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Dairy. Delicious, but not so healthy.

Updated: Nov 6, 2023


About 65% of humans have a problem digesting dairy. The biggest reason for that is because we stop nursing and start eating a bigger variety of foods, so our body stops producing an enzyme that is needed to break down one of the components of milk (lactose) to something digestible. So really when you hear lactose intolerant - that’s very normal for an adult, but we’ll get more into that later. Think about it - we are the only species on the planet that continues drinking milk after weaning and the only species to regularly drink the milk of another species. We are regularly drinking milk that evolved to help a baby cow grow from 100 pounds to 1,000 pounds in about a year. How can anyone think that equation is good for a 150 pound human trying to maintain that weight?

There are a plethora of symptoms and diseases associated with dairy consumption and both scientific studies as well as anecdotal evidence that steering clear of dairy can improve and even eliminate problems ranging from acne and joint inflammation to type 1 diabetes. While working as a telephonic health coach for a major on-line health company, I coached a young man who had been drinking between one and two gallons of milk per day. Among his symptoms were low weight, low energy, IBS, and skin problems; all of which remarkably cleared up when he cut his milk consumption to two glasses per day and increased his “normal” food intake. One of the most dramatic cases I have heard of was at the very beginning of my health coaching journey while taking classes through a website called Mind Valley. The founder of that website (Vishen Lakhiani) had been plagued by teen acne long into his young adulthood. He was extremely troubled by the acne and at the same time was also constantly battling tonsil infections. He had scheduled surgery to remove them when a friend suggested he first try a simple hiatus from dairy for a short time. Between two weeks and a month, his friend said, to see if it helped. To his amazement both sets of symptoms disappeared and remained gone while he stayed away from dairy, only to flare back up when he reintroduced it. Another, not quite as dramatic, case was with the founder of the popular WildFit diet, Eric Edmeades when he, too, was able to eliminate virtually lifelong acne by eliminating dairy from his diet. (As an aside, I tried the WildFit diet at the beginning of my health coach journey and found it very beneficial.) In both of those cases, those guys are wildly successful, each in different things and neither stands to gain anything from telling their stories or recommending people skip the dairy, except to see the people around them getting healthier.

Another major case against dairy can be made when we look at a couple of examples of how hard the dairy industry tries to withhold information from the public. In the 1980s the FDA adjusted saturated fat guidelines and the dairy industry fought against the changes - because telling the public to cut back on saturated fat could impact dairy sales, since so many of their products contain so much of it. A short time later they (the dairy board) tried to cover the discovery of live paratuberculosis bacteria infecting very large percentages of the milk supply, after pasteurization, again based on fears of consumer reaction. Paratuberculosis is a pathogen linked to a number of autoimmune diseases including childhood/type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes follows autoimmune destruction of the cells of the pancreas, believed in many cases to be caused by the paratuberculosis bacterium. A Wisconsin study found the paratuberculosis bacterium in more than 2.5% of the samples of milk they bought from grocery stores.


But “what about my bones” you say? “Milk does a body good”, “Milk for strong bones” and other campaigns that have since been discontinued, would have you think you need milk, or at least that it’s good for you. But those claims were not accurate common which is one of the reasons they stopped (check out our blog about bone health). But to put it in another way: multiple studies have shown that drinking milk and as an adult does not increase bone density and even results in a greater risk of bone fractures in men. In adolescents the increase in bone density attributed to higher milk consumption disappears within a few years, even if supplemental calcium continues after adolescence. The fact is, our bones are constantly shedding and rebuilding throughout our lives and increasing in density (assuming adequate calcium and associated vitamins & minerals) up until about age 40, when we naturally start losing density and need to take additional measures to keep osteoporosis at bay, but milk isn’t one of those measures.

Dietary sensitivities. The 65% of humans that have difficulty digesting dairy includes 30-50 million in the US who are intolerant or allergic to the sugars in milk (lactose) and another 6-15 million people who are sensitive or allergic to the proteins in milk (casein). In both cases the results can range from discomfort to life-threatening and includes symptoms like gas, bloating, reflux and IBS. Not surprisingly those symptoms can result in people (and Doctors) thinking that antacids can help, which may account for a good part of the 113 million prescriptions written every year - 113 million prescriptions! That doesn’t even account for the millions of bottles and rolls of over-the-counter antacids sold. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as taking and antacid if milk bothers you, because the antacid then has negative impacts on good gut bacteria that want to live in an acid environment. At the same time the antacid is helping bad bacteria that don’t like the acid environment. So antacids throw your microbiome out of whack. Guess what an out of balanced microbiome causes… You got it - gas, bloating, diarrhea, IBS, and a ton of other problems; and the cycle begins, or continues.

And finally there is aging in general. Something around 90% of our health comes from diet and lifestyle and only about 10% from our genes. Low-fat/low cal/low protein diets don’t support good health due to lacking in essential vitamins and minerals (many of which are required along with calcium to support bone health). But besides the aging that milk causes by throwing our systems out of balance, there is a major component of dairy called galactose which known to accelerate aging. In fact, scientists using lab rats for studies that want to age the rats faster frequently do so by giving the rafts a dose of galactose. To confirm the bad news, a Swedish study followed 100,000 men and women for up to 20 years and found that each additional glass of milk consumed daily increased death rates, cancer and heart disease, with three glasses per day being associated with a two times higher risk of death.

While there may be some benefits to dairy (we need some saturated fat in our diet), and I will be the first to admit that cheese and Greek yogurt are both amazing; the facts are pretty clear that there are significant risks to our long-term health with dairy and virtually no risk with eliminating it from your diet for a month or so to see how it could help with some of you or more troublesome or chronic symptoms.

To your health,

Doug


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