Tuesday, July 08, 2008

BMD Examines: America's Milk

BMD will spend the next few installments looking at America's milk; why we are so encouraged to include it in our diets, the real health effects of its consumption, who profits and who loses when we do and don't drink it. Here is our first installment. Part 1 of a letter from a California based physician to his patients:

The Milk Letter: A Message To My Patients (Part 1)

By: Robert M. Kradjian, MD
Breast Surgery Chief Division of General Surgery,
Seton Medical Centre #302 - 1800 Sullivan Ave.
Daly City, CA 94015 USA

“MILK”Just the word itself sounds comforting! “How about a nice cup of hot milk?” The last time you heard that question it was from someone who cared for you–and you appreciated their effort.
The entire matter of food and especially that of milk is surrounded with emotional and cultural importance. Milk was our very first food. If we were fortunate it was our mother’s milk. A loving link, given and taken. It was the only path to survival. If not mother’s milk it was cow’s milk or soy milk “formula”–rarely it was goat, camel or water buffalo milk.
Now, we are a nation of milk drinkers. Nearly all of us. Infants, the young, adolescents, adults and even the aged. We drink dozens or even several hundred gallons a year and add to that many pounds of “dairy products” such as cheese, butter, and yogurt.

Can there be anything wrong with this? We see reassuring images of healthy, beautiful people on our television screens and hear messages that assure us that, “Milk is good for your body.” Our dieticians insist that: “You’ve got to have milk, or where will you get your calcium?” School lunches always include milk and nearly every hospital meal will have milk added. And if that isn’t enough, our nutritionists told us for years that dairy products make up an “essential food group.” Industry spokesmen made sure that colourful charts proclaiming the necessity of milk and other essential nutrients were made available at no cost for schools. Cow’s milk became “normal.”

You may be surprised to learn that most of the human beings that live on planet Earth today do not drink or use cow’s milk.
Further, most of them can’t drink milk because it makes them ill. There are students of human nutrition who are not supportive of milk use for adults. Here is a quotation from the March/April 1991 Utne Reader:

If you really want to play it safe, you may decide to join the growing number of Americans who are eliminating dairy products from their diets altogether. Although this sounds radical to those of us weaned on milk and the five basic food groups, it is eminently viable. Indeed, of all the mammals, only humans–and then only a minority, principally Caucasians–continue to drink milk beyond babyhood. “Indeed, of all the mammals, only humans–and then only a minority, principally Caucasians–continue to drink milk beyond babyhood.

Who is right? Why the confusion? Where best to get our answers? Can we trust milk industry spokesmen? Can you trust any industry spokesmen? Are nutritionists up to date or are they simply repeating what their professors learned years ago? What about the new voices urging caution? I believe that there are three reliable sources of information. The first, and probably the best, is a study of nature. The second is to study the history of our own species. Finally we need to look at the world’s scientific literature on the subject of milk.

Let’s look at the scientific literature first. From 1988 to 1993 there were over 2,700 articles dealing with milk recorded in the “Medicine” archives. Fifteen hundred of theses had milk as the main focus of the article. There is no lack of scientific information on this subject. I reviewed over 500 of the 1,500 articles, discarding articles that dealt exclusively with animals, esoteric research and inconclusive studies.

How would I summarize the articles? They were only slightly less than horrifying. First of all, none of the authors spoke of cow’s milk as an excellent food, free of side effects and the “perfect food” as we have been led to believe by the industry. The main focus of the published reports seems to be on intestinal colic, intestinal irritation, intestinal bleeding, anemia, allergic reactions in infants and children as well as infections such as salmonella. More ominous is the fear of viral infection with bovine leukemia virus or an AIDS-like virus as well as concern for childhood diabetes. Contamination of milk by blood and white (pus) cells as well as a variety of chemicals and insecticides was also discussed. Among children the problems were allergy, ear and tonsillar infections, bedwetting, asthma, intestinal bleeding, colic and childhood diabetes. In adults the problems seemed centered more around heart disease and arthritis, allergy, sinusitis, and the more serious questions of leukemia, lymphoma and cancer.

