6 Reasons Why Dairy May Do More Harm Than Good

Is cow milk good for you? Learn about dairy and skin, dairy and osteoporosis, effects of dairy allergy, dairy products to avoid, and dairy and cancer.

Did you know that more than 75% of the world's population cannot digest dairy?  Seems crazy, right?  Many, many folks consume dairy on a daily basis seemingly without any problem.  But could we be negatively reacting to dairy unbeknownst to us?

When we think of dairy, we typically think of the two major proteins: whey and casein.  We hear about whey in protein shakes that often body-builders and athletes may consume.  Whey is the fast-digesting protein that allows for a quick surge of amino acids, allowing us to maintain muscle mass. 

Casein, on the other hand, is a slow-digesting protein.  It accounts for 80% of milk's protein.  It is rich in calcium and helps with satiety. 

We may also think of lactose, milk's sugar.  You may hear someone say they are "lactose intolerant" meaning that they experience bloating, heartburn, stomach upset, diarrhea, or constipation when they consume milk products. 

Any parts of milk and dairy products can actually trigger allergies in sensitive people.  One may be "allergic" to whey, while another may have a casein sensitivity or may be lactose intolerant.  In fact, some of us have a greater predisposition for dairy sensitivities depending on our ancestry.  People of Asian, African, and Latino descent tend have a greater chance of being lactose intolerant.

That being said, some studies indicate that dairy may be harming MANY of us and inflaming our bodies from the inside out.  This inflammation can present in a variety of ways. 

1.  Skin Conditions:  The first condition that comes to mind is eczema.  Pediatricians often see this occurring in infants and toddlers who begin drinking whole milk.  Even breastfed infants whose mothers consume dairy can begin to display sensitivities.  In babies, heartburn and reflux are common and may occur simultaneously with eczema and other rashes.  In adults, dermatological reactions to dairy include pimples, rosacea, hives, rashes, eczema, and even psoriasis.  One of the reasons dairy may cause skin issues is that it is packed with natural hormones.  Think about it ... cow milk is designed to feed infant cows.  So, dairy milk comes from pregnant cows who are swimming in hormones.  Even if one buys organic dairy that has no exogenous hormones, those innate hormones are still present.  The lactose in dairy is also a natural sugar, and we know that sugar causes inflammation in the body and acne.

2.  Bone Density:  Oh, you heard "milk does a body good" and thought it was great for bones?  We've been schooled to think of dairy as our "go-to" source of bone-boosting calcium.  Dairy DOES provide lots of calcium.  The problem is, dairy is inflammatory and can actually leach calcium from our bodies.  Our bodies need to have the right ratio of vitamin D, vitamin K2, and calcium for it to actually produce bone.  Did you know societies with the lowest rates of dairy consumption have the lowest rates of osteoporosis?  One of the problems with modern day consumption of dairy, especially in Western cultures, is that the plethora of low-fat and no-fat varieties of milk, yogurt, and cheese do not provide the vitamin K2 necessary for proper absorption of calcium.  So, consuming low-fat, non-organic versions of dairy can lead to problems with bone health.  If you consume dairy, always go for full-fat, organic, and grass-fed dairy products to ensure adequate supplies of vitamins D and K2.  But, you can get calcium through other food sources like sardines, salmon, broccoli, bok choy, sweet potatoes, sesame seeds, white beans, or figs.

3.  Digestive Issues:  You've probably heard that cheese can "back you up."  Well, dairy, in general, has been known to cause anything from constipation, to bloating and gas, to diarrhea, and it's even been linked with irritable bowel disease.  We already mentioned that lactose intolerance is a very real thing.  It's no fun to be doubled over with pain after eating that yummy ice cream cone!  However, a much larger problem may be occurring.  If someone experiences chronic constipation and diarrhea, it could be that dairy is triggering an immune system response in the bowel.

4.  Autoimmune Reactions:  Irritable bowel disease is one such autoimmune reaction a person can experience.  However, an allergy to dairy can present as an autoimmune response that isn't the overt "allergic reaction" people are accustomed to seeing.  We're not talking about breaking out in hives.  Instead, someone with a dairy sensitivity may experience eczema, joint pain, headaches, fatigue, or rheumatoid arthritis.  Dairy consumption has also been noted to contribute to Parkinson's, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, and lupus to name a few.  Researchers believe the casein in dairy is the allergenic culprit.

5.  Cancer:  That's a scary thought, right!?  Dairy contains Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1).  IGF-1 is a hormone similar in structure to insulin, and it acts like growth hormone.  Essentially, IGF-1 is present in dairy to promote rapid growth in baby calves.  In humans, this hormone is associated with increasing endogenous hormones like estrogen and is implicated in hormone-based cancers like breast, ovarian, uterine, and prostate.  IGF-1 also activates enzymes responsible for the production of blood vessels to a growing tumor.  Even worse, if you consume conventional (non-organic) dairy, you're likely taking in exogenous hormones given to cows to promote lactation and milk production.

6.  Respiratory and Sinus Troubles:  Some feel that dairy is mucous-forming.  Studies have not shown that to actually be true, but you'll find people that swear they cough and have lots of phlegm after consuming it.  More than likely, dairy is causing a sensitivity in those folks which manifests in congestion.  There is a known correlation between asthma and dairy, and sometimes when people eliminate dairy, their asthma improves.  Along the same lines, those experiencing sinusitis may find relief with dairy elimination.  Milk is a VERY common food allergen, and many may not be aware of their sensitivity to it and/or may not attribute ingesting dairy to unpleasant physical symptoms.

Should You Eliminate Dairy?

Truth be told, it's up to you whether or not you should consume dairy.  Each of us has a different biochemistry and different reactions to food.  If you tolerate dairy digestively, don't have acne or skin conditions, don't experience muscle or joint aches and pains, and don't have frequent congestion or infections, you may be just fine continuing to eat it.  However, if you have ailments that you just can't explain and/or that frequently plague you, try eliminating it for 3-4 weeks to see if that makes a difference.

Above all, if you do consume dairy, ALWAYS choose organic and preferably grass-fed products.  You do not want to risk exposure to antibiotics or extra hormones that the conventionally-raised animals have been given.  Organic dairy ensures that the cow hasn't been given hormones, antibiotics, or GMO feeds.  On top of that, grass-fed cows are consuming what nature intended them to eat, and are less sickly. 

Also, contrary to popular belief (or belief from the low-fat craze days), you should eat full fat dairy, too.  Full fat dairy allows for better absorption of the fat soluble vitamins D, A, E, & K.  The myth that saturated fat causes cardiovascular disease has been largely debunked.  (Refined and processed carbohydrates are a much greater contributor.) 

Grass-fed dairy also contains a better ratio (1:1) of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids.   The typical Western diet contains way too much Omega 6 fats (from vegetable oils and processed foods) which are known to be inflammatory.  Therefore, adding more Omega 3s to the diet is beneficial and helps counteract the inflammation.  (That's also why salmon is such a great food to add to one's diet.)

If you really love dairy and just can't give it up, some options are better than others.  Full-fat, organic, unsweetened (and not artificially sweetened) yogurt and kefir are good choices because of their probiotic content.  Ghee (clarified butter) is excellent for cooking with because it has most of the allergens removed.  Grass-fed butter is also good if you can tolerate it.  Another known anti-cancer superfood is organic, un-denatured whey protein.  Studies have shown that the lactoferrin in whey is a natural cancer killer and also triggers glutathione production.  Glutathione is a master antioxidant.

So, it's your choice.  How do you feel when you consume dairy?


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