We're told from the time we're kids that dairy's the thing strong bones and healthy bodies are made of. Is that not true? What about the calcium, where else would you get it? Why would we be told it's healthy if it's not? Those were my questions, and here's the truth I learned.

I admit it. I was a milk addict. For the majority of my life I needed a constant supply of milk in my diet, and I couldn’t imagine how someone could go without it.

Growing up in small town America, the grandson of a dairy farmer, how could I not have become addicted? As far as I was concerned, dairy was supposed to be present at every meal. All I knew (or I should say, believed) about milk was that it made my bones strong, whole milk tasted the best, and skim milk was for girls.

Being a guy who could count on one hand the number of times I’d been to a doctor’s office, I had no reason to doubt myself. But there were just those couple of nags. I told Kelli several times, if I could just stop the sinus congestion (and resulting headaches) and never have stomach pains after eating, I’d have perfect health.

So in 2009 when Kelli and I first learned of Functional Medicine and an elimination/reintroduction diet was proposed to help with Kelli’s arthritis, it was those nags (and a desire to be a supportive husband of course : ) that made want to do the diet with her. I was shocked by what I experienced. Many times here we’ve talked about the miracle it was to see Kelli improve so quickly, and that alone would have been enough to convince anyone. But the results I felt for myself were in their own way just as astonishing.

By the end of the first week of the diet my head felt lighter. I could breathe through both nostrils at the same time, I stopped snoring, I didn’t need to blow my nose all day long, and my stomach always felt great after eating. Had you asked me before this, I would have told you I was a really healthy guy. But what I learned was that another level of feeling well was available, and that for me, the biggest results came from eliminating dairy. This was solidly confirmed when I tried to reintroduce it.

So what’s up with dairy? We’re told from the time we’re kids that it’s the thing strong bones and healthy bodies are made of. Is that not true? What about the calcium, where else would you get it? Why would we be told it’s healthy if it’s not? Those were my questions, and here’s the truth I learned.

First, think of how and why milk happens: produced by a lactating cow to quickly grow a calf into a full-size cow. The milk contains naturally occurring growth hormones for the purpose of building a large, slow, sluggish animal. Despite what the fancy marketing campaign might say, milk isn’t made to boost athletic performance. Beyond the growth hormones, a related concern is the female hormones naturally present in a nursing cow which are found in her milk.

A 2012 Harvard study showed that conventional farming methods produce milk with dangerously high levels of estrone sulfate, an estrogen compound linked to testicular, prostate, and breast cancers. The study identified a clear link between consumption of high-hormone milk and high rates of hormone-dependent cancers.

According to Ganmaa Davaasambuu, the study’s author, “Among the routes of human exposure to estrogens, we are mostly concerned about cow’s milk, which contains considerable amounts of female sex hormones. Dairy,” she added, “accounts for 60 percent to 80 percent of estrogens consumed.”1

In addition to growth, cow’s milk serves to help the calf bond with its mother. When casein, the main protein in milk, is digested, it breaks down into opioids that are called casomorphins. Did you notice that “morphin(e)” there? To help create the bond between calf and cow, and to ensure the calf gets enough nutrients, the casomorphins literally have a drug-like effect on the brain. This carries over to humans as well. When I said I was addicted to dairy, I wasn’t kidding. And as opiates are commonly constipating, dairy can have the same effect.

Now what about the calcium and strong bones? The truth is that dairy has never been shown to reduce the risk of fractures. Harvards’s monumental Nurse’s Health Study actually showed that dairy may increase the risk of fractures by 50 percent. Population studies have shown that countries that consume the least amount of dairy have the lowest rates of osteoporosis. Calcium supplementation studies have shown no benefit in reducing fracture risk. (Interestingly, Vitamin D has been shown to be much more beneficial in that regard.)

Adding on, research shows that higher intakes of both calcium and dairy products may increase a man’s risk of prostate cancer by 30 to 50 percent. Plus, dairy consumption increases the body’s level of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) — a known cancer promoter, which ties into the findings of T. Colin Campbell published in the popular book The China Study. He stated that milk casein is one of the most significant cancer promoters ever discovered. According to his research, casein essentially fertilizes cancer cells.

And what about justifying milk consumption by choosing skim milk? It’s certainly not going to help you with your weight loss goals, that’s for sure. A 2011 Harvard study of 12,829 children showed that skim milk may make you fatter than whole milk. The reason is that when you remove the fat from milk, what’s left is a disproportionate amount of lactose – milk sugar. You’re left with a high-sugar drink, with few nutrients, that leads to weight gain.

Of additional corncern, dairy is one of the foods that most easily passes through the stomach lining without being digested. This process triggers immune reactions. Mucus production, a commonly experienced side effect of dairy consumption, is a sign of this response. If you’re genetically predisposed, this overworking of the immune system can lead to various auto-immune diseases. This is one aspect that worries me the most. Once an auto-immune disease is triggered it is possible to manage it, but you can never fully turn it off.

Regular dairy consumption is tied to increased seasonal allergies (hay fever), ear infections, sinus issues, post-nasal drip, asthma, chronic constipation, anemia, Type 1 diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, weight gain, low energy, and more.

Many health advocates tie all these concerns to industrial, pasteurized milk and encourage the consumption of raw organic milk. Is that any better? Simply put, yes. You eliminate the concerns like antibiotics, added hormones, pesticides, and the effects of homogenization and pasteurization. But evolutionarily speaking, our bodies just weren’t made to digest milk.

Somewhere between 2 and 5 our bodies stop producing high levels of lactase, the required enzyme in order to digest lactose. Most mammals stop producing the required enzymes to digest milk soon after they’ve been weaned. Considering that 75% of the world’s population is genetically unable to digest dairy products – lactose intolerance – it’s hard to make the case that humans need milk for good health.

If you experience any of the above concerns, simply do an experiment. Cut out all dairy for two weeks and see how you feel, then reintroduce it and observe again how you feel. If you notice negative effects, dairy isn’t for you.

If you are able to tolerate dairy, choosing raw, organic products is better. Second best, after simply avoiding it completely, is choosing fermented products, kefir being the best option, yogurt a distant second.

We’re better off getting our calcium, potassium, protein, and fats from other food sources, like whole plant foods — vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and seaweed. And as for protecting your bones you’re best bets are to exercise regularly and get adequate amounts of vitamin D.

1 http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2006/12.07/11-dairy.html

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