Milk not a dangerous thing for people to drink


“If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins,” Benjamin Franklin said.

The latest installment from Beth Mendenhall, “A lobbying success story of milk: Unnatural, unhealthy, unwise” is again full of passion but little reason.

Is it really enough evidence that something is unnatural and we shouldn’t partake of it just because we are the only ones on the planet that do it? Then, in addition to drinking milk, we should immediately stop H1N1 flu vaccinations, driving cars and turning wind into energy because it is extremely unnatural.

Human digestive systems have adjusted to the inclusion of milk in the diet. The number of U.S. citizens who are lactose intolerant, according to the National Institutes of Health, is about 25 percent. This is much lower than the estimate of 60 percent of adults worldwide. Why? Racial differences explain the majority of the differences. Certain races, such as Native Americans, Asians and African-Americans, have a higher prevalence of lactose intolerance, where as Northern European descent individuals have a very low prevalence of lactose intolerance.

What about lactose intolerance? Lactose intolerance is a tricky thing in and of itself. The majority of people who claim to have lactose intolerance are self-diagnosed.

There have been at least three studies that have taken these self-diagnosed individuals and medically tested them and found between 30 to 50 percent of them to be misdiagnosed. Then when followed up with properly run, double-blind, cross-over studies, researchers found there was no difference detected between the participants when they were given an intact dairy product and then one without the lactose in it. This combined with a highly sensitive diagnostic test indicate that lactose intolerance estimates are likely significantly overestimating the true level of lactose intolerance.

What about milk and cancer? The word cancer evokes a wide range of fear and emotion in many people, and in the medical and academic community it is the focus of many programs. In total, the data indicates that dairy product consumption likely decreases the risk for colorectal cancer.

Studies looking at breast cancer and prostate cancer have had mixed findings with several finding calcium and vitamin D consumption protects against them and a few that have found no difference and some that may increase risks of prostate cancer at higher levels. Long story short, we cannot definitively say that dairy product consumption is protective, but neither does it put one at higher risk.

What about childhood diseases? The same researcher, Dr. Oski – cited in Ms. Mendenhall’s article about the link of milk to childhood ear infections – later repeated the study and found there was no connection at all.

As for bone health, dairy foods are an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D for growing children and are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. As for iron-deficiency anemia, there has not been a consistent finding of dairy consumption leading to iron deficiency when given to children after one year of age.

What about milk quality? Hormones are present in every living being. Everything we eat, plant or animal, contains some level of hormones. We even willingly take hormones for birth control and hormone therapies.

Several studies have been performed examining the composition of milk from conventional dairies using exogenous hormones to that of milk from organic dairies that do not use exogenous hormones and found no difference.

Milk is also not laden with antibiotics. All loads of milk are tested for antibiotics prior to being processed at the milk plant. If milk is found to contain unacceptable levels of antibiotics, it is refused and costs the dairy producer a large amount of money.

This nation’s farmers will continue to provide a safe, wholesome and safe food source at an affordable price. Only in a great nation like the U.S. would people constantly berate and ridicule the very hands that feed them.

-Dr. Ben Wileman is a guest columnist and a graduate student in veterinary medicine. Please send comments to