I think that an answer can also be found in a consideration of what occurs in nature – what happens with free living mammals and what happens with human groups living in close to a natural state as “hunter-gatherers”.

Our paleolithic ancestors are another crucial and interesting group to study. Here we are limited to speculation and indirect evidences, but the bony remains available for our study are remarkable. There is no doubt whatever that these skeletal remains reflect great strength, muscularity (the size of the muscular insertions show this), and total absence of advanced osteoporosis. And if you feel that these people are not important for us to study, consider that today our genes are programming our bodies in almost exactly the same way as our ancestors of 50,000 to 100,000 years ago.


Milk is a maternal lactating secretion, a short term nutrient for new-borns. Nothing more, nothing less. Invariably, the mother of any mammal will provide her milk for a short period of time immediately after birth. When the time comes for "weaning", the young offspring is introduced to the proper food for that species of mammal. A familiar example is that of a puppy. The mother nurses the pup for just a few weeks and then rejects the young animal and teaches it to eat solid food. Nursing is provided by nature only for the very youngest of mammals. Of course, it is not possible for animals living in a natural state to continue with the drinking of milk after weaning.


Then there is the matter of where we get our milk. We have settled on the cow because of its docile nature, its size, and its abundant milk supply. Somehow this choice seems "normal" and blessed by nature, our culture, and our customs. But is it natural? Is it wise to drink the milk of another species of mammal?

Consider for a moment, if it was possible, to drink the milk of a mammal other than a cow, let's say a rat. Or perhaps the milk of a dog would be more to your liking. Possibly some horse milk or cat milk. Do you get the idea? Well, I'm not serious about this, except to suggest that human milk is for human infants, dogs' milk is for pups, cows' milk is for calves, cats' milk is for kittens, and so forth. Clearly, this is the way nature intends it. Just use your own good judgement on this one.

Milk is not just milk. The milk of every species of mammal is unique and specifically tailored to the requirements of that animal. For example, cows' milk is very much richer in protein than human milk. Three to four times as much. It has five to seven times the mineral content. However, it is markedly deficient in essential fatty acids when compared to human mothers' milk. Mothers' milk has six to ten times as much of the essential fatty acids, especially linoleic acid. (Incidentally, skimmed cow's milk has no linoleic acid). It simply is not designed for humans.

Food is not just food, and milk is not just milk. It is not only the proper amount of food but the proper qualitative composition that is critical for the very best in health and growth. Biochemists and physiologists - and rarely medical doctors - are gradually learning that foods contain the crucial elements that allow a particular species to develop its unique specializations.

Clearly, our specialization is for advanced neurological development and delicate neuromuscular control. We do not have much need of massive skeletal growth or huge muscle groups as does a calf. Think of the difference between the demands make on the human hand and the demands on a cow's hoof. Human new-borns specifically need critical material for their brains, spinal cord and nerves.

Can mother's milk increase intelligence? It seems that it can. In a remarkable study published in Lancet during 1992 (Vol. 339, p. 261-4), a group of British workers randomly placed premature infants into two groups. One group received a proper formula, the other group received human breast milk. Both fluids were given by stomach tube. These children were followed up for over 10 years. In intelligence testing, the human milk children averaged 10 IQ points higher! Well, why not? Why wouldn't the correct building blocks for the rapidly maturing and growing brain have a positive effect?

In the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1982) Ralph Holman described an infant who developed profound neurological disease while being nourished by intravenous fluids only. The fluids used contained only linoleic acid - just one of the essential fatty acids. When the other, alpha linoleic acid, was added to the intravenous fluids the neurological disorders cleared.

In the same journal five years later Bjerve, Mostad and Thoresen, working in Norway found exactly the same problem in adult patients on long term gastric tube feeding.

In 1930 Dr. G.O. Burr in Minnesota working with rats found that linoleic acid deficiencies created a deficiency syndrome. Why is this mentioned? In the early 1960s pediatricians found skin lesions in children fed formulas without the same linoleic acid. Remembering the research, the addition of the acid to the formula cured the problem. Essential fatty acids are just that and cows' milk is markedly deficient in these when compared to human milk.


