Got Milk? Maybe You Shouldn’t

by Heather

Apparently my little dig at dairy didn’t go unnoticed. You asked why I wasn’t on board. Here ya go!

Let me start by saying that I find dairy one of the most confusing topics about nutrition. There’s not a definitive consensus on many of the issues involving dairy and research is more limited than you’d think. My issue is less with dairy itself, and more with the huge dairy-is-essential messages we’ve been receiving since we were kids.

dairy side effects

We are a milk-free household. I drink almond or coconut milk and the husband drinks soy milk. While we’re milk free, we’re not an entirely dairy-free family. The husband eats cheese and pre-allergies I ate the occasional Greek yogurt, goat cheese, or Moe’s queso, as I’ve probably mentioned 135,938 times. What I’m saying is, I’m not telling you that you have to shun dairy- let’s just get educated so you can make the best choices for you and your family.

There’s no way I can cover every aspect of dairy and every side of the story in a single post, so I’m going to do my best to hit on a couple points about the dark side of dairy- the parts most people don’t know much about. This is not all encompassing by any means!!

Why Dairy Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

- Exposure to dairy before the age of 1 is correlated with type 1 diabetes

- One of the proteins in dairy, casein, is associated with increased rates of cancer

- The sugar in dairy, lactose, is related to ischemic heart disease. Many, many people have trouble digesting this sugar.

- Milk consumption is linked to bladder, colorectal, prostate, and testicular cancers

- Dairy is the highest source of dioxin in the standard American diet, found in especially high levels in butter and cheese. Dioxin is a toxic chemical that can cause cancer.

- Consumption of milk protein can increase levels of IGF-1 {insulin-like growth factor} in the body, which promotes the growth of cells- both normal and cancerous.

- Dairy has been linked to a number of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, multiple sclerosis, Graves’ disease, and type 1 diabetes. {The proposed theory here is that some people’s bodies cannot distinguish the difference between cow’s milk proteins and their own proteins.}

- Dairy is “mucus-producing”- this can cause built up phlegm, acne, eczema, and psoriasis.

- Dairy products may contain hormones {even if “organic”} and promote increased level of hormone production in the body.

- Not only is milk not the only good source of calcium, but it does not prevent osteoporosis. In fact, the it can play a role in the destruction of bone due to the acid load and erosion of bone-building cells.

glass of milk

Although these things have been shown in research, it still leaves a lot of unanswered questions and conflicts among other studies. There is evidence that low-fat dairy products and yogurt increase fat loss. There’s no argument that the probiotics in dairy and other cultured/fermented products are beneficial to the gut and immune system. Whey and casein {dairy proteins} are beneficial proteins for recovery in sports nutrition. So where does that leave us? Good question!

If all this leaves you confused, you’re not alone. Wondering if you should or shouldn’t be eating dairy? While some of these things would require a glass ball into the future, other things can easily be deciphered. Stop eating dairy for a month. How do you feel? The same? Then eat dairy. Better? Cut it out or limit it. Worse? Hmmmmmm. I can’t tell if I’m reducing my cancer risk by how I feel, but it’s extremely clear to me that my stomach issues are minimized when I cut back the dairy.

The same strategy can be used for any “trend”- gluten, vegetarian, etc. Listen to your body and make your OWN decisions.

For me, I worry more about dairy because of my son’s allergy to it: where did it come from? Why does he have it? I also worry about it because of the mysterious pain condition I struggled with for a few years {and still do to some extent} and dairy’s relationship to autoimmune disorders. Decreasing the dairy I consumed made an impact on my pain level, which pretty much blows my mind.

For more reading: resources on dairy.

What do you think about dairy?

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{ 13 comments… read them below or chime in }

Erika February 5, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Great follow up and you presented it very well. Though I’m not into totally eliminating things from your diet (unless medically necessary) I agree with limiting it. Cutting back on dairy is a great idea but I won’t be cutting it out completely.

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Jordan Lynn (Ciao Cow) February 5, 2013 at 12:30 pm

I cut out dairy three years ago, and I have never looked back. On the few occasions that I have eaten dairy, I couldn’t believe how negatively it affected my body. Plus, the science in this area is particularly astounding and convincing (in my opinion). Thanks for sharing!

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Jane February 5, 2013 at 2:31 pm

My 8-month-old son, whom I’m breastfeeding, has a sensitivity to dairy and to soy. Not sure yet whether it’s an outright allergy. I haven’t eaten any dairy for the past 6.5 months. I miss it sometimes (mmmm gouda!), but I’ve gotten used to things like almond milk in my morning oatmeal and coconut milk yogurt (which I also give him). We are thinking of trying goat milk hard cheese as the enzymes in goat milk are similar to those in human breastmilk. There is some anecdotal evidence that people with a dairy sensitivity react more positively to goat milk.

