Milk: something good for every (cow) body

Milk:  something good for every (cow) body!


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When a woman gives birth, the general trend is to nurture her baby with milk, mother’s food.  Unfortunately, all to often, the milk of choice is cow’s milk, mother’s food for baby cows.  Yet, there are many reasons that the same milk mother cows use to feed their babies is not the best choice for human mothers to give to their babies.  In fact, the look and taste of cow’s milk is totally different from that of human milk indicating, of course, that they are very different products.  During pregnancy, breast milk builds up so that it will be available when needed after the woman gives birth.  However, few women actually give breast milk to their children.  Rather, after the baby is born, most women feed cow’s milk to their newborn.  Man has been drinking cows’ milk and milk from other animals for a long time, perhaps without good reason.  Women will continue to produce milk as long as the teats are stimulated.  Once stimulation stops, breast milk dries up and is no longer available (or needed) until the woman gives birth again so there really is no reason to use cow’s milk for babies except perhaps convenience or to use any milk for adults.

Perhaps few women give thought to the milk they feed their child at birth.  They certainly desire the best for their newborn, but cow’s milk was designed by nature for baby calves.  It is designed to be the perfect nutrition for a young and growing calf, but humans are not cattle.  The nutritional needs of a young calf and those of a young human are not identical.  So, the first and perhaps one of the most obvious concerns about milk have to do with the composition of human milk as compared to cow’s milk.  Certainly, nature has no doubt designed cows to provide the best food for their newborn calf.  However, it may not have equal value for young humans as for young cattle.  Whatever nutritional value cow’s milk has will be reflected in the chemical composition of each type of milk.  What follows will discuss only a few of the many important issues that surround the wisdom, or lack thereof, of humans consuming cow’s milk.  While this topic may be an important consideration for mothers with babies, we will see that it is also important for adults.  When we provide milk, we provide a food that is not naturally available to adults and then claim it to be the perfect food.  Perhaps that statement is a gross exaggeration even for human milk, a food that is no longer available after a child is weaned.

Natural availability of human milk after birth

It would seem obvious that the “perfect” human food would be a food produced by nature.  If that were true, then human breast milk would perfect be the perfect food for babies.  It is designed by nature for the newborn and available to him or her as long as they continue to suckle their mother’s breast.  Man certainly knows a great deal about health and nutrition, but it is unlikely that we can truly claim to know more about the nutritional needs of babies, children or adults than nature knows.  While is is very likely that mother’s milk is the best alternative for young children during the first couple of years of life, it is much less likely that milk, even human milk continues to be the best source of nutrition for young children, children in general and/or adults after the first couple of years.  While there is little research related to this question, it seems obvious that nature would not eliminate the perfect food from out diet if it were still needed.  Nature probably knows what is best for us better than we do.  So, the first issue of concern to us is the availability of milk.  We know that cow’s milk is available because we continue to stimulate the teats of cows, but human milk is not available in nature once the baby is weaned because the breast suckling is what stimulates the production of milk.  Therefore, although human milk may be the best food for human babies, it is unlikely to be the best food for young children, teenagers or adults.  While it may be interesting for research to address this issue, even without research regarding it, we can certainly conclude that if human milk is not the desired food for anyone after the age of 1 or 2 years old, cow’s milk with all of its undesirable effects cannot be better.  We will not be able to address this question as stated here, but the rest of this paper will demonstrate that there are many health problems associated with the consumption of cow’s milk.

Composition of Human Milk vs - Milk: something good for every (cow) body introduction! Cow’s milk

The main components of cow’s milk are lactose, fat and cholesterol.  Cholesterol in cow’s milk can contribute to atherosclerosis, a disease that results when small amounts of calcium build up in vascular smooth muscle cells.  This leads to extra-cellular deposits of calcium.  Human milk contains about one-third the protein, nearly twice the lactose and about the same amount of fat as cow’s milk.  Lactose, also called milk sugar, is the only sugar of any significant amount found in milk, is only found in milk and only made by mammals.  It is a disaccharide meaning that it is two sugars that are linked together, in this case, a glucose molecule and a galactose molecule.  Many adult humans do not have the enzyme, lactase, required to break lactose down into glucose and galactose.  That results in lactose intolerance, to be discussed later.  The components of cow’s milk are designed to help baby cows gain weight rapidly during the first year of life, a situation not needed in humans.

