Is Cow’s Milk Good For Humans? by Austin Smith
The first milk I ever drank came from my mother. Then, after a few months or so, she started providing me with cow’s milk. From all the studies and reports with which modern media directly or indirectly inundated her, my mom formed the opinion that milk, along with a balanced diet, would provide me with everything I needed to be the healthiest I could be. This is an opinion that has held throughout the years, and my mom isn’t alone- her sentiment is shared with a lot of American parents today, who provide their children with dairy milk to ensure they will have strong bones and a healthy diet. In fact, over 80% of our population drinks dairy milk on a regular basis. Even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proclaims that milk is essential for a balanced diet. So if the chief agency in charge of promoting and protecting Americans through the supervision of food singles out a particular product for its nutritional excellence, shouldn’t we readily accept and endorse it?
Well, the FDA has made some questionable decision in its past. For example, in 1993, the FDA approved a hormone for increased milk production in cows known as rBST. They claimed to have found it safe both for cows and for human consumption. Conversely, the European Union conducted a study that found rBST causes cows “severe and unnecessary pain, suffering and distress.” Moreover, the study produced evidence that rBST leads to cows excreting large amounts of pus which contaminates the milk that humans then ingest. These findings induced the European Union to ban rBST in 2000. In fact, almost every developed country, with the notable exception of the US, has banned rBST within its borders. Lucky for us, public opinion has forced all agribusiness companies to stop using rBST. But the fact remains that the FDA still claims rBST is safe for cows and humans. Questionable, huh?
I am not saying the FDA is completely wrong on everything; I am merely pointing out that their judgment should not be blindly swallowed without further scrutiny or research- including of their ardent support of milk.
Before beginning my own research, I had a lot of questions. First:
Why and for how long do cows produce milk? Well, for the same reason humans do- to nourish their young. Generally, cows provide their calves with milk for two weeks to a month, and then wean them off over a period of a month or two.
Is milk all the same?
Consider, for a moment, what it would be like to drink the milk of an animal aside from a human or a cow. How about a dog? Or maybe a rat, or a horse, or even a pig- doesn’t that sound delicious? Well, probably not. Natural selection has logically resulted in dog milk being tailored to the specific nutritional needs of infant dogs, cow milk to the needs of infant cows, human milk to the needs of infant humans, and so forth. This is because every mammal species has its own specific needs and requirements after birth. For instance, cow’s milk is three to four times richer in protein than human milk.
How healthy is it to drink dairy milk?
Opinions vary. But according to a Harvard Research Study conducted just before the turn of the century, milk doesn’t necessarily protect against the main disease the milk industry wants you to believe it does: osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become weak and thus more likely to break. In fact, the Harvard study found that over consumption of animal proteins may actually lead to the acceleration of osteoporosis. How is this possible? Well, animal protein is very acidic, and can disrupt human blood’s slightly basic pH balance. As we all know, our body wants to maintain homeostasis, and will do whatever possible to counteract changes to this delicate balance. Thus, in response to increased acidity, the human body will release the basic compound calcium phosphate from our bones to bring blood pH back up. So in actuality, though milk does provide humans with calcium, humans may end up being expending calcium for a net loss.
Unfortunately, the only sources of acidic proteins in the human diet are animal products. The Harvard Research group went so far as to say that the link between meat- and dairy-based diets and osteoporosis was “inescapable.”
On the other hand, milk still possesses some very positive attributes. Milk is a great source of potassium, a mineral that helps to maintain a healthy blood pressure. In addition, milk is a fantastic source of vitamin A (essential to the proper functioning of the immune system), riboflavin (which helps to convert food into energy), and niacin (a nutrient that metabolizes sugars and fatty acids).
Furthermore, according to Dr. Brian Roy, an associate professor of health science at Canada’s Brock University, milk can even play a role in weight loss. In 2008 Roy published a study assessing the impact of milk on the body post-exercise in hundreds of 19-25 year old males and females. He found that after weight training, subjects that had drunk milk lost more body fat and gained more muscle than those who had consumed different drinks containing the same nutrients and macronutrients.
Overall, milk has its positives and negatives. Even the Harvard medical study (supra) concluded that milk can still be an important part of a healthy human diet, though over consumption probably isn’t in our best interest. More specifically, the study found that drinking two servings or less of milk supplies humans with several essential nutrients. One eight ounce glass of whole milk provides roughly 25% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D, 11% of daily potassium, 26% of daily riboflavin and 10% of daily niacin. So while lowering your intake can be beneficial, taking dairy out of your diet completely is in all likelihood unnecessary.