Today’s post is on a topic that is quite controversial. But I agree with one of America's Founding Fathers Benjamin Rush who said, “Controversy is only dreaded by the advocates of error.”
Even though this subject has caused some disagreements and lively discussions within the Save Our Bones community and beyond, I’m going to tackle it again in today’s post, in hopes to elucidate an additional seldom-mentioned detriment of drinking milk.
In fact, this is yet another confirmation that humans should not drink cow’s milk.
A Little-Known Fact: Very Few People Can Digest Milk
This might surprise you: the ability to digest milk is actually a genetic mutation.
Over and over, research has shown that the inability to digest milk and milk products (known as lactose intolerance) is actually the rule, not the exception. 60% of adults can’t digest milk, and when these individuals consume dairy products, they experience a host of unpleasant side effects.
What Does it Mean to Be Lactose Intolerant?
Often confused with a milk allergy, which is entirely different, lactose intolerance refers to the inability to digest milk due to the lack of an enzyme called lactase. Lactase is needed to digest lactose, the kind of sugar found in milk. These undigested sugars then end up in the large intestine, where they ferment, causing inflammation, painful gas, diarrhea, and other unpleasant and painful symptoms.
It’s actually normal to lack lactase; it typically stops being produced by the body between the ages of two and five. But for a small number of people, a genetic mutation causes the body to keep producing lactase. For these people, milk and milk products do not cause the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Because the ability to digest milk is actually the rarity, scientists prefer to call those who can digest milk “lactase persistent.” It makes more sense than labeling those who can’t digest milk “lactose intolerant,” because that’s actually the norm.
Lactose Intolerance is Not a Modern Phenomenon
Many people think that lactose intolerance is a product of our modern lifestyle, or perhaps a byproduct of unhealthy eating habits. But according to a recent University College London study,1 the genetic mutation that allows some people to digest milk occurred among dairy farmers living in the central Balkans and central Europe around 7,500 years ago. Another genetic mutation for lactase persistence occurred a bit more recently (between 2,700 and 6,800 years ago) among small populations of cattle herders in Africa.
These mutations indicate a couple of key things.
First, prior to the genetic mutations, the entire world population would have been lactose intolerant. And after the mutations occurred, most of the world’s ancient people were still lactose intolerant. That hardly qualifies as a modern problem.
Milk = Inflammation
Lactose-intolerant people – which include most of us – experience an inflammatory response in their bodies when they drink milk. That’s what causes all those unpleasant symptoms mentioned above – it’s the body’s response to the undigested milk sugar. And inflammation is very harmful to your bones. In fact, studies have clearly shown the damage that chronic inflammation does to your bones,2 and according to research, inflammation is a major culprit in the development of osteoporosis.3
So when we put it all together, it’s clear that milk, which causes inflammation in most people, also causes low bone density.
If You Can Digest Milk, Does it Still Hurt Your Bones?
Absolutely. Even if you are among the minority of people who are lactase persistent, or if you consume lactose-free dairy products, milk can still harm your bones because, among other things, the proteins in milk acidify the body’s pH. As those on the Osteoporosis Reversal Program know, an acidic environment in the body leads to bone loss. This is because your body will attempt to neutralize the acidic surroundings by leaching calcium, an acid neutralizer, from your bones.
But I’ve Been Drinking Milk all My Life!
With osteoporosis on the rise, one of the questions you must ask yourself is whether or not “what you’ve always done” are the right things. After all, when there’s a problem as widespread as osteoporosis, it’s wise to take a step back and evaluate your habits, diets, and lifestyle. Because surely, some of the things you’ve been told are good for your bones aren’t good for your bones after all.
Just because a myth is persistent, doesn’t mean it’s valid. Did you know that black cats are still the hardest animals to adopt from animal rescue centers? After thousands of years, people still believe the myth that black cats are bad luck, even though this is patently false.
It’s the same way with bone health. So how can you sort through what’s good for your bones, what isn’t, what you’ve always been told, etc.? How do you figure out what’s truly healthy?
Good News: You Don’t Have to Figure it all Out…
Because it’s already been done! The Osteoporosis Reversal Program has already sifted through all the research, science, and myth to bring you the healthy truth. And the Program presents all this information in clear, easy-to-follow language with practical applications like the Recipe Sampler and Doctor Dialogues.
Till next time,
1 Itan Y, Powell A, Beaumont MA, Burger J, Thomas MG (2009) “The Origins of Lactase Persistence in Europe.” PLoS Comput Biol 5(8): e1000491. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000491
2 Paganelli, M., et al. “Inflammation is the main determinant of low bone density in pediatric inflammatory bowel disease.” Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. 2007 April; 13(4): 416-23. Web. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17206686
3 McLean, RR. “Proinflammatory cytokines and osteoporosis.” Current Osteoporosis Reports. 2009 Dec.; (7)4: 134-9. Web. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19968917