Four years ago my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. My Mom had been a Vegetarian for 5 years, she ate healthy and was in good physical condition.I was shocked when I got the news; it was hard for me to believe that people who took care of themselves got cancer. I did not take this knowledge to heart until recently when I interviewed my mother for a field research paper I wrote about Vegetarians. After a year and a half of chemotherapy and treatment, my mother is healthier than ever. After the diagnosis, she used her knowledge of eating healthy and cut out cow’s milk and some other forms of dairy from her diet. I credit her eating habits to her fast recovery and lasting remission.
My mother had given me a headache about her Vegetarian beliefs almost my entire life and now it was making my mind itch. I wanted to know everything I could about eating healthy and whether a Vegan (non-dairy and non-meat) diet was really a significant reason for her good health and attitude. Some people say that anything could be a factor in causing cancer, from your living environment to the amount of stress in your life and everyone I have talked with believe that cow’s milk is a pure, healthy and necessary part of a good diet.
So the questions I ask are: Does milk really do a body good by building strong bones and teeth? What are the health benefits to drinking milk and what are the risks? Does milk contain cancer-causing additives? Is milk consumption vital to our health? Why is there controversy over milk production? Moreover, are milk cows treated cruelly? These questions will be answered in this paper.
In the 1950’s, milk was the picture of wholesome nutrition; there were only two types of cow’s milk available to consumers, whole and skim milk In those days, a family of four drank an average of 144 gallons of milk each year. A milkman delivered the milk in a glass bottle every morning. Today, however, families of four drink on average 96 gallons of milk a year. The change in consumption seems to be due to the varieties of beverage alternatives. In addition, some people have concerns about the additives in milk.
Various advertising campaigns have circulated over the years, exclaiming the health benefits of drinking milk. The dairy industry spends $180 million-a-year on the ‘Got Milk?’ and ‘Milk does a body good’ campaign. Enlisting celebrities to endorse milk by picturing them with a milk mustache has provided the milk industry with notoriety and the catchy phrase “Got Milk?” is known across the United States. Looking into this, I found that the milk industry is a billion dollar a year industry run by the National Dairy Council. The dairy industry earns $19 billion in the United States and $700 million international just in milk production per year. Making statements that milk provides essential nutrients to consumers’ helps milk sales and profits. However, a teacher and health department chairwoman at Venice High School believes dairy milk to be as unhealthy as soda is for children. Is she right? PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) argues that cow’s milk contains additives poisonous to the human body. Moreover, that conglomerate owned dairy farms are cruel to cows and are also ruining the environment.
Most people believe that milk contains the calcium and vitamins the human body needs to stay healthy, especially for children and young women. Cow’s milk is not the only source of these nutrients; calcium is found in broccoli, dark green vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains, canned salmon, sardines and calcium-fortified soymilk, juices, cereals, and supplement pills. Bess Dawson-Hughes, chief of the calcium and bone laboratory at the U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition center at Tufts University believes that the problem is that people are not consuming enough calcium-rich foods. However, MIT Medical nutritionist Anna Jasonides, R.D., and endocrinologist William Kettyle, M.D. comments that consuming an excess amount of calcium can decrease the effectiveness of several antibiotics, as well as some common medications for cardiac or thyroid conditions. It can decrease the body’s absorption of other nutrients, including iron and zinc, and may also affect vitamin K metabolism. As an alternative, soymilk contains more nutrients than cow’s milk. Calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, protein, Vitamin A (Palmitate maintains healthy cells), Vitamin B12 (maintains normal nerve cell activity), Vitamin B2 (helps process amino acids), Vitamin C (strengthens blood vessels and muscles), and Vitamin D (increases the absorption of calcium) contribute to a healthy body and are all contained in soymilk.
Men as well should be cautious about their calcium intake levels. According to scientists at Harvard School of Public Health, studies show a link between prostate cancer and a high-calcium diet. Moreover, of 50,000 men studied, those who consumed more than 2,000 mg of milk per day had an increase of prostate cancer by 4 times of those that consumed 500 mg or less a day.
Most people are unaware of the chemical dangers of drinking cow’s milk. Article after article suggests that additives in milk have potential health risks. Milk may play a role in contracting illnesses including cancer. One additive to milk is a synthetic (man made) hormone called Bovine growth hormone (BGH) this increases a cow’s milk production. This hormone has been linked to causing cancer in humans. Interestingly enough, the use of BGH is illegal in Canada, Australia, and the entire European Union because of its link to cancer. Notably, in October of 2001, the USDA confirmed and agreed with doctors that whole milk consumption may increase the risk of prostate cancer and heart disease. Moreover, according to Andrew Weil M.D., a renowned natural health and medical activist, women need to be careful of xenoestrogens (foreign estrogens) which are not made by a woman’s own ovaries. The risk of malignancies occurs when foreign hormones enter into the body. This pushes receptor cells to increase division, and growth. However, all cow’s milk has over 25 different hormones naturally, whether a cow received supplements to increase production or not.