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Rachel February 5, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Do you have any links to studies you could share with us? I’d be interested in reading more specifically into the research that comes to these conclusions you’ve shared.

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Becca February 5, 2013 at 4:14 pm

I would be very interested in the research sources you used for the claims on the link between milk and cancers/diabetes/heart disease. The facts seem very specific, so I would like to read them in their original context. Can you provide links?

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Cait February 5, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Many adults are actually lactose intolerant–our bodies weren’t intended to keep consuming milk after childhood. I cut out most milk a few years ago due to stomach problems associated with this, and it certainly improved my well being. I appreciate your point to try and see if things work for you. I tend to not believe statistics about anything until I have read study after study from a scientific journal, not just websites–not to say that bringing these issues up isn’t a good thing to do, it’s just how I make decisions. Until you look closely at the actual data and analysis, “correlations” and “associations” are honestly meaningless. BUT, like you said, the main point here is that if you think something is making you feel bad, try not eating it! Most of all, if it negatively impacts your child’s health due to allergy, the choice is obvious.

That being said, I’d love to see where you got this information from so I can add to my own research!

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Amanda Vaughn February 6, 2013 at 1:28 am

This topic has been on my heavy on mind. Could you recomend any sources with further unbiased research on this topic?

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Hailey February 6, 2013 at 9:45 am

I completely disagree. Not sure where you read these studies but it’s probably the same place that happy herbivore read that “all fats are bad.”

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Melissa @ Freeing Imperfections February 8, 2013 at 11:01 am

I am largely dairy-free at times too. I can’t drink milk or have heavy creamy dairy products because it makes me sick. I can do aged cheeses and now I do Greek yogurt, but even that upsets me sometimes. I have lactose intollerance in my family, and I am no exception. When I tell people I have some issues, they immediately think it’s “bad” that I don’t have dairy. But I completely agree that dairy is pretty much terrible for you for the large part. The whole got milk campaign has brainwashed people into believing a lie.
Melissa @ Freeing Imperfections Just blogged…10-10-10 Quickie Cardio Workout

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Miranda @ Biting Life February 11, 2013 at 1:39 am

Great post! I absolutely love milk and dairy products (even though I’m slightly lactose intolerance) and I don’t think anybody will ever be able to change my mind about them, but I love how informative this post was without being super judge-y about people who do choose to consume milk. Not drinking milk is a valid choice, and you definitely showed a lot of reasons why it could be a good one!
Miranda @ Biting Life Just blogged…Nemo Blizzard Update

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Susie February 23, 2013 at 3:46 pm

I think that saying that ‘dairy is bad’ is just as destructive as saying ‘meat/carbs/sugar/fat is bad’. I don’t think (and I have plenty of personal RD, MD, and CPT friends-and Gastroenterologists that treat me- who would back me up on this) that any one food group or food thing is bad. The QUALITY and QUANTITY of the ____ are the determining factors. I know that you know this, and I’m sure that you are trying to present your personal view (as you are typically rather clear) but you really need to be clear about this when you have a large audience who will be reading the headlines and not the fine print. DAIRY does not cause the issues that you have listed. Just like cayenne, cumin, and cinnamon will not cure cancer and inflammation in the qualities consumed by the average human being and Barbie is not indicative of typical female proportions and relationships in real life are rarely filled with the same witty banter and serendipity as the movies.
Are a lot of people lactose intolerant? Of course. But aren’t also many people allergic to peanuts? Im allergic to the pollens in spring, does that mean they are bad?
Just as with anything else, dairy consumption has both positive and negative side effects. How they affect you and the cost-benefit of the consequences determines their benefit for you.
Is aspirin bad as well? It can prevent a heart attack but also can ruin your stomach lining.
Moderation, and, as you love to refer, “listening to your body” is the key. And labeling a food as bad, as you so recently pointed out, is the first step to disordered eating and also malnutrition and vitamin deficiency.
I know you mean well and these are your opinions, but please be careful in how you present your research (as linking milk to cancer etc without providing your source should be shameful for a Nutrionist) and claims because not all readers consume information with a grain of salt. I would love to read the sources of this information in order to make a more educated decision about my own diet etc.
thanks you for your work though, it is a great way of opening the forum for discussion.

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birlsen August 11, 2013 at 6:52 pm

I think that if you cite each of your bullet points above, you will have a stronger argument and may help people find good information to help them form their own opitions.

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Heather August 12, 2013 at 10:07 am

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