Milk – Is It Really Good For Our Children?
By Jane Sheppard
Multiple Health Problems from Milk. People are beginning to question the long-standing belief that cow’s milk is the perfect food for children. Studies now link the consumption of cow’s milk to multiple health problems. The long list includes iron-deficiency anemia, gastrointestinal bleeding, cramps, chronic diarrhea, chronic nasal congestion, allergies, asthma, colic, rheumatoid arthritis, musculoskeletal pains, kidney disease, diabetes and heart disease.
Milk and other dairy products may actually be harmful to a child’s health. This may sound a bit shocking to some people. How can America’s most trusted food be unhealthy and why are most parents unaware of this information? This is understandable when you look at the advertising practices and political pressure of the American Dairy Association. They spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convince us that if we don’t drink milk, we would be calcium deficient and sickly. The dairy industry is a very powerful force, controlling the USDA’s nutritional guidelines and influencing our thoughts about milk. Subtle messages like “Milk Does a Body Good” are imprinted in our minds from an early age.
Lactose Intolerance. Many people are intolerant to lactose, the sugar in milk. It needs the enzyme, lactase, to break it down into simple sugars so it can be absorbed into the bloodstream. It is common for children begin to gradually lose their lactase activity soon after they are weaned. Without enough lactase, the lactose is incompletely digested and can cause bloating, belching, gas, cramps, and possibly diarrhea. Frank Oski, M.D., head of Pediatric Medicine at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, suggests in his book, Don’t Drink Your Milk!, that after one to 2 years of age, the time of “normal” weaning from breast milk, milk should be removed from the diet completely. The American Academy of Pediatrics (1996) recommends that infants under a year of age not receive whole cow’s milk.
Milk Can Cause Anemia. Milk can cause anemia in children for several reasons. Sensitivity to milk can cause blood to slowly and steadily seep into the intestines. This lowers the blood protein level, which can lead to anemia, even though the amount of blood lost each day is too small to see. Dr. Oski points out that “it is estimated that half the iron deficiency in the United States is primarily a result of this form of cow’s milk induced gastrointestinal bleeding.” In addition, milk provides very little iron (about one-tenth of a milligram per 8-ounce serving) and it blocks the absorption of iron. Children that are filling up on a lot of milk and dairy products may not be getting enough iron-rich foods to begin with, but when they do get iron, the excess milk may be hindering the absorption of the iron.
Allergies to Milk. Allergies to milk proteins are very common in children. The symptoms can be very subtle. Chronic diarrhea is a common sign of allergy to milk. Diarrhea is a big problem since it impairs a child’s ability to absorb nutrients. Other symptoms include eczema or other skin rashes, asthma, chronic nasal congestion, fatigue, learning disabilities, recurrent bronchitis, chronic ear infections, and vomiting. If your child experiences any of these symptoms, try eliminating all milk and dairy products from the diet. Watch for signs of improvement. There has been much success in eliminating asthma, ear infections and eczema after discontinuing all dairy products. Cow’s milk can also cause colic in babies. Mothers can pass the milk proteins to their nursing babies if they drink cow’s milk themselves.
Diabetes from Milk. Insulin-dependent diabetes (Type 1 or childhood-onset) has been linked to the consumption of dairy products. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, researchers found that a specific dairy protein sparks an autoimmune reaction, which is believed to be what destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas.
The Wrong Type of Fat. Another serious problem is the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in milk. It contains about 35 grams of fat per quart. 60% of this is saturated. It is very low in the essential fatty acids that your child needs. We now know that consuming saturated fats can cause heart disease and many other illnesses such as cancer and obesity. These problems can begin in childhood. Drinking milk from an early age could have life-long consequences.
There is a common misconception that children under age 2 need the fat from whole milk for proper brain growth. There is no nutritional requirement for cow’s milk fat. Only calves need the fat from cow’s milk. What babies and toddlers really need are essential fatty acids, not found in cow’s milk, but found in human breast milk and foods such as fish and flaxseeds. Older children are usually given low-fat milk because of the consequences of saturated fat. This can also be a mistake since low-fat dairy products are higher in protein than the high-fat products. It is the protein in milk that is responsible for inducing allergic reactions and other health problems such as anemia and diabetes. In addition, the high protein levels in milk can lead to a negative calcium balance in the body.
Too Much Protein. A major consideration with a typical child’s diet is excess protein. Children are told to drink three glasses of milk every day. In doing so, they are consuming an average of 209% of their actual protein needs. Added to all the other protein in their diet, this creates a protein overdose, which is a contributor to many health problems. High levels of protein, especially animal protein, may cause the kidneys to excrete large amounts of calcium, creating a negative calcium balance. If there is too much protein in your child’s body, it may not matter how much calcium goes in. The more protein in the diet, the more calcium is lost. Drink milk for strong bones? A report from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine says that this is a common myth. These doctors say that keeping strong bones depends more on preventing calcium loss than on increasing calcium intake.
