Is drinking cow’s milk healthy for humans? Cow’s milk was typically considered good for health, but nowadays, people’s views regarding it are changing. Debates have been going on for taking the product off the shelves in stores owing to some of its adverse effects on human health. Milk is an important dairy product obtained from various animals including cows, goats, camels, llamas, sheep, buffalos, horses, and reindeer. It is one of the most consumed beverages throughout the world as it provides various vital nutrients such as vitamins (A, D, E, K, B1, B6, and B12), fat, calcium, magnesium, selenium, riboflavin, potassium, and inorganic phosphorus. The gross composition of ingredients present in different types of milk vary and depend on different factors such as the species, breed, age, health, and lactation stage of the particular animal. Also, food intake, surroundings, and ways the owner or caretaker take care of the animals play important roles in the milk structure. Some of its negative effects include allergies, digestive issues, and more. (Milk 101: Nutrition Facts And Health Effects)
Popularity of Milk
Milk is a very popular dairy product owing to its presence in the refrigerators or kitchens of almost all people living in different regions. It is defined as the white fluid or liquid composed of water, fat, minerals, vitamins, lactose, and proteins with trace amounts of pigments, enzymes, and phospholipids. Milk is present in mammary glands of female mammals to serve the main purpose of nourishing their young ones. As the first food introduced to a newly-born, it facilitates growth by supplying building materials and body functions by providing energy. Milk consists of small globules of fat suspended in a casein solution, milk sugar, albumin, and inorganic salts. The three prominent proteins present in milk are casein, lactalbumin, and lactoglobulin. Among these casein is not precipitated from acidic solution hence, whey or whey cheeses consist of lactalbumin and lactoglobulin, which can be precipitated by applying heat. People usually prefer to consume cow milk owing to ease of availability, comparatively lower fats, and rich protein content over the other types. ( )
Apart from the above mentioned information, that is the source animals, milk can also be categorized based on the fat content. Generally, the different types of product available in the market include whole milk with fat content above 3%, milk with reduced fat content of around 2%, milk with low fat content of nearly 1%, and nonfat or skim milk. The fat is accompanied by eight grams of high quality protein and other essential nutrients. Obviously the quantity of milk fat increases or decreases the number of calories in each serving, but, overall, every kind of milk is a simple and wholesome food ranging from fat free or low fat to organic or lactose free milk.
Organic milk is produced in organic dairy farms following the stringent rules or standards set up by the United States Department of Agriculture or USDA. (Kocián et al.) The farmers of organic dairy are restricted to use specially approved practices or rules by USDA on crops and animals, such as, they do not use synthetic fertilizers, growth hormones, or antibiotics and they are not allowed to feed their animals with genetically modified or GMO crops. Lactose free milk is the milk obtained from real cow, in which lactose or natural sugar may be broken down into glucose and galactose or sometimes filtered out by different dairy firms to facilitate its digestion for lactose intolerant people. The information regarding the components are mentioned on the package as well as represented by different colors of cap or packaging coding the fat content in milk for the understanding and convenience of customers. (Waage et. al.)
Cons of milk consumption
As the world is becoming health and diet conscious, the main point of discussion is that whether the consumption of cow’s milk by human is healthy or not. Milk consumption is increasingly being criticized due to the issue of lactose intolerance and other problems in certain people leading to its comparatively lesser utilization in different parts of the world specially the developed nations. According to an article published in “The guardian”, milk consumption among Americans has fallen by 37% compared to 1970s and dairy consumption in UK has decreased by one third in last 20 years. ( Sahni )
To enlist the problems related with milk consumption, let us consider one of the essential facts related to milk, that is, its calcium content, one of the most reckoned milk qualities. According to a study by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC in 2007, a cup of calcium strengthened orange juice owns the same quantity of calcium as a cup of milk. Also, a study conducted by USDA in 2005 proved that a taco had more calcium content than milk as well as breakfast cereals have four times more amount of calcium than same quantity of milk. In addition, a statement by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in 2007, said that green leafy vegetables own calcium absorption rates of more than fifty percent while milk have the calcium absorption rate of around thirty two percent. For example, broccoli, collards, and kale are rich in readily absorbable calcium.