Jane Plant, the author of Your Life in Your Hands, in an internet chat with 20/20, describes the health risks involved with including dairy in the diet. In her book, she discusses that “studies done on breast cancer cultures are consistent with dairy products causing both breast cancer and prostate cancer in men” Despite having no family history of breast cancer, Jane had five recurrences of breast cancer. On her fifth diagnosis, she was given just three months to live, her training as a scientist help her decide to cut dairy out of her diet. Seven years later, she is cancer-free. Jane used her knowledge obtained in China, which has an incredibly low breast cancer rate, to make the changes in her diet. Until recently most Chinese people did not consume dairy products, since Asians often lack the enzyme needed to digest it. Jane also notes, “The statistics on breast cancer in countries like Thailand, Japan, China, and Korea, which never adopted a dairy diet, contrast very markedly with statistics in the West”. The United States has the highest breast cancer rates and has the highest consumptions of dairy products in the world. According to Jane, the American diet is made up of 40% dairy products. As well, 75% of the calcium American consume is from dairy.
Japanese women can also be compared with Americans and their dairy consumption. The Japanese diet is one of the lowest in fat content. As Japanese women migrate to America and adapt to western diets, their rate of breast cancer in comparison to those that stay in Japan has increased dramatically, according to Dr. Andrew Weil.
Researchers from the University of Iowa published articles in the Journal of Pediatrics stating that infants in their first year of life have extreme physical problems directly related to drinking cow’s milk and milk based formulas including large amounts of blood loss from the intestinal tract. This blood loss reduces the amount of iron in the body and may be a reaction to proteins present in cow’s milk.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) recommends that dairy products be eliminated from ones diet. Research suggests that dairy consumption has lead to many health problems including: osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and cancers such as ovarian, breast, and prostate. Diabetes, lactose intolerance, and vitamin D toxicity are also concerns. The most shocking find to me was that researchers from Canada and Finland studied 142 diabetic children and found 100% of them had high levels of antibiotics in their bodies called bovine serum albumin, which is found in cow’s milk. “It’s time [milk] ads stop pretending there are no health risks from drinking milk”, says PCRM, President Neal Bernard, M.D.
What is vitamin D toxicity and what is the risk? Donna Tinnerello MS, RD, CD/N is a registered dietitian with more than 10 years experience in HIV and nutrition. Tinnerello says, in order to get the amount of vitamin D the body needs one would have to drink a quart of milk a day. Studies show milk should not be counted on as the primary source of vitamin D, since studies have shown inconsistencies in the amounts of vitamin D in milk and too much vitamin D can be toxic. Vitamin D enables the body to absorb the mineral calcium and decreases bone calcium loss not calcium deficiency. Soymilk includes calcium and soy protein enhances calcium retention, keeping bones strong. A research team in the New England area found in testing 42 cow’s milk samples that only 12 %, or more effectively 5 of the samples contained the expected amount of vitamin D. Vitamin D may be taken as a supplement in pill form or from sunlight, which seems logically the safest alternative to ensure one gets enough of this important vitamin. Moreover, it is far better to get vitamins and minerals naturally from fruits and vegetables.
I noticed when I visited the United States department of agriculture web site and read the ingredients section for Liquid Whole Milk, that vitamins A and D are currently added to whole milk, partly skimmed milk, and skimmed milk. If these vitamins are added, why then, is milk considered so essential when a supplement in pill form would suffice.
An article from Discover magazine provides additional evidence of the harm in drinking milk. T. Colin Campbell, PhD., a professor at Cornell University, conducted a series of lab experiments at Cornell and Virginia Technology over a period of three years. He found that rats tended to develop liver cancer when fed casein, the main protein in milk. Dr. Campbell states that “cancer growth can be turned on or off by increasing or decreasing the amount of casein”.
In addition, an article by Dr. Michael Greger, a nationally known health and social issues speaker states, “Posilac (bST) is now widely used by dairy farmers to increase the amount of milk that their already overburdened cows produce. Because cows are not built to produce this much milk, they are prone to a painful udder infection called mastitis. When they are milked, pus and bacteria from the infection flow right along with the milk.” This has been linked to causing Crohn’s disease in humans.
