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Milk: It Does a Body Good -- or Does It?

By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Aman Shah, MD

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 diabetes.

 

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 diabetes."

 

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.

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