Or is it? Fifty years ago an average cow produced 2,000 pounds of milk per year. Today the top producers give 50,000 pounds! How was this accomplished? Drugs, antibiotics, hormones, forced feeding plans and specialized breeding; that's how.

The latest high-tech onslaught on the poor cow is bovine growth hormone or BGH. This genetically engineered drug is supposed to stimulate milk production but, according to Monsanto, the hormone's manufacturer, does not affect the milk or meat. There are three other manufacturers: Upjohn, Eli Lilly, and American Cyanamid Company. Obviously, there have been no long-term studies on the hormone's effect on the humans drinking the milk. Other countries have banned BGH because of safety concerns. One of the problems with adding molecules to a milk cows' body is that the molecules usually come out in the milk. I don't know how you feel, but I don't want to experiment with the ingestion of a growth hormone. A related problem is that it causes a marked increase (50 to 70 per cent) in mastitis. This, then, requires antibiotic therapy, and the residues of the antibiotics appear in the milk. It seems that the public is uneasy about this product and in one survey 43 per cent felt that growth hormone treated milk represented a health risk. A vice president for public policy at Monsanto was opposed to labelling for that reason, and because the labelling would create an "artificial distinction". The country is awash with milk as it is, we produce more milk than we can consume. Let's not create storage costs and further taxpayer burdens, because the law requires the USDA to buy any surplus of butter, cheese, or non-fat dry milk at a support price set by Congress! In fiscal 1991, the USDA spent $757 million on surplus butter, and one billion dollars a year on average for price supports during the 1980s (Consumer Reports, May 1992: 330-32).

Any lactating mammal excretes toxins through her milk. This includes antibiotics, pesticides, chemicals and hormones. Also, all cows' milk contains blood! The inspectors are simply asked to keep it under certain limits. You may be horrified to learn that the USDA allows milk to contain from one to one and a half million white blood cells per millilitre. (That's only 1/30 of an ounce). If you don't already know this, I'm sorry to tell you that another way to describe white cells where they don't belong would be to call them pus cells. To get to the point, is milk pure or is it a chemical, biological, and bacterial cocktail? Finally, will the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) protect you? The United States General Accounting Office (GAO) tells us that the FDA and the individual States are failing to protect the public from drug residues in milk. Authorities test for only 4 of the 82 drugs in dairy cows.

As you can imagine, the Milk Industry Foundation's spokesman claims it's perfectly safe. Jerome Kozak says, "I still think that milk is the safest product we have."

Other, perhaps less biased observers, have found the following: 38% of milk samples in 10 cities were contaminated with sulfa drugs or other antibiotics. (This from the Centre for Science in the Public Interest and The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 29, 1989).. A similar study in Washington, DC found a 20 percent contamination rate (Nutrition Action Healthletter, April 1990).

What's going on here? When the FDA tested milk, they found few problems. However, they used very lax standards. When they used the same criteria , the FDA data showed 51 percent of the milk samples showed drug traces.

Let's focus in on this because it's critical to our understanding of the apparent discrepancies. The FDA uses a disk-assay method that can detect only 2 of the 30 or so drugs found in milk. Also, the test detects only at the relatively high level. A more powerful test called the "Charm II test" can detect 4o drugs down to 5 parts per billion.

One nasty subject must be discussed. It seems that cows are forever getting infections around the udder that require ointments and antibiotics. An article from France tells us that when a cow receives penicillin, that penicillin appears in the milk for from 4 to 7 milkings. Another study from the University of Nevada, Reno tells of cells in "mastic milk", milk from cows with infected udders. An elaborate analysis of the cell fragments, employing cell cultures, flow cytometric analysis , and a great deal of high tech stuff. Do you know what the conclusion was? If the cow has mastitis, there is pus in the milk. Sorry, it's in the study, all concealed with language such as "macrophages containing many vacuoles and phagocytosed particles, etc."

Stay Tuned For Part 2.....