What Dairy May Be Doing to Our Bodies

The consumption of dairy – specifically cow’s milk products, has been a much debated topic among some communities, and more and more people are aware of the health impact that dairy may have on their bodies.

Cow’s milk products have protein molecules that, when leaked through our intestinal wall without being fully digested – as in the case of leaky gut syndrome – can cause our immune system to react leading to immediate symptoms such as hive, wheezing and vomiting, or longer term issues such as loose stool, abdominal cramps, and skin rash.

Some people – especially most African Americans, Asians and Native Americans – stop producing adequate amounts of lactase to digest lactose (the sugar found in milk) after they have weaned off mother’s milk. The undigested lactase can cause symptoms of lactose intolerance, which can include bloating, cramps, pains, gas, vomiting or diarrhea.

Dairy has been found to promote the production of mucus in our bodies, resulting in symptoms of congestion. Some people who have suffered from sinus issues for their entire life have their sinuses cleared just by cutting out dairy from their diets.

Hormones and antibiotics are often used in commercial farming to promote milk production and to prevent infection in crowded conditions. These substances may lurk in the final milk products, affecting our health and in particular, the balance of our endocrine system.

Although dairy contains a good amount of calcium, it may not be the best way to maintain bone health if other factors are considered. In fact, Studies show that countries with the highest milk consumption also have the highest osteoporosis rates.  Dairy causes blood pH to become acidic. When the body needs to balance blood pH, it will draw calcium from the bones, reducing bone density. Additionally, calcium in dairy may not be the most bio-available – meaning that the body may not be able to utilize the entire ingested amount. In upcoming posts/newsletters, I will talk about how you can ensure adequate calcium intake without having to depend on dairy products.

The Problems with Commercial Dairy Products

For a large majority of the population, we get dairy products from the store – produced by commercial farms. Due to processing, transportation and storage, the quality of many dairy products that we get from the supermarket is no comparison to the fresh dairy products that our grandfathers or great-grandfathers use to have access to.

Commercially available cow’s milk is pasteurized and homogenized. During the process of pasteurization, the heat not only removes “bad” bacteria, but it also kills beneficial bacteria and some nutritional constituents and enzymes that help our body digest and utilize the nutrients in the milk. Some data has shown that there are more cases of food-poisoning from commercially available, pasteurized milk than from raw milk that usually comes from smaller farms that are more concerned about the conditions under which that the cattle is raised.

Some researchers believe that the change in molecular composition caused by homogenization can potentially increase the milk’s ability to cause allergic reaction as the smaller but undigested protein-fat molecules can more easily pass through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream. Homogenization also causes milk to have lower heat stability, increased sensitivity to light-triggered oxidation, and possibly less pronounced “milk flavor”.

Commercial farming also raises concerns around animal treatment – we have seen documentaries and news on the unhygienic and crowded conditions of some of these farms. Some cattle are also treated with hormones and antibiotics to boost milk production and to prevent infection in crowded conditions. These substances are often passed from cattle into the milk, lurking in the final milk products that we consume.

Animal agriculture contributes to the emission of greenhouse gas and may be contributing to global warming. Commercial farms take up a large amount of natural resources such as land and water, and the transportation of the final milk products to store shelves that may be halfway across the country means huge fuel consumption.

Building Strong Bones Without Relying on Dairy

Dairy, although rich in calcium, may not be the best way to maintain bone health. We need to understand that there are many components that are in play in building and maintaining strong bones.

Here are some reasons why dairy may not be your best answer:

  • There are more fractures in regions that consume milk products (US, Great Britain, Canada, Northern Europe), than in those that don’t (traditional Africa, China).
  • The extensive Nurses Study at Harvard, which followed 78,000 nurses for more than 12 years, found that those who drink two or more glasses of milk per day have twice the risk of hip fracture than those who drink a glass a week or less.
  • Dairy causes blood pH to become acidic. When the body needs to balance blood pH, it will draw calcium from the bones, reducing bone density.
  • Calcium in dairy may not be the most bio-available – meaning that the body may not be able to utilize the entire ingested amount.
  • Many people are lactose intolerant, meaning they lack the enzymes to digest the sugar found in dairy. This makes dairy not a viable source of calcium for these people.

Good sources of calcium include dark leafy green vegetables, bone broth, and sea vegetables.

Further more, for strong bones that can withstand stress, we need many synergistic nutrients besides calcium: magnesium, phosphorus, boron, copper, manganese, zinc, plus the vitamins C, D, K, B6, and folic acid. We also need sufficient amounts of protein for the collagen matrix, and healthful fats for Vitamin D absorption and protection against bone-destroying free radicals.

Protein Sources For Vegetarians Who Want to Reduce Dairy

For some vegetarians, dairy products have become an important source of protein. So, what can be used to provide protein in the diet if one wants to reduce or eliminate his or her intake of dairy products?

The most obvious answer would be legumes – such as beans and peas. However, note that legumes do not have a complete protein profile – meaning that they don’t provide our body with all the essential amino acids for normal functioning. They need to be carefully combined with grains – e.g. rice and beans – to ensure a complete and balanced protein profile.

Quinoa – a grain that originates from South America – is the only grain that has a complete protein profile and a great source of protein for vegan and vegetarians.

Some vegetables contain a surprising amount of protein; these include leafy green vegetables such as kale, collard and chard, as well as sea vegetables such as dulse, kelp, kombu and hijiki.

For ovo-lacto vegetarians, eggs are also a good source of protein.

Yogurt, although produced from milk, seems to pose fewer problems for most people because they contain beneficial bacteria that can help pre-digest the protein and also promote healthy gut flora. However, a lot of yogurt found on store shelves contain a large amount of sugar, so it’s best to read the labels carefully and look for “plain yogurt” with no added sugar or flavoring whenever possible.

Dairy Alternatives

For some people who are allergic to commercial cow’s milk and cow’s milk products, goats or sheep’s milk may be better tolerated and can be used instead in moderation. Raw milk is also a great alternative – the enzymes present in raw dairy products which are not destroyed by the process of pasteurization, helps pre-digest the protein molecules and lactase, which are the causes of allergic reaction or symptoms of lactose intolerance, respectively.

“Milks” made from nuts, seeds and grains can be substituted for cow’s milk for drinking and cooking. More common ones that you can find in stores in include soy milk, almond milk, hazelnut milk, hemp milk, rice milk and oat milk. Their consistency and taste vary – from type to type and from brand to brand, so you may need to experiment to see what suits your taste or make the best substitute for your recipes.

If you buy nut, seed or grain milk from the store, make sure you read the label to avoid added sugar as much as possible. Also, additives are often added to these products to make their consistency and taste closer to cow’s milk. If you want to avoid additives altogether, the best bet is to make your own.

For a more creamy texture in cooking, mashed tofu can be used. However, soy products such as soy milk and tofu should be used in moderation by most and sparingly by those who suffer from hypothyroidism. Soy contains phytoestrogens that may have an impact on our hormonal system, and anti-nutrients that may affect the absorption of vitamins and minerals. The problem with most commercially available soy products today lies in the fact that a majority of them are highly processed, without having gone through the traditional process that can remove their anti-nutrients. Soy protein isolates, found in many processed and packaged foods, are highly concentrated. These processed soy products are very new to our diet, so their effects on our body are essentially unknown. Also note that a lot of the soy in our food chain today is genetically modified, and again, this is so new to us as a species that we just can’t be sure if there is any negative health impact for our body.