by David Rowland PhD, RNC

Humans are the only mammals that (a) drink milk after the weaning period, and (b) drink the milk of other animals. Nature intended each form of milk to be the ideal introductory food for the young of each species -- until its digestive tract is fully developed. After each animal has no more need for its mother’s milk, it loses its ability to digest milk. Nature is economical. It stops producing enzymes that are no longer needed. Whether cow’s milk is a good food for humans depends on two considerations: (a) how appropriate is cow’s milk to human nutrition, and (b) how long do humans maintain their ability to digest milk?


Cow’s milk is the ideal food for calves. It provides the nutrients they need to help them develop into very large, slow-moving, not-so-intelligent adults. Human infants have different nutritional needs. Thus, the milks of the two species are quite different. Lactose (milk sugar): Human milk contains much more lactose than cow’s milk. It is needed for the far greater brain development in humans over animals, because galactose (a constituent of lactose) is needed to develop the myelin sheath which insulates all nerves in the body. The beta-lactose in human milk is able to produce and maintain a pure bacillus bifidus flora in the intestines of babies. The alpha-lactose found in cow’s milk can neither produce nor maintain these important flora -- which inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria and also produce B-vitamins and lactic acid.

Protein: Cow’s milk contains two to three times as much protein as human milk. The protein of cow’s milk is approximately 85 per cent casein and 15 per cent whey protein (lactalbumin and lactoglobulin). Human milk contains only about 40 per cent casein and 60 per cent whey protein. Whey proteins are water soluble and easier to digest than casein, which tends to form a curd in the stomach -- accounting for the tendency of cow’s milk to be constipating to many people. Almost 100 per cent of the protein in human milk is digested by infants. Only about 50 per cent of the protein in cow’s milk is available to human infants; some of the remaining 50 per cent has to be excreted through their tiny kidneys.

Minerals: Cow’s milk has three or four times the mineral content of human milk, including about seven times as much phosphorus and five times as much sodium.

Fatty Acids: Human milk contains about seven per cent linoleic acid. Cow’s milk contains only about three per cent linoleic acid. Insufficient amounts of essential fatty acids in the diet can cause diarrhea, diaper rash and eczema.
Vitamins: Human milk has approximately 10 times as much vitamin E and twice as much vitamin A as cow’s milk.
Milk is not essential to a healthy diet.

Mother’s milk is obviously the ideal food for babies. Nature made it that way on purpose. The sooner cow’s milk is introduced into the infant’s diet, the more likely it is that such child may succumb to nutritional imbalances and potential health problems. It is very much an individual matter, however. Many babies do thrive on cow’s milk, in spite of its nutritional limitations.

For many older children and adults, milk is simply a convenience food. It provides a smorgasbord of nutrients in an easy-to-take format. It is not, however, essential to a healthy diet.

Where Does Calcium Come From?

Milk products are definitely a good source of calcium. No question. The Dairy Bureau makes this point loud and clear in its advertising -- so much so that many people believe that dairy products are the only reliable source of dietary calcium. Not true.

Where do cows get the calcium that they put into their milk? It is not from milk. Cows don’t drink it. The calcium that ends up in milk comes from the grains and grasses that cattle eat.

Calcium is found in many, many foods. Better sources include salmon, sardines, beef liver, leafy vegetables, soy-tofu, molasses, artichokes, broccoli, baked beans, oranges, string beans, parsnips, lima beans, salad greens, sesame seeds, eggs, peanuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, peas, dried beans, and almonds.

The calcium intake of hunter-gatherer tribes has been found to be in excess of 1,500 mg. daily. These people consume no dairy products, yet their bones are sturdy -- just from eating the natural foods that they catch, gather or forage.

Many people are concerned about the threat of osteoporosis (loss of bone density) as they get older. Osteoporosis is a condition that involves poor calcium metabolism and not simply poor calcium intake. For adults to maintain strong bones it is necessary -- as a minimum -- (a) to exercise regularly, (b) to produce enough stomach acid to break down and absorb calcium, (c) to ingest enough magnesium to maintain the solubility of calcium, (d) to have adequate intake of vitamins C and D, and (e) to avoid caffeine, alcohol and sugar -- three dietary factors that cause excretion of calcium. It is a gross oversimplification to suggest that all that one needs to do to avoid osteoporosis is to increase calcium intake.


