrhea, sleep disturbances, headaches, chronic fatigue syndrome, attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's Disease, psychiatric problems, rheumatoid arthritis, colic, lung congestion, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and there is a striking association between milk consumption and cancer of the breast and lymphatic organs.
But wait – the story doesn’t end here. We have yet to discuss contaminants in milk and the availability of its nutrients to humans. This will have to wait until next month.