Many parents are worried about their children getting enough protein. The World Health Organization, the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Research Council say we need only 8% of our total daily calories from protein. They arrive at this figure by adding a safety factor of an extra 30%. Human mother’s milk provides 5% of its calories as protein. John Robbins in his book, May All Be Fed, Diet for a New World points out the wisdom of nature. “Nature seems to be telling us that little babies, whose bodies are growing the fastest they will ever grow in their lives, and whose protein needs are maximum, are best served when 5% of their food calories come as protein.” He also states that “if we ate nothing but wheat (16% protein), or oatmeal (15%) or even pumpkin (12%), we would easily be getting more than enough protein”.
How Safe is Milk? If it’s pasteurized, then it’s safe? The largest outbreak of salmonella poisoning ever came from [pasteurized] milk. There are contaminants in milk, from bacteria to pesticides to drugs. The dairy industry must keep the cows producing milk in order to stay in business. So they heavily use antibiotics, hormones and other drugs. These are passed directly into the milk. Most mothers are concerned about taking any medications while breastfeeding. We also need to think about what the cows are ingesting if we are drinking milk. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, about one-third of milk products have been shown to be contaminated with antibiotic traces. The testing method used by most states to screen milk for drugs is unable to detect residues from most of the medications used in the dairy industry today. Organic milk and dairy products are available, and may be a wise choice for parents who do not want to give up dairy.
Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is a genetically engineered hormone that is injected into dairy cows to boost milk production. It increases the risk of udder infections so more antibiotics are used to treat cows. This means higher antibiotic residues in milk which could lead to the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria in the body. rBGH stimulates the cow’s liver to produce another hormone, insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). IGF-1 in rBGH milk is a potential risk factor for both breast and gastrointestinal cancers. There have been no long-term studies completed on rBGH and the short-term studies that have been completed have major flaws. There is no required labeling of rBGHproduced milk and milk products. Many of our children are drinking milk with rBGH and this hormone is also in the breast milk of lactating mothers who drink milk.
What About Calcium? The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences has recently updated its recommendations for calcium intake. These recommendations are very high due to the difficulty in absorption of calcium. The recommendations are based on needs for individuals who eat the typical American diet, which is heavy in animal products.
Age Group Recommended Intake
1 to 3 years 500 mg.
4 to 8 years 800 mg.
9 to 18 years 1,300 mg.
There is a common misconception that children have to drink milk to get enough calcium. The calcium from cow’s milk is not absorbed into the body very well. About 66% of the calcium in breast milk is absorbed, but only 20 to 30% of the calcium in cow’s milk is absorbed. A report from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that calcium absorbability is higher from kale than from milk and concluded that greens such as kale can be considered to be at least as good as milk because of their calcium absorbability. Calcium supplied by beans and seeds is easily absorbed into the body. Important minerals needed to process the calcium, such as magnesium, are in plant foods. People who eat only plant foods (vegans) need less calcium than people eating animal products, since their diets are high in minerals and exclude the animal proteins that cause the body to excrete calcium. Calcium requirements are different for each individual, but in some vegans, the need for calcium can be as much as 50% less than for people eating animal protein.
Cow’s milk . . . contain(s) about 300 milligrams of calcium.
Here are some other foods that contain significant amounts of calcium (in milligrams): Sesame seeds, 1/4 cup 270; Dried figs, 10 figs 269mg; Navel orange, 1 medium 56mg; Raisins, 2/3 cup 30mg; Broccoli, 1 cup, cooked 78mg; Collards, 1 cup, cooked 48mg; Kale, 1 cup, cooked 40mg; Spinach, 1 cup, cooked 50mg; Butternut squash, 1 cup 4mg; Sweet potato, 1 cup, cooked 30mg; Chick peas, 1 cup, canned 8mg; Green Northern beans, 1 cup, boiled 21mg; Kidney beans, 1 cup, boiled 30mg; Navy beans, 1 cup, boiled 28mg; Soybeans, 1 cup, boiled 75mg; Black turtle beans, 1 cup, boiled 30mg; Tofu, firm, proc’d. w/calcium 1/2 cup 58mg; White beans, 1 cup, boiled 61mg
Use the information provided in this database as an educational resource for determining your options and making your own informed choices. It is not intended as medical advice or to diagnose, prescribe, or treat any specific illness. If there is any chance your child is seriously ill, take him or her to a qualified health professional for evaluation.