Is Dairy Bad for You?
Milk and other dairy products can be viewed as a major source of saturated fat in many of our diets. Many forms of saturated fats can contribute to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. So what is it about dairy that’s so bad for us?
Calves vs Babies
Cows reproduce by producing calves. During gestation, the calf will develop a robust skeleton sufficient for it to support itself and walk almost immediately after birth. It then matures rapidly and reaches puberty after around nine months, (although they are usually left another 6 months before breeding) and are fully grown and ready to produce and care for a calf at around 2 years. Gestation takes around 9 months.
Humans produce babies. During the 9 months of gestation, the embryo develops into a functional, but helpless, infant at birth and needs to be protected and nourished for around 12-14 years before it has grown and developed sufficiently to become independent.
Why is Cow’s Milk Bad for Babies?
Both infants would in nature be fed on their mother’s milk for at least the first year and as much as two years or more. During this time the composition of the milk would develop specifically to meet the growing animal’s needs. This starts with colostrum, a highly specialised formulation that provides essential nutrition to replace that previously obtained via the placenta. At the same time, it adds a range of nutrients from the parent, which confers a significant level of immunity. It also provides a laxative component, essential to help cleanse the intestines of the waste products that have built up during its 9 months’ development in the womb.
It’s well known that cow’s milk is lower in iron than breast milk or formula. Babies who are given cow’s milk are at an increased risk at developing anaemia or other iron deficiencies. However there are many other factors less well known because of the way we do science. While it is easy to see if iron is present or not, we tend to gloss over the intimate differences between different carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
Although milks produced by both species comprise a mix of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, and at this level it might be tempting to suppose that they’re interchangeable. A closer look suggests otherwise.
In the case of the cow, it’s fairly clear that the calf’s nutritional needs are primarily for rapid development of both physical and sexual maturity. Very cleverly the milk is formulated for this purpose and that formulation develops with the growth of the animal.
On the other hand, the nutritional quality of human milk is more to do with the development of the brain and nervous systems and less concerned with rapid physical and sexual progress, leaving growth and maturity to develop over, typically, 13-15 years. The nature of the proteins, carbohydrates and fats will reflect this. For example, from birth, the human brain and nervous system need high quantities of omega-3 fats, especially DHA, for successful development.
Dairy Consumption Around the World
It’s interesting to observe that the average height of generations around the world has increased in line with dairy milk consumption and the age at puberty has dropped. It’s harder to observe whether there has been a significant drop in brain function, but recent research seems to suggest that IQ levels in children seem to have fallen over the last few decades.
The vast majority of the world’s population is intolerant of milk and can have serious health problems if they consume it. Consumption of dairy milk has meanwhile been identified with the production of excess mucus, reduced immune response, creation of allergies and skin problems such as acne and more.
So, is dairy good for you? Well it’s clear that milk isn’t a natural food for humans, so I’d say probably not.
Blog by Mike Abrahams.
- Michael de Vrese, MD “Probiotics: Compensation for Lactase Insufficiency,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Feb. 2001
- Nevin S. Scrimshaw, MD “The Acceptability of Milk and Milk Products in Populations with a High Prevalence of Lactose Intolerance,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Oct. 1988
- National Institute of Child Health and Human Development “Lactose Intolerance: Information for Health Care Providers,” NIH Publication No. 05-5303B, Jan. 2006