Milk: It Does a Body Good -- or Does It?
Oct. 13, 2000 -- There are three kinds of people in the world:
those who like milk and believe it offers a whole nutritional package, those
who don't like milk, and those who not only don't like milk but also claim it
is hazardous to your health.
The dispute was vividly illustrated recently when the People
for the Ethical Treatment of Animals took the anti-milk message to a Times
Square billboard with a picture of Mayor Rudolph Guilliani sporting a milk
mustache next to the headline: "Got prostate cancer?"
The billboard has been pulled but the controversy lingers: The
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) says that there are good
data to suggest that consumption of milk and other dairy products does increase
the risk of prostate cancer. It makes that claim based on research from the
landmark Physicians' Health Study suggesting that men who consume more than 2.5
servings of dairy products daily have a 30% increased risk of prostate cancer.
That, says PCRM staff dietician Brie Turner, MS, RD, is a good reason for
"men to decrease or eliminate dairy products from their diets, especially
because men don't have the same risk for osteoporosis as women."
Taking an opposing position, Ruth Kava, PhD, RD, director of
nutrition at the American Council on Science and Health in New York, says there
are "no good or bad foods. Just good or bad diets." Moreover, Kava says
that in some studies "an increased risk of 30% does not easily translate
into clinical significance."
Turner says most Americans have been raised to revere milk as a
wholesome source of needed calcium and other proteins, but she says that even
small children face health risks from consumption of cow's milk. For example,
she says a majority of Asian, Native American, and African-American children
are lactose intolerant and can't drink milk. Additionally, she says that some
studies suggest that milk promotes the development of type 1 diabetes because a
specific protein in dairy products may cause damage to the body's ability to
regulate sugars in the blood and thus increases the risk for type 1
Several studies of a possible type 1 diabetes/milk link have
been published and the results are ambiguous Hillary Wright, RD, MEd,
nutritionist for Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston, tells WebMD.
"I have two brothers with type 1 diabetes and so I am interested in this
area. I have never seen firm evidence to suggest that cow's milk promotes
However, a negative for milk is "the reports in some cancer
prevention and cancer survivor literature that milk -- because of bovine growth
hormones taken by cows -- can increase the risk of cancer or cancer recurrence.
Many times oncologists will recommend that patients be taken off dairy products
because of this fear," says Wright.