The Simple Path is the Clearest Path
I saw a patient this morning for itchy eyes. In talking with him, I discovered that he was on several medications for asthma and pre-emphysema. He complained that, even though he had stopped smoking 6 months prior, he still woke up every morning hacking up thick mucus and spent most of the day clearing his nose and throat. When I see a patient like this, I immediately think of a food allergy: turns out, this 58 year old man loves milk! He told me that he goes through three gallons a week of plain milk, and tops it off with chocolate milk when he feels like it. After I picked my jaw off the ground, I gave him my standard line I use to jolt milk addicts:
The dairy industry has done a magnificent job creating a myth: “Milk does the body good.” Ask any parent of a toddler how to keep his bones strong, and she will inevitably reply, “Milk!” And even my medical colleagues recommend dairy products as a main source of calcium. I’d like you to consider for a moment that all that you have heard about milk and dairy products your whole life is FALSE. I know I’m bucking up against conventional wisdom here, but that’s kind of my job, isn’t it?
Some excellent clinical research backs up the fact that much of what we grew up hearing about milk’s healthy benefits is wrong:
1. “Milk Builds Strong Bones.” Nope. A large Harvard study comparing folks that drink one glass of milk weekly to those drinking two or more showed no decrease in fractures in the high milk group.
2. “I need dairy for protein.” Not really. Milk protein is a common cause of allergic symptoms. Furthermore, excess protein intake actually causes acid formation in the blood, leading to leaching of calcium and magnesium from the bones. Fish, Legumes (beans), and whole grains are much better sources of high quality protein.
3. “I need milk for calcium.” No sir. The need for dietary calcium has been far overblown. Osteoporosis is indeed on the rise. But the problem is due to low vitamin D levels, not insufficient calcium intake. And furthermore, the idea that everyone needs to be taking 1000mg of calcium daily may not be valid: a combined analysis of several large studies showed no decrease in fractures with increased calcium intake. You do need calcium, but you can find it in leafy dark green veggies and beans. Consider supplementing vitamin D, though; most of us do not get enough sun exposure to create adequate vitamin D.
Okay, so we’ve shown that you don’t really need milk for the supposed health benefits. Is there any harm in drinking a gallon or two every week? Probably:
1. Prostate cancer: In a recent study, men who drink two or more glasses of milk daily had double the risk of developing prostate cancer as those who didn’t drink milk at all. This difference is also present in men who consume 2000 mg or more of calcium daily.
2. Ovarian cancer: Though not a strong link, a recent analysis showed that a diet high in lactose (the sugar present in milk) had a higher risk of developing this rare cancer.
3. Lactose intolerance: Many people experience the bloating, cramps, and diarrhea of lactose intolerance with milk intake. The incidence of lactose intolerance varies by race, occurring in 90% of Asians but only 15% of those of European descent.
So this is the advice I gave my milk-addicted patient suffering from asthma: discontinue ALL dairy for a couple of weeks and see what changes you notice. I know that may seem barbarian, but there are many suitable milk substitutes out there derived from almonds, coconut, hemp, rice, and oats. I don’t recommend soy milk, for reasons beyond the scope of this discussion. If you must have dairy, aged cheeses have less lactose, and yogurt has the benefit of active probiotic cultures, so choose those instead. One step at a time, we will get healthy together! I promise you won’t miss the stuff after you realize how little you need it.