We’ve all seen advertisements that tout the benefits of dairy. Decades of ‘Got Milk?’ TV spots have ingrained the connection between bone health and the recommended 3 cups per day.
The only problem is that scientific research has shown that there is no such connection.
In fact, the overwhelming majority of studies show that dairy products and their added hormones and antibiotics are associated with higher rates of osteoporosis, prostate cancer, and digestive problems.
A Bit About Bones
The dairy lobby has been so effective in its promotion of milk as a source of bone health that it’s worth discussing this claim in greater depth.
According to the standard story, calcium is good for bones, and milk has lots of calcium. So, milk must be good for bones, right? Not according to several long-term studies that analyzed the incidence of bone fractures in women over the course of more than 10 years.
The research found little, if any, benefit from calcium consumption, and none from milk whatsoever. But why? Scientists know that calcium is important for supporting bone strength – bones are mostly made of a mixture of living tissue, collagen, and calcium.
But there’s a difference between saying that calcium is important and determining optimal calcium intake. We all know that protein is important, but there is such a thing as too much – and it’s the same with calcium. If studies didn’t find a benefit to increased calcium consumption, that suggests that most people are already getting a good amount of calcium.
More to the point, calcium isn’t the only nutrient that’s relevant to bone health. Like most aspects of proper bodily functioning, bone health is the result of a balanced diet rich in a number of vitamins and minerals – and instead of focusing on calcium, people should be thinking about ones they may be missing.
In one of the studies mentioned above, scientists also tracked the effects of increased Vitamin D consumption. Believe it or not, it took down the risk of a break by 37%.
The conclusion? If people want better bones, they should eat more fish and egg yolks, and skip the milk.
What About Those Hormones?
Hormones occur naturally in milk. In humans as well as animals, hormones in milk aid infants in their development. Yet most animals stop drinking milk at a relatively young age. After that point, their bodies aren’t made to process sudden hormone loads.
That’s because they’re missing a key enzyme called lactase. Every mammal is born with high amounts of lactase – that’s why they consume milk as infants. Lactase breaks down milk into sugar that is easily digested. It’s a useful aid to the fast growth that young animals experience.
But once those animals are weaned – in humans, this typically happens between the ages of 2-4 – lactase gradually disappears. Without lactase, milk doesn’t get broken down. Instead, it ferments in the colon, where it causes all sorts of discomfort and digestive issues.
Humans are no different. Milk has high amounts of estrogen, a steroid hormone that has a powerful impact on the body. A growing body of evidence has linked estrogen to both breast and prostate cancer.
Milk happens to interact differently with men’s and women’s bodies. Calcium and dairy are implicated in increased risks of prostate cancer. That gives men an extra reason to be cautious about their milk consumption.
It’s Just Not Natural
Sure, milk is “natural.” But what other animal drinks the milk of another species?
In the entire animal kingdom, humans are the only ones that do this. And they’ve only begun in the recent past, around the time of the agricultural revolution. That’s why about 75% of the world is lactose intolerant: our bodies just weren’t made to drink milk.
Even if you can afford to get your hands on fresh, raw, additive-free milk (hint: it’s not cheap), you’re still more likely to suffer from allergies, sinus problems, and digestive issues if you drink it.
That’s not to say that you should never eat ice cream. But when the USDA recommends that Americans drink 3 cups each and every day, it’s no surprise that the nation’s health is suffering.
At first going dairy-free can feel nearly impossible. There are more than enough temptations every day to make you question why you decided to ditch dairy in the first place. But once you’ve kicked the habit, it gets easier to say no to those urges and soon enough they disappear all together. Plus, there are tons of resources to help you on your journey towards a dairy-free diet! The easiest way to stay on track is with prepackaged dairy-free meals that taste as good as the real stuff.