As mentioned, somatic cells or pus cells are present in cow’s milk. The United States Department of Health and Human Services along with the Public Health Service and Food and Drug Administration issued a 280-page document, which contains protocols called The Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (P.M.O.) This PMO outlined that “abnormal” milk should be discarded. If a state’s Department of Agriculture allows milk with over 200,000 cell count to be sold in super markets, they are in violation of the PMO. In the April 25, 2002 article of Hoard’s Dairyman on page 342, is a listing of pus-cell counts for 48 states. Notably, every state listed were an average of 100,000 per millimeter of milk over the allowable amount of pus-cells.
The United States department of agriculture has ignored diseases linked to milk since 1908, when the first case of Johne’s disease in cows was discovered. The agency also ignores the fact that cattle related diseases caused the 1918 influenza pandemic. Publicizing such findings would ruin careers because of backlash from big business.
William Harris, M.D. director of Kaiser Permanente Vegetarian Lifestyle Clinic in Hawaii wrote Scientific Basis of Vegetarianism. Dr. Harris notes “all essential organic nutrients required in the human diet (essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, and vitamins) are made by plants and micro-organisms, not by animals. Animal foods contain those items too, but since most animals have roughly the same nutrient requirements as humans, we get the nutrients second-hand. The only unique ingredients in animal foods are really cholesterol and saturated fat.” This statement alone presents the logic in not consuming animals and their byproducts. As well, humans are the only species that drink milk from another species.
I had the opportunity to talk with a celebrity known in healthy eating circles, Marie Oser. She is a columnist for Vegetarian Times magazine, chef, and author of Soy of Cooking and The Enlightened Kitchen. Marie has been a Vegetarian since 1971, and became a non-dairy eating Vegan in 1990. After three weeks of eliminating dairy from her diet, her cholesterol levels dropped and she is much healthier. She raised her two children as Vegetarians from birth. When her son was 11 years old, Marie gave him the book Diet For A New America by John Robbins. After reading it, became a Vegan himself and her daughter became a Vegetarian after reading it at the age of 16.
In John Robbins book, he describes not only the health benefits in a Vegan non-dairy lifestyle but also the animal cruelty. In the cow-milking factory, cows are removed from grass grazing, caring for their young, and basking in the sun. In a factory, a milk cow spends her life either in a steel or concrete cage unable to turn around. She gets no exercise, is constantly pregnant to keep up milk production, and chained at the neck. Dairy cows produce 120 pounds of waste every day; this waste sinks into the ground and contaminates our water, rivers and streams. According to Morlais Owen, Chief Scientist for Welsh Water. “Milk is a very strong pollutant: it is about 400 times more polluting than untreated sewage. To put it another way, 1,000 gallons of milk has the same polluting potential as the untreated sewage from a town of 7,000 people.”
Considering the enormous health risks in consuming dairy products, milk does not ‘do a body good’. On the contrary, based on the material I have presented in this paper, I am convinced that milk and milk products are harmful to the human body and should be avoided for maximum health. Milk was intended for calves’ nutrition not human nourishment.
Oser, Marie. (Personal communication, March 5 & 6, 2003). Questionnaire and
Weil, Andrew, M.D. (1997). 8 Weeks To Optimum Health. (69, 212). New
York: The Ballantine Publishing Group, a division of Random House,
Cohen, Robert. & Heimlich, Jane. (January 1998). Milk: The Deadly Poison.
Argus Publishing, Inc. (1st ed.).
Oser, Marie. (personal communication, March 5 & 6, 2003). Questionnaire and
Oski, Frank, M.D. (1983). Don’t Drink Your Milk.
Plant, Jane. Your Life In Your Hands.
Robbins, John. (1987). Diet For A New America: How You Food Choices Affect
You Health, Happiness and The Future Of Life On Earth. HJ Kramer;
Weil, Andrew, M.D. (1997). 8 Weeks To Optimum Health. (69, 212). New
York: The Ballantine Publishing Group, a division of Random House,
Jennifer Mead is 28 years old, living in Agoura Hills, California. She is
the Executive Coordinator for Vanguard Media Corporation a Media Advisory
company in Westlake Village. She is extremely committed to
her work. She attends Moorpark College in the evenings, pursuing course
study towards an Associate Degree. She became a Vegetarian after
being assigned a research project, which she did on the health risks
of drinking milk and seeing the treatment of cows by milk producers
and beef sellers. Her hobbies include drawing and painting. She
also enjoys being outdoors in the sunshine.