Lactose intolerance is one of the most common issues related to milk consumption and people suffering from it experience difficulty in digesting dairy products. In this condition, the people’s ability to digest lactose is impaired due to lack of the lactose digesting enzyme called lactase in the body. According to National Institutes of Health (NIH), around 65% of the population have reduced or very less ability to digest lactose after infancy. The occurrence of lactose intolerance is lesser or lowest among the populations having a long history of dependency on unfermented milk products as a primary food source. For instance, people related to Northern European descent have only about 5 percent lactose intolerant cases. Lactose, which is also called as milk sugar, is the only major animal origin carbohydrate in man’s food supply. It is split by the action of enzyme lactase into its two component sugars that is glucose and galactose for further utilization by the body. The enzyme is present and utmost active in digestive tract of humans during infancy but after the weaning age, 90% of the lactase activity is lost. Among lactose intolerant people, undigested lactose reaches the colon and gets fermented by bacterial colonies over there resulting in production of lactic acid that causes flatulence, bloating, cramps, nausea, or diarrhea. Thus, such people are advised to drink lactose free milk, soy milk, yogurt, cheese, and other foods. (Milk 101: Nutrition Facts And Health Effects).
Hormones in milk
Cow’s milk is associated with another extremely serious issue, that is, the presence of the rBGH (synthetic or recombinant bovine growth hormone), which is responsible for increasing the levels of IGF-1 hormone (insulin-like growth factor) in humans. This hormone facilitates the growth of our bodies in stages of infancy and is naturally present in our blood. The increase in the level of IGF-1 paves the way for the growth of group of cells that have very high probability or tendency to be transformed into cancer cells. Also, even if the hormone rBGH is absent, IGF-1 will be present in the milk leading to high chances of uncontrolled cell growth and subsequently cancer. It is a well known fact that cancer is a deadly disease and doesn’t have a clear-cut cure, proving milk as a dangerous health risk to the people.
In September, 2016, Michael Greger, MD, physician and founder of the Nutrition Facts website, quoted through a post titled ‘Should Pregnant Women Avoid Cow’s Milk?’ that the hormones usually present in cow’s milk is possibly useful and played an important role in studying the connection amid dairy products and human diseases, including certain acne, cancers, and male reproductive defects. Also, the intake of milk has been linked with high threat of premature puberty among females as well as chances of endometrial cancer among postmenopausal women (FACLM). According to the book, Don’t Drink Your Milk, written by Frank A. Oski, MD (former director, Department of Pediatrics) at Johns Hopkins University, milk obtained from cow has been associated to deficiency of iron among children or infants and is the reason behind cramps or diarrhea in majority of the global population. It is also capable of causing multiple forms of allergy and probably playing a fundamental role in the origins of heart attacks as well as atherosclerosis. Therefore, based on the above-mentioned statements and different researches, cow milk is capable of causing iron deficiency (anemia) and heart disease. Hence, it should be substituted by calcium fortified orange juice, vitamin supplements, and green leafy vegetables.
According to a 2016 online journal by the founder of Synergistiq Integrative Health, Dr. Deepa Verma (MD), the milk of cow is not meant for consumption by humans owing to the presence of proteins that are more than three times in quantity compared to the proteins present in human milk, thus, creating metabolic disorders resulting in pernicious bone health. Moreover, milk along with other products of dairy are producing mucus as well as pro-inflammatory causing risks of respiratory conditions, allergies, and development of arthritis (inflamed joints).
This can be quoted by an example that America owns high dairy consumption rates as well as high osteoporosis rate. Moreover, a glass of milk consists of a lot of animal proteins that are acidic in nature and capable of leeching calcium from feces components, pus cells, bones, antibiotics, and bovine growth hormones. Also, milk contains useless fat, calories, and cholesterol; altogether these components generate different types of imbalances in the body such as obesity, heart problems, and other problems. (Ford et. al.)
