What is Milk and Where does it come from?
Lets go over some High School science, just to lay a solid foundation for this topic. Humans belong to a particular class of animals called Mammals. What makes an animal a mammal are several things – but one of the defining qualities of Mammals is that they have glands that give milk to feed their babies – hence the class name is from the Latin word “mamma” or "breast".
Like all 5000 or so species of mammals on this planet, we drink the milk of our mothers until we are weaned.
What is weaning? Well it’s a period of time over which the mothers gradually cease to provide milk for their young, and introduce the infant mammals to what will be their adult diets. A young mammal becomes fully weaned when it no longer receives milk from its mother.
The weaning process is believed to have a particularly function in mammals: the direct dependence on the mother for food supply is no longer necessary, which then potentially frees her up to begin the next reproductive cycle of making her next infant.
Having recapped some Biology Basics, lets look at two bizarre and very important facts that we humans do not seem to be aware of –
We are the only mammal to continue to drink milk throughout our lifetimes, years after our natural weaning age which is considered to be between 2 and 3 years old!
The milk we continue to consume well after our weaning age, is not even our own milk because we are the only mammal to continuously drink the milk of another species!
Considering how incredibly unnatural this human behaviour appears to be – surely there must be good reason for it?
It must be good for us, right? Well, lets look a the History of how the dairy industry evolved to get an understanding of how we ended up drinking another mammals milk..
Written texts, paintings, drawings and analysis of dairy fat residues on pottery fragments suggest that humans started using domesticated cattle, sheep and goats for milk between 6000 and 8000 years ago (Pringle, 1998, Evershed et al, 2008).
Although this sounds like a huge amount of time, its very little time in relation to the full history of human existence. Modern humans date back nearly seven million years. So if we represented our existence as a twelve-hour clock, we would have begun dairy farming literally less than 60 seconds ago.
Dairy farming was practised for years on a tiny scale compared to today, with most societies eating very little or none at all. This is in stark contrast to our post-Second World War binge on dairy which has seen that in the last 30 years, the average dairy herd size in the UK for example, more than quadruple.
But presumably the dairy cow was chosen for its milk, because it most suited our nutritional needs, right? Wrong! The expansive growth of the dairy industry using cattle was for two primary reasons –
1 - Cows' docile dispositions make them easy to manage and confine, an invaluable virtue when it comes to mass production.
2 - Cows' milk production is much more profitable than goats or sheep, with cows daily per-animal milk production being 20 times greater in volume than goats or sheep.
So having chosen to use cows as our main milk supplier, purely based on their docile natures and their high production rates, lets look at what cows milk actually does…
The Purpose of Mammalian Milk
The nutritional composition of milk varies widely from mammal to mammal, designed by nature to provide the perfect first food for the young of that specific species. Reindeer, for example, of the Arctic Circle, make energy-dense milk which 20 percent fat, roughly 5 times more than human milk, to help their young survive the harsh cold climate.
And we humans are no more similar to cows than we are to reindeer!
Cows’ milk is very different from human milk. Cows’ milk is meant to help a baby calf grow very rapidly from the weight of approximately 63-69 pounds (29-31kg), to 658-882 stone (300-400kg) within just a year. Humans, on the other hand, take about 18 years to reach adult weight. The weight gain of calves during their first year is nearly 40 times greater than that of breastfed human babies!
Humans and cows have very different growth rates and therefore the composition of our milks are very different accordingly. Which begs the question, should we actually be consuming cows milk in the first place?
In your typical glass of milk or bite of cheese, there are 35 hormones and 11 growth factors, including IGF-1, oestrogen and progesterone. IGF-1 is a growth hormone that controls growth and development and consuming dairy is thought that it makes us produce more of our own IGF-1. The concerning result is that scientists have found that even small increases in our levels of IGF-1 will increase the risk of common cancers, such as breast, prostate, lung and colon.
Added to the hormone and growth factor cocktail, what most of us don’t know is that there is a generous shot of pus in cows milk. Yes, pus. Due to over a third of dairy cows suffering from mastitis, in the UK for example, dairy milk can contain up to 400 million pus cells per litre of milk.
So how is consuming Dairy affecting our Health?
Contrary to what we are often told in schools, on TV, on big billboards and sometimes even by our doctors – consuming cows milk appears to provide human beings with a multitude of health problems.
When a mammal goes through the weaning process, a natural decline in lactase production occurs. Lactase is the enzyme which breaks down lactose, which is the main sugar in mammalian milk. With little or no lactase in our bodies, when we then continue to consume cows milk, we are unable to digest it properly and hence many of us suffer from lactose intolerance.
Symptoms include diarrhoea, bloating, flatulence, nausea, vomiting, muscle and joint pain, headaches, dizziness, lethargy, difficulty with short-term memory, mouth ulcers, allergies (eczema, rhinitis, sinusitis and asthma), cardiac arrhythmia, sore throat, increased frequency of urination, acne and depression (Lomer et al, 2008).
The irony is that some of us are suffering with lactose intolerance and we don’t even realise it.
You may or may not have heard of the term Epidemiology which is the study of how often diseases occur in different groups of people. One of the most noteworthy epidemiological studies of all times, named by The New York Times as "Grand Prix of Epidemiology" and the "most comprehensive large study ever undertaken of the relationship between diet and the risk of developing disease, is called The China Study. The China Study was conducted by Professor T Colin Campbell, who has been at the forefront of nutrition research for decades.
Click here to read more about The China Study.