There is some concern that the calcium in dairy products may be in disproportionate amounts for adult consumption. According to Dr. Zoltan Rona, “Dairy products are very high in calcium but low in magnesium. An intake of more than three glasses of milk per day can produce a calcium/magnesium imbalance and lead to symptoms of magnesium deficiency such as insomnia, constipation, anxiety, irritability, heart-beat irregularities and muscle spasms.”
Recent research suggests that women should not drink a lot of milk when they are pregnant. Its high levels of calcium, phosphorus and fat may reduce the body’s ability to absorb magnesium -- and magnesium deficiency may be involved in several disorders of pregnancy, such as muscle cramping, hypertension, vasospasms, coagulation defects and premature delivery. Women normally get the recommended 1,200 mg. of calcium daily from parts of their diet other than milk, or in supplements given during pregnancy. Yet, pregnant women typically take in only a third to one half as much magnesium as they need.


Cow’s milk is the most common food allergen in North America. Since it causes a wide variety of symptoms which are not usually severe, it is often overlooked. Doctors who constantly look for milk allergy find it to be amazingly common. (And, doctors who do not know how to look for it do not find it.) Symptoms of cow’s milk allergy vary from person to person and may include any of the following: Vomiting, diarrhea, runny nose, nasal congestion, excessive mucus, bronchial infections, asthma, ear infections, dermatitis, eczema, hives, pallor, gastrointestinal problems, insomnia, headache, tension, fatigue, hyperactivity, or bed-wetting. Symptoms may occur as early as two to four weeks of age, or later during the preschool years.

Some people who are allergic to milk may experience strong cravings for it (or for cheese). That is because during the allergic response they may feel a bit of an adrenaline rush, which tends to perk up their energy. This boost is usually followed by a letdown or crash -- thus prompting them to seek another lift.


Lactose (milk sugar) requires lactase (an enzyme produced in the gut) in order to be digested. If there is little or no lactase activity in the intestines, the lactose ferments -- causing gas, bloating, abdominal pain, loose frothy stools, or diarrhea. Sometimes the gastrointestinal symptoms of a lactose intolerance are minimal and the person simply suffers from undue fatigue. And the nondigestibility of lactose by these people means that they lose some of the nutritional value of the milk.

Lactose intolerance accompanies diseases that damage the intestine, such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and malabsorption syndrome -- and may also be a factor in many cases of colitis, irritable bowel, spastic colon and gastroenteritis.

On a worldwide basis, most adults are unable to digest lactose (milk sugar).
A small percentage of people are born with a lactose intolerance; however, its incidence increases significantly with age. That is because, genetically speaking, the human body was not designed to drink milk after the weaning period. In most cultures the world over, adults do not drink milk; they do not need the lactase enzyme; and their bodies stop producing it.

Blacks living in North America have been found to be from 72 to 77 per cent lactose intolerant. Chinese and Malays may be up to 100 per cent lactose intolerant. A high incidence of lactose intolerance has also been found among Colombians and Canadian native peoples, Jamaican children, Mexicans and Mexican Americans. A study of nonwhite children living in Boston revealed a lactose intolerance rate of 72 per cent among those eight to nine years of age. Other studies suggest the following approximate percentages of lactose intolerance: Bantu’s 90, This 90, Filipinos 90, Greek Cypriots 85, Japanese 85, Taiwanese 85, Greenland Intuit 80, Arabs 78, Ashkenazic Jews 78, Peruvians 70, Israeli Jews 58, Indians 50.