Colostrum – The first milk

Human milk matures, cow’s milk in stores does not; that is, breast milk changes from the day of birth and continues to change until it is no longer available.  The mother’s milk produced the day of birth looks different and has different components from that produced a week or two later.  This milk is generally referred to as “colostrum”, a component a component of newborn milk.  Colostrum provides immunity to certain infections.  Mothers secrete about 100 ml colostrum on the second and third day after giving birth.  The body normally digests all proteins by breaking them down into smaller units called peptides and into still smaller units called amino acids.  This breakdown is part of the digestive process and is facilitated with the enzyme trypsin.  Colostrum contains protein, but a trypsin inhibitor in colostrum allows immune globulins (which ar proteins) to reach the intestines without digestion.  Colostrum has immune globulins that provide newborn mammals with immunity to certain infections, something that new calves seem to need more than newborn humans.  The enzyme trypsin normally breaks down all proteins present in food, but colostrum contains a trypsin inhibitor that allows the immune globulins to be injected without digestion so they can be absorbed by the intestines.  Human milk does not contain colostrums beyond about the fifth day after birth.  Human milk gradually matures until only mature milk is produced about the tenth day after birth.  The content of both fat and lactose increases during the first few weeks in human milk with the fat content reaching its peak at about two weeks and the lactose content peaking at about five weeks in human milk.

Diseases associated with the Consumption of Cow’s Milk

A number of health problems and diseases have been associated with the consumption of cow’s milk.  One health problem is milk allergy.  It arises as the result of an adverse immune (allergic) reaction to one or more protein found in cow’s milk.  While many people avoid eating beef when outbreaks of Mad Cow Disease occur, few people cut back on their consumption of milk, but the bovine growth hormone (BGH) used to increase the production of milk in diary cattle has be connected to Mad Cow Disease, so there is a connection.  Cancer has also been connected to the consumption of cow’s milk.  Studies have shown that BGH is linked to breast cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer.  BGH is used to increase the yield of milk in cows.  Cow’s milk has been found to contain dioxin, sulfa drugs and other antibiotics and is often contaminated by cow blood, white blood cells (pus), insecticides and other chemicals.  Studies have also linked milk consumption to iron deficiency, Type 1 diabetes (Karjalainen et al., 1992; Karjalainen, 1992), constipation, breast cancer and heart disease.  In fact, the list of health concerns associated with much consumption is much longer and rather disturbing.  It has been linked to intestinal colic (Jakobsson and Lindberg, 1978), intestinal irritation, intestinal bleeding, anemia, allergic reactions in infants and children as well as infections such as salmonella heart disease, arthritis, allergy, sinusitis, leukemia, lymphoma and cancer (Cramer, 1989; Tacket et al., 1984).  It can also be linked to viral infection with bovine leukemia virus and childhood diabetes.   Children who consume cow’s milk are more subject to allergies, ear infections, and tonsillitis, bedwetting, asthma, intestinal bleeding, colic and childhood diabetes.

Milk and the bones:  Osteoporosis and other Calcium Myths associated with Cow’s Milk

Many myths about calcium are associated with the consumption of cow’s milk.  Thus, one of the greatest myths about milk, perhaps, is that milk is needed because it is a good source of calcium.  Actually, although calcium certainly is needed in the diet, the need for calcium is overstated and therefore exaggerated, a myth perpetuated largely by the food industry.  People need certainly need calcium, not only for building bones but also for managing day-to-day cellular activities like contracting muscles, maintaining the nervous system and absorbing vitamin B12.  Cow’s milk is certainly a good source of calcium, and it may actually be one of the best sources of calcium (in terms of the amount of calcium found) present in the human diet, but it is not the only source, and, due to all the health concerns associated with milk, it certainly is not ultimately the best source of calcium in terms of health.  In fact, since milk never exists in nature for adult mammals to consume except through the artificial stimulation of the mammary gland, cow’s milk may actually be one of the worst sources of dietary calcium.  Even human milk may not be the best source of calcium since human milk is only available during the first couple of years of a child’s life.