In brief, The China Study showed clearly that animal protein and animal fat cause diseases of affluence – including many cancers, heart disease and diabetes; whilst plant nutrients such as fibre, antioxidants, vegetable protein and complex carbohydrates protect us from disease. With that basic understanding, we need to understand how dairy specifically, impacts our health.
More than 1 in 3 people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime (NHS Choices, 2012) and these cancers are responsible for 1 in 4 of all deaths in the UK.
A mounting pile of evidence these days is showing that a diet rich in dairy and meat is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, while diets rich in whole, plant foods are linked to a lower risk.
In a large scale study involving over 90,000 premenopausal women, Harvard Medical School researchers found that intake of animal fat (from red meat and high-fat dairy foods, such as whole milk, cream, ice-cream, butter, cream cheese and cheese) was associated with a higher risk of breast cancer (Cho et al, 2003).
According to a study from the Dunn Human Nutrition Unit in Cambridge, women who ate the most saturated animal fat – found mainly in whole milk, butter, meat, cheese, cakes and biscuits – were almost 2 times as likely to develop breast cancer, as those who ate the least (Bingham et al, 2003).
In another major study in 2011, which followed about 4,000 women with breast cancer for 7 years, researchers found that those women who ate the most saturated fat after diagnosis increased their disk of dying by 41%. So, where is saturated fat found in our diet, so we can avoid it? From the National Cancer Institute. #1, cheese; #2, pizza; (which is basically another way of saying cheese); #3 is grain-based desserts (which means primarily cakes, cookies, and cupcakes—which is why pink cupcakes may not be the best way to celebrate breast cancer awareness month) #4, ice cream; and #5, chicken.
There are many other studies linking cows milk and breast cancer, please read here. Its chilling reading.
The EPIC study (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition), which is one of the largest cohort studies in the world with more than half a million (521 000) participants recruited across 10 European countries and followed for almost 15 years, found that a 35g per day increase in consumption of dairy was associated with increasing the risk of prostate cancer by 30%.
The EPIC study also found that calcium from dairy products was positively associated with prostate cancer risk (Allen et al, 2008).
Men with higher than normal IGF-1 levels (as discussed previously, our IGF-1 levels increase when we consume dairy and meat) have been shown to increase their risk of advanced stage prostate cancer by 5 times (Chan, 2002).
In a more recent study looking at adult milk drinkers, increased dairy consumption is shown to be a major dietary risk factor for the development of prostate cancer (Melnik et al, 2012).
According to Dr Michael Greger of Nutrition Studies.Org - the latest meta-analysis of all the best case control studies ever done concludes that milk consumption is a risk factor for prostate cancer. In addition, the latest meta-analysis of all the best cohort studies ever done also concludes that milk consumption is a risk factor for prostate cancer. Last but not least, an even newer study suggests that milk intake during adolescence may be particularly risky in terms of potentially setting one up for cancer later in life.
The greatest marketing ploy of the Dairy Industry has been to persuade us consumers that cows milk is good for our bones! Who hasn’t been raised with this belief? It’s a pervasive ideology which none of us think to question – and yet there is a mountain of evidence which shows the absolute opposite: how dairy is in fact very detrimental to our bone health.
What we are not told is that the disease of weak bones, Osteoporosis, is more common in those nations that consume the most dairy products.
A possible explanation is found in a report showing an impressively strong association between animal protein intake and bone fracture rate for women in different countries. Researchers at Yale University School of Medicine summarised data on protein intake and fracture rates taken from 34 separate surveys in 16 countries that were published in 29 peer reviewed research publications. It found that a massive 70% of the fracture rate was attributes to the consumption of animal protein.
These researchers explained that animal protein, unlike plant protein, increases the acid load in the body. The body doesn’t like this acidic environment and starts to fight it using calcium to neutralise it. The calcium ends up being pulled from the bones, and it weakens them (osteoporosis), putting them at greater risk for fracture (Holford et al, 1992).
The latest figures from 63 countries show that where dairy is consumed the most, they experience the highest fracture rates – some countries having 10 times as many fractures as others (Kanis et al, 2012).
In an enormous study of almost 80,000 women by Harvard School of Public Health, scientists examined found that not o.nly does milk not protect bones from fractures, but that women drinking 2 or more glasses of milk a day actually increased their risk of hip fracture (Feskanich et al, 1997).
There are many more dairy milk myth-busting studies which are outlined on this Blog Post if you’d like to read more.
Breast Cancer, Prostate Cancer and Osteoporosis are just 3 of many life-threatening diseases and health conditions which have been linked to our dairy and meat intake. Others include colorectal cancer, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, asthmas, acne, diminished male reproductive potential, and premature puberty.
And if the Welfare of Animals is of any concern to you at all, then there are many Dark Secrets of the Dairy Industry that are kept well hidden from the public eye. Please read further on this link.
But don't feel BAD, there is LAD!
Life After Dairy! Given that biologically, we are not meant to be consuming milk after our infancy, let alone consuming for our entire lifetime the milk of another species – and on top of that a wealth of evidence pointing towards many negative health impacts of consuming cows milk – the next logical step is to EMBRACE a healthy life without dairy!
In this day and age, it could not be easier to transition to a whole food plant based diet, rich with health protective and energising foods.
We have created a FREE PLANT BASED NUTRITION VIDEO SERIES which is specifically designed to help educate and inspire you to thrive on a whole food plant based vegan diet. Change can seem a bit impossible sometimes – how will I survive life without cheese? Fear not, help is here!
Its like having your own personal guide on How to Go Vegan.
Today could be the day you change your life forever for the better.
If not NOW, then WHEN?
If not YOU, then WHO?
The medical and/or nutritional information on this website is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please seek medical advice before using diet to treat disease.