Some cultures who consume milk as a dietary staple have, over thousands of years, genetically adapted so that they can produce lactase throughout adult life. For example, the Fulani tribe of northern Nigeria (nomadic dairy herders) and the dairying tribes of Uganda have a substantially lower lactose intolerance rate of about 20 per cent. In Northern Europe, where dairying has been practiced for many centuries, the incidence of lactose intolerance is approximately 15 per cent. On the other hand, the Yorubo and Ibo tribes of Nigeria (who raise no cattle and drink no milk after weaning) become 99 per cent lactose intolerant between eighteen months and three years of age.
To simplify: Caucasian adults are about 15 per cent lactose intolerant, non-Caucasians from about 70 per cent to 90 per cent. people typically come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. The 1991 census suggests that about 60 per cent are of European origin; the other 40 per cent are from Asian, African, Latin/Central/South American, Caribbean, aboriginal, other or multiple origin. When all of the genetic predisposition's are considered, it is very likely that over one third of all adult people may be lactose intolerant. That’s at least five million people.

Dairy is Big Business

Dairy sales in Canada top $8 billion annually. Taxpayers subsidize this industry to the tune of $230 million. The Dairy Bureau of Canada is the nation’s 46th largest advertiser. It spends over $15 million annually to convince us that we need to consume its products.

The dairy industry has a powerful influence on nutrition education. Earlier in this century there were only three “food groups”. (Dairy products used to be included with the protein/meat/fish group.) Thanks to successful lobbying, “Canada’s Food Guide” now includes four: Diary products presently have a unique category of their own. This very clear, government sanctioned message tells people that they cannot be healthy unless they consume milk products every day. This is advice inspired more by profit than concern for health. And it is potentially harmful to millions of people.

Five Million people may be lactose intolerant

The symptoms of milk allergy and lactose intolerance tend to be chronic, vague and fleeting. Most people with these sensitivities are not aware of the cause. All they know is that they don’t feel well and they don’t know why. Because they believe the multi-million dollar dairy publicity, they do not suspect milk could be a problem. In fact, many of them continue to force milk down themselves and their allergic or intolerant children in the mistaken belief that they can’t be healthy without it.

The Dairy Bureau plays down the incidence of lactose intolerance, claiming that it affects only a tiny percentage of people. Their advice to lactose intolerant people is to drink less milk, drink lactose reduced milk, or eat yogurt or cheeses. (That is their story and they are sticking to it; they have only one product and one point of view to sell.) To most lactose intolerant people, however, any amount of lactose creates an extra stress on the body.

Biochemical Individuality Milk is neither a healthy food nor an unhealthy food. It is just a food. Whether or not it is good for your body or harmful to it depends on what kind of body you have. You are not a statistic; you are a unique individual. You are either sensitive to milk or you are not. It makes no difference how many others may or may not be like you.

Dairy is an $8 billion dollar industry in Canada.

If you have no allergy or intolerance to it, milk can be part of a healthy diet. But it is not necessary to good health. It is simply an option that you can choose.

If you are allergic to or intolerant of milk, then it acts in your body more like a slow poison than a food. You may not experience obvious symptoms; however, even tiny amounts may cause stress. They may cause your immune processes to work overtime, thus depleting your energy reserves and contributing to chronic fatigue. Lactose reduced milk has about 90 per cent of its lactose content reduced by the addition of lactase enzyme during the manufacturing process. (It is not possible to totally eliminate all lactose by this method.) Yogurt usually has about 70 per cent of its lactose content reduced by bacterial action. Some cheeses are very low in lactose. Supplementary lactase enzymes are available in capsules, but taking them by mouth is an inefficient replacement for lactase that would ordinarily be produced in the intestines in the exact places where it is needed. So why take chances? A little bit of a poison is still a poison. You would not try to see how much arsenic you could get away with every day would you? The lactose tolerance test is a simple medical procedure that will let you know for sure. Or you can simply stop consuming all milk products for at least three weeks to see if the condition improves.
If you don’t know if you are sensitive to milk and would like to find out -- and/or if you would like more information about healthy alternatives to milk, you may find the services of a holistic medical doctor, naturopathic doctor or nutritional consultant to be most helpful. Many of these counselors devote much of their time to the detection and management of food sensitivities.



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