Exaggerations about the need for calcium, especially by women, involve the claim that calcium is required for strong bones.  While calcium is needed for strong bones, the claim regarding calcium and bones is often linked to osteoporosis.  The myth stresses that calcium helps prevent osteoporosis—brittle bone disease.  Yes, calcium is required in the diet and to combat osteoporosis, but the disease characterized by brittle bones is caused by the lack of a hormone brought on my menopause, not by a calcium deficiency.  Consuming calcium by the pound, figuratively speaking, of course, would not prevent osteoporosis if the hormone balance is improper.

Osteoporosis is a bone disease characterized by a low bone mineral density (BMD) that increases the risk of bone fractures due to the porous, brittle nature of the bone.  Cow’s milk is actually associated with an increase in the occurrence of osteoporosis.  (Kazantzis, 2004; Prince et al., 2006; Raisz, 2005)  Although the public attributes the disease to a calcium deficiency, it is actually caused by calcitonin and a hormone deficiency.  In fact, the disease is more prevalent in women, particularly after menopause, than men due to the involvement of hormones in the disease.  Parathyroid hormone (PTH) regulates the mineral composition and resorption of calcium.  Other hormones involved include glucocorticoid hormones, estrogen and testosterone, all of which are present in both males and females, but to different degrees.  Certain habits such as inadequate exercise, smoking and drinking, and disease such as coeliac disease can also lead the inability to absorb calcium and thus to osteoporosis.

Problems associated with too much Calcium.

The other aspect of the argument that milk provides calcium is that too much calcium can cause an undesirable calcium buildup that can cause problems.  Too much calcium inside cells can impair cellular functions.  The body uses to differences between the concentration of calcium in the cells versus that in the bloodstream as a signal between cells.  If the calcium level in the cells is too high, the calcium signal is blunted and cells can not regulate themselves properly.  This leads to cellular death.  (Resnick, 1999)  PTH helps to maintain adequate levels of calcium in the blood.  However, too much calcium can lead to a buildup of calcium deposits–calcification–in cartilage, joints and other tissues as well as to other health concerns.  These disease are associated to both calcium and PTH.  Therefore, it is necessary to maintain a proper balance of calcium rather than to blindly consume and overload the body with calcium (and other minerals and nutrients).  The huge amounts of calcium in cow’s milk certainly exceeds what is necessary to consume on a daily basis with all the calcium available in other foods.

Alternative Sources of Calcium

Yet a third consideration about calcium is that milk is not the only source of calcium.  Considering all of the unbeneficial aspects of milk, it certainly is not the best calcium source despite its high calcium content.  That honor goes to fruits and vegetables.  Foods like seeds and nuts and leafy green vegetables like kale, collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens and other dark green vegetables are very good sources of calcium and other vital nutrients.  They provide abundant calcium to help prevent osteoporosis without the undesirable effects of milk.  Furthermore, other components generally known to be required and associated with milk such as vitamin D are not significant components of milk!  Milk is fortified with vitamin D!  Therefore, health claim regarding milk as a good source of vitamin D are bogus, a claim the food industry can conveniently make because the food industry, not milk, supplies the vitamin D.  The claim is a form of doublespeak and disinformation, an illusion that subconsciously lures consumers into drinking milk to keep the milk industry in business.  Vitamin D, a rather bizarre vitamin as compared to others in terms of its natural occurrence in nature, arises from sunlight, not from drinking milk (Norman, 1998).  Required for health, its relatively rare occurrence in nature is the very reason it is supplied by industry (unlike calcium which is abundant and does not need to be supplied despite the fact that lots of foods are needlessly fortified with calcium).  Vitamin D is made in the skin when a form of cholesterol in the skin is converted by ultraviolet radiation after the radiation penetrates the epidermis, the outer layers of the skin.