Considerations of Ethical Treatment of Animals
PETA or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals stand against cow milk consumption stating different reasons such as cholesterol, milk allergies, broken bones, antibiotics, saturated fat, and ethical grounds (The Dairy Industry | PETA). Animal origin proteins produce acids during their breaking down and calcium is known to be an excellent acid neutralizer. Thus, in order to neutralize or remove the acids produced after milk consumption, our bodies utilize the calcium in the milk as well as from the body stores, leaching calcium from our bones increasing the probability of fractures. In addition, milk and cheese are linked with increased chances of ovarian cancer, obesity, prostate cancer, and acne. Apart from that, a single serving of milk is anticipated to contain about 24 milligrams of cholesterol and strong or dangerous reactions among milk allergic people such as vomiting and anaphylaxis (Ford et.al.). Moreover, owners involved in dairy business treat their cows with harmful antibiotics to keep them alive and produce milk under filthy farm conditions. This is leading to surge in antibiotic-resistant bacteria or superbugs capable of infecting humans. On ethical grounds PETA states that, apart from humans and certain domestic animals, none of the species consume milk ahead of their natural weaning age. Milk of the cow is suitable for dietary requirements of calves having four stomachs and capable of gaining a lot of weight in less time period (ranging from few months to a year or two). Thus, cow milk and its derivative consumption by humans cause many health related problems.
There are many positive aspects in addition to the ones mentioned earlier and disapprovals against the harms stated regarding cow milk consumption by humans. In a December, 2017 article ‘All about Milk’ written for Medical News Today titled by Megan Ware, RDN, LD, and Founder of Nutrition Awareness, it was stated that milk contains ample amount of calcium and minerals that are vital for strong teeth and bones. It also contains vitamin D that plays an important role in strengthening health of the bone. Potassium from cow’s milk enhances vasodilation subsequently reducing blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease (Aune et. al.). In addition, choline is an important nutrient found in milk that supports memory enhancement, learning, sleep, and muscle movement. It also facilitates the maintenance of the cellular membranes structure, helps in nerve impulses transmissions, aids in the fat absorption, and lessen chronic inflammation. (Chrysant)
According to a resource published on the National Dairy Council (NDC) website in January 2017, titled ‘Is Milk Good for You?” the body requires certain nutrients for proper functioning and milk has majority of those in it. For instance, calcium present in milk facilitates building and maintenance of strong bones and teeth. The wide ranges of vitamin Bs such as niacin, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, and riboflavin, help in conversion of food into useful nutrients in the body. Researchers in University of Copenhagen under the leadership of Tanja Kongerslev Thorning, PhD (Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports) and Arne Astrup, MD, PhD (Director of the Department of Nutrition) stated that intake of milk and dairy products prevents or reduce childhood obesity and improve body composition as well as facilitate weight loss during energy restrictions among adults. The related article, available at the website of National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), was published in November 2016 in the Journal of Food and Nutrition under the title ‘Milk and Dairy Products: Good or Bad for Human Health? An Assessment of the Totality of Scientific Evidence’. It also suggested that dairy products and milk consumption is associated with neutralized or decreased probability of type 2 diabetes and diseases related to cardiovascular system, mainly stroke. Furthermore, as per the article, improved bone mineral density was another beneficial effect of milk and dairy. Also, dairy products intake was linked with prevention against different cancers related to colorectal, bladder, breast, and gastric system. (Lu et. al.)
Considering all of the previously mentioned factors, it can be concluded that many lactose-intolerant people are capable of accepting a milk glass or an ice cream scoop. (Özdemir et al.) Moreover, based on the availability of scientific evidence, it is obvious that milk obtained from cow and synthetically made dairy products are nutritionally incomparable foods. Milk or dairy product consumption helps in meeting dietary recommendation and provide protection from various prevailing or lifelong non-communicable disease along with lesser or negligible reported harmful effects. Thus, drinking cow’s milk in a certain limit is not only harmless but helps people with meeting the basic nutritional requirements of the body. Over consumption of milk or any food such as peanuts or sea-foods can cause harm and should be avoided. (Lipkin)