Graham Butler, BSc, CNPA, RH
A glass of cold, fresh milk is an inviting wholesome image seen daily in the media. This marketing image belies the fact that modern milk production is a cornerstone of processed food production.
A glass of cold, fresh milk is an inviting wholesome image
seen daily in the media. This marketing image belies the fact that modern milk production is a cornerstone of processed food production. Unless you purchase organic milk, the milk you buy in the supermarket or at the corner grocer is no longer "natural," but undergoes a host of processes including pasteurization and homogenization. The resulting product is a pale image of its former self, its digestibility and nutritional value having been compromised, often contributing to human ailments ranging from lactose intolerance and heart disease to life-threatening allergies. What follows are some problems brought about by conventional dairy processing.
Antibiotics and Steroids
Milk processing begins when cows are fed antibiotics to treat illnesses including mastitis (infection of the udder). This practice leads to antibiotic residues in cow's milk, which is compounded by the fact that after milking, the product is shipped to a central collection facility where residues effectively contaminate the entire supply. This is of concern to Health Canada because constant low-level exposure to antibiotics leads to allergies in individuals and the development of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains. Although strict quarantine procedures for treated animals are recommended by many prominent research institutions, including Guelph University in Ontario, the reality is that the therapeutic and preventive use of antibiotics is too widespread a practice to be controlled through voluntary quarantine guidelines.
Synthetic steroids, used to boost milk production in the United States, are not currently authorized for use in Canada. Concerns regarding their safety, including indications that they may increase the incidence of some cancers, have so far prevented licensing here. Naturally occurring progesterone, though, is another matter. According to Dr. Frank Oski, former head of pediatrics at John Hopkins University and author of Don't Drink Your Milk, 80 percent of lactating cows are pregnant. The milk from these cows is enriched in progesterone, a hormone that can stimulate the production of androgens in humans (i.e., disrupt human hormone balance). This may contribute to several medical conditions, including acne.
Regulations typically require the pasteurization or heating of raw milk to between 63 and 72 degrees Celcius to kill any disease-causing bacteria. The downside of this, as indicated in European studies, is that the amount of heat used in pasteurization is sufficient to denature milk, damaging its protein structure and significantly impairing the milk's absorption and
nutritional value. It also destroys a host of naturally occurring digestive enzymes, including lactase, contributing to lactose intolerance. Commercial sterilization or ultra-high-temperature treatment, which greatly extends shelf life, raises pasteurization temperatures to 100 C, compounding the problem further .
A process that reduces the size of fat globules in milk to about a quarter of their original size, homogenization prevents cream from separating and rising to the top of containers, and extends shelf life. It also allows the enzyme xanthine oxidase to pass intact into the bloodstream where it attacks tissue in the artery walls and heart muscle. This causes lesions that the body tries to heal with a protective layer of cholesterol. The result: scar tissue, calcified plaques and a buildup of cholesterol and other fatty deposits known as arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis.
Nutritious Source of Calcium?
Milk is often touted as a good source of essential nutrients, including calcium. On the face of it, this is true. However, some researchers and natural health practitioners believe that the high phosphorus content of cow's milk, unlike human milk, promotes calcium excretion (loss), negating the perceived benefits. The trend toward de-fatted milk products also inhibits the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamins A and D, the latter critical to calcium uptake. In addition, cow's milk is deficient in lecithin and DHA, nutrients found in breast milk that support mental development in humans, specifically children.
Most alternatives to milk, cheese, sour cream, cream cheese and other dairy products are lactose-free, although the majority of cheese alternatives contain casein, a milk protein. Calcium-enriched milk substitutes are available, but better yet, explore the rich sources of calcium found in dark green leafy vegetables, almonds and soy products such as tofu.
For those who still want to use milk, purchase certified organic cow's milk or goat's milk. These are free of antibiotics, agri-chemicals and homogenization, with little risk of harmful residues. Goat milk is actually much closer to human milk compositionally than cow's milk. Environmentally sound, small-scale dairy operations lead to fewer waste disposal problems, less methane-based air pollution and better health. Although many supermarkets now carry dairy alternatives, you will find the best selection at health food stores.
What's in a Carton of Commercially Produced Milk?
Lactose Intolerance and Milk (dairy) Allergies
Many find lactose difficult to digest due to the absence of the digestive enzyme 'lactase.' This is particularly common in, although not limited to, those of Asiatic or African ancestry. Gaseous indigestion is often indicative of this condition. Lactose intolerance also characterizes certain
disorders such as celiac disease. Those who are mildly intolerant sometimes find it possible to digest yogurt (live-culture variety) or hard cheeses, products naturally low in lactose. Others with greater intolerance usually find it necessary to forgo dairy products altogether. Enzyme supplements can sometimes prove useful.
Cow's milk is by far the most common food allergy among children. It is usually characterized by acute symptoms such as asthma, digestive problems and eczema. The immature digestive system typical of young children has difficulty digesting protein, particularly in large quantities. Undigested molecules pass through the small intestine and are tagged by the immune system as antigens (substances that stimulate an allergic reaction). The denatured character of pasteurized cow's milk protein, combined with the fact that it has about three times the protein of human milk, compounds the problem. Conservative estimates based on US figures suggest that food allergies as a whole affect approximately eight per cent of children. More liberal estimates range as high as 50 percent, with overall estimates for children and adults varying from 25 to 40 percent.
Naturopathic physicians believe childhood food allergies likely evolve from an acute phase to a chronic phase in adults, contributing to a host of problems including digestive disorders and autoimmune diseases.
Up to 2.5 percent of the US population is now allergic to penicillin, with 400 related deaths reported in 2001. This is in large part believed to be the result of the use of antibiotics in agricultural animals.