Part two: Dairy Consumption and Health

The suggestion that the consumption of cow’s milk can lead to a wide range of health problems, illnesses and diseases strikes at the core of many people’s thinking. How can such a natural food be unhealthy? Well the answer lies in the fact that milk is not a natural drink for adults. Furthermore, cow’s milk is not a natural drink for humans. In nature, milk is consumed from a mother up until weaning, which is when the mother normally stops producing milk. Consuming milk from a pregnant mother is not the normal course of events. Furthermore, in nature, mammals consume the milk of their own species, not that of another. In a commentary published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, New Hampshire dermatologist Dr F.W. Danby states that the human consumption of large volumes of another species’ milk, especially when that milk comes from pregnant cows during the human’s normally post-weaned years, is essentially unnatural (Danby, 2005).

As previously stated, cow’s milk is designed to help a small calf grow into a big cow in less than a year. In order to sustain this rapid physical growth, the composition of cow’s milk has evolved to contain the specific types of nutrients required, at the specific levels required. These are not necessarily natural or healthy for humans. For example, whole milk and certain dairy products such as butter and cheese, contain considerable amounts of saturated fat, cholesterol and animal protein, the detrimental health effects of which are now well-documented. In addition to this, the vitamin and mineral content of cow’s milk is not well-suited to human requirements, especially those of the human infant. To meet the rapid skeletal growth requirements of a calf, cow’s milk contains four times the amount of calcium as human milk. This does not mean that cow’s milk is a good source of calcium for the human infant, far from it; this level of calcium coupled to the high levels of other minerals in cow’s milk represents what is called a high renal solute load which means that the young human infant’s kidneys cannot cope with ‘off the shelf’ cow’s milk.

In addition to the unsuitable nutritional composition of cow’s milk, there are many other reasons why cow’s milk and dairy products are not natural foods for humans, for example, the increasing body of evidence linking bioactive molecules in milk (hormones and growth factors) to disease. While the dairy industry would have us believe that milk is an essential part of the diet, much of the research used to promote this view is industry-sponsored.

Furthermore, given that around 70 per cent of people in the world do not drink milk, just how essential can it be? The list of illnesses and diseases associated with the consumption of milk and dairy products is quite extensive. These health problems tend to occur at levels that relate directly to how much milk is drunk in a particular region or country. Furthermore, as milk consumption spreads to areas where previously it was not drunk, these diseases follow. Some of these problems are discussed in detail below.