Milk as the perfect food (advertising myth)

The idea that the body requires protein, although very true, is exaggerated and not well understood by the public.  Science does not know the daily protein requirement of the body, but does provide an estimate.  The main nutritional component that the body requires from food is glucose, a six carbon carbohydrate that the body breaks down into two three carbon units to make energy.  The main nutritional component of milk, including human milk, is lactose, a complex form of glucose combined with galactose that many people cannot break down making it useless.  Anything that substitutes for glucose, whether protein or lactose (for those who are lactose intolerant), merely replaces the missing glucose, sometimes taxes the body and is generally more difficult to break down.  In the case of protein like the casein of cow’s milk, the body must break the protein molecules down into protein fragments called peptides or into smaller units called amino acids, the basic molecule units of protein.  Milk provides no glucose for those who are lactose intolerant, so if it is to provide any significant amount of nutrition, that nutritional benefit is limited to the vitamins and minerals it supplies such as calcium and to the nutrition gained from protein which, if supplied in overabundance, taxes the kidneys (see below).  Once broken down, protein is either used to build muscle or, if there is a shortage of glucose, the nitrogen is removed from the amino acids (which, in general, consists of two carbons and one nitrogen) and the remaining two carbon unit is used to replace the two missing carbon units from glucose.  This is what happens in low carbohydrate diets.  This causes a buildup and overabundance of nitrogen in the body that must be removed to avoid nitrogen toxicity and illness such as toxemia.  Excess nitrogen is removed by sweat and by the kidneys.  With milk, of more concern than a nitrogen buildup are mucous and cholesterol.  Sickness, medical problems and diseases connected with the consumption of milk are discussed elsewhere in this report.  The present focus is to understand that the perfect food would supply the perfect nutrition and milk does not provide that.  Milk, whether cow’s milk or human milk, provides lactose, also known as “milk sugar,” but lactose must be broken down into glucose by an enzyme called lactase before the body can use it and too much galactose in the body is not beneficial.  Many people do not have this enzyme.  Failure to have this enzyme results in lactose intolerance, the inability to digest lactose.

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is the a common inability to break lactose down into glucose and galactose.  Studies suggest that perhaps seventy-five percent of the world is lactose intolerant, i.e., cannot digest lactose. (Vesa et al., 2000)  The enzyme that generally breaks down lactose in the body is lactase.  Although the enzyme is generally present in young children, it is not universally present in older children or adults.  When lactose intolerance occurs, lactase activity appears to decrease soon after weaning, generally around two to three years of age. (Vesa et al., 2000)  In individuals with this condition, lactose intolerance begins to appear in early childhood and is more common in black and Asian children.  When it occurs in whites, it occurs later in childhood.  (Scrimshaw and Murray, 1988)  Lactose, galactose and glucose are carbohydrate sugars.  As has been mentioned, lactose is a complex form of glucose and galactose joined together.  When the body does not have the enzyme to digest lactose, the lactose in milk causes bloating and gas.  Supplements that contain the missing enzyme can be taken to replace the missing enzyme and relieve bloating and gas, but the bottom line is that the best alternative is to eliminate the lactose (and thus milk) from the diet entirely and replace it with foods that do not contain lactose but still provide glucose, the carbon source that the body requires most for energy.  The foods that provide the highest amount of glucose are fruits and vegetables.

Summary and Conclusion:

Cow’s milk has the potential to be a health hazard rather than a benefit.  Although portrayed by the food industry as the perfect food, even human milk may not be the perfect food after the first couple of years of life.  It does not exist naturally anywhere in nature once a child has stopped breast feeding suggesting that it is no longer the desired food choice in nature.  It is unlikely that nature intended mammals to starve or to survive on lesser foods after the first two years of life.  Although mother’s milk is probably the best food source for infants during the first two years of life, it is not available after the first two years of life, and so, other food sources probably have superior nutritional value after the initial years of life.  Milk consumption can be linked to a number of health problems and diseases such as allergic reactions to milk.  In general, the research available on cow’s milk suggests that avoiding diary products can result in better health and nutrition.  If there is a “perfect food”, that honor probably belongs to fruits and vegetables rather than cow’s milk.  After the first two years of life, that statement may hold true for human milk as well.  Maybe milk actually does have something for every body, but if so, what it has may be something to be avoided!  Even human milk is not the perfect food for humans after the first year or two of life, so cow’s milk should not be better.



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