Viva! Health is a science-based charity that promotes human health through the promotion of a vegetarian or vegan diet. The VVF monitors and interprets research that links diet to health – explaining in simple terms how what we eat affects us, in both positive and negative ways. The VVF communicates this information to the media, the public, health professionals, schools and food manufacturers so providing accurate information on which to make informed choices.
Please note: the welfare aspects of dairy farming are not covered here. For information on British dairy farming and its impact on cow welfare please see Viva!’s referenced report The Dark Side of Dairy (T: 0117 944 1000).
There is hardly another controversy in health science more contentious than the role of cow’s milk and its products in our daily diet. Some wonder why we would even dare to question whether there are adverse health effects. For them, cow’s milk is Nature’s most perfect food. It builds strong bones and teeth and is a good source of calcium and protein. Besides, it represents a bucolic side of life where gentle, lowing cows, black and white, roam in lush green pastures. I know this, for I was raised on a family dairy farm, milking cows and walking those green pastures, then combining grain and putting up hay for the winter. I drank the milk, lots of it, and we often made our own ice-cream and butter.
Early in my research career at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Virginia Tech, I worked to promote better health by eating more meat, milk and eggs, what I believed to be ‘high-quality animal protein’. It was an obvious sequel to my own life on the farm and I was happy to believe that the American diet was the best in the world.
However, later I was the Campus Coordinator at Virginia Tech of a project in the Philippines working with malnourished children. The primary goal of the project was to ensure that the children were getting as much protein as possible.
In this project, however, I observed something quite unusual. Children who ate the highest protein diets – and particularly animal protein – were the ones most likely to get liver cancer. I began to review other reports from around the world that reflected the findings of my research in the Philippines.
Although it was heretical to say that animal protein wasn’t healthy, I started an in-depth study into the role of nutrition in the cause of cancer.
The research project culminated in a 20-year partnership of Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, a survey of diseases and lifestyle factors in rural China and Taiwan. More commonly known as the China Study, this project eventually produced more than 8,000 statistically significant associations between various dietary factors and disease.
This opportunity arose from a Chinese government survey of cancer mortality rates in 2,400 Chinese counties that showed remarkable concentrations of cancer in certain counties and much less so in others. We then organised an additional and unusually comprehensive and unique survey of diet and lifestyle characteristics that might help to explain these unusual geographic concentrations of cancer. Personally, I was interested in the broad based hypothesis that animal and plant-based foods, as characterised by their nutrient profiles, have opposing effects on the chronic, so-called Western diseases like cancer.
The results from this massive study, when considered in relation to our earlier research and that of others, convinced me that the diet having the broadest range of health benefits is one that is comprised of a variety of whole plant-based foods, but one that is also low in added fat, salt, sugar and highly processed foods. Remarkably, relatively low intakes of animal-based foods (such as dairy products and meat) in rural China were associated with biological conditions that favour the occurrence of the chronic diseases typically found in Western industrialised countries.
Then it was on to discovering how broad might be this dietary effect. My son, Tom, and I turned our attention to the research investigations of others. The published literature of these investigations is unimaginably huge. Moreover, the breadth of the health benefits of a plant-based diet is even far greater than our own research had indicated, with it reducing the risk of additional cancers, various cardiovascular diseases, diabetes (types I and II), multiple autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, psycho-neural diseases (eg attention deficit disorder, clinical depression, Alzheimer’s, cognitive dysfunction), eye disorders, kidney diseases, skin ailments and obesity amongst others.
Importantly, animal-based foods, as a group, have substantially different nutritional characteristics from plant-based foods and it is these nutritional characteristics, highly integrated at the metabolic level, that are chiefly responsible for the opposing effects of plant and animal-based foods on health and disease. Moreover, these effects involve countless food chemicals and exist throughout the range of consumption of these foods.
Of course, dairy foods have nutritional characteristics and disease associations that are consistent with other animal-based foods. Indeed, if anything, cow’s milk and its products appear to be even more problematic than other animal-based foods.
Unfortunately the scientific literature on the characteristics and associations of dairy with health and disease seem to have been more obscured from public view than is the case for other animal-based foods. For example, research 40-60 years ago had shown that cow’s milk proteins (casein and lactalbumin) markedly elevated blood cholesterol and its parallel formation of atherosclerotic plaques. More recently, much more evidence on the adverse health effects of cow’s milk have accumulated, and much of it has been ably reviewed in this excellent report which is timely, broad in scope and profound in its consistency.
And finally, two other observations need attention. First, it is likely that the adverse dairy effects observed in many studies are underestimated because they have been observed in humans where the dairy-like nutritional effect already has been maximised by other animal-based foods. Second, imprecise measurement of risk factors and outcomes will mathematically attenuate the real effect.
It is not that these various dairy effects are independently proven to be true beyond doubt, any more than tobacco use is independently proven to cause lung cancer and heart disease. Rather, it is the weight and breadth of the evidence, along with its biological plausibility, that should determine the reliability of the evidence. Using these criteria, there is no doubt that this evidence on dairy is sufficient, at a minimum, to question the rather specious claims of health for cow's milk that have been made by the industry and its supporters and apologists.
I know well that this information deeply troubles many people, as it did me. But, at some point, we must give public voice to these observations and, if necessary, to sponsor discourse that is candid, openly transparent and, as much as possible, free of commercial bias.
T. Colin Campbell, PhD
Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
I was delighted to be asked to write a foreword for this excellent and well-researched report into the adverse health impacts of dairy consumption on human health. My book, Your Life in Your Hands, describes how giving up dairy produce has helped me and other women to overcome metastatic breast cancer. When it was first published in 2000, I faced a barrage of criticism from orthodox doctors, charities and nutritionists. All of them, for whatever reason, poured scorn on the idea that consuming dairy could be bad for health. This may have been because, as Dr Justine Butler shows in this report, we have all been subjected to relentless publicity from the industry that tries to persuade us that dairy is wholesome, natural and good for our health. It is a measure of how far medical opinion has changed in the last few years that in 2005 I was awarded a life fellowship of the Royal Society of Medicine in recognition of my contribution to science through my books. We have a long way to go, however, until the truth about dairy is generally accepted, so this report is both timely and very welcome.
When I was carrying out the research for Your Life in Your Hands, which includes more than 500 references from the peer reviewed scientific literature, I was astonished at just how much information was available on the role of dairy produce in promoting disease – not only breast, prostate, ovarian and other cancers but also other conditions ranging from eczema and other allergic conditions to heart disease and diabetes. Despite all the criticism of my books, no one has presented a single scientific fact that persuades me to change one sentence of what I wrote in 2000 – and as a trained scientist I would have done that had I been given convincing evidence that I was wrong or had misunderstood some issue. Instead, the evidence against consuming dairy produce has continued to mount, as I detailed in the second and third editions ofYour Life in Your Hands, and in my other books, Prostate Cancer, Osteoporosis (yes – there is even a compelling case against dairy produce, especially cheese, in the development of this crippling bone disease) and Eating for Better Health. This new report takes the evidence on the adverse human health impacts of dairy further.
What I had not appreciated until I attended the excellent and thought-provoking lecture given by Juliet Gellatley of Viva! and Viva! Health at the Incredible Veggie Show in London last year was the true nature of the modern dairy industry. It is hard to forget some of the images of cruelty that she presented then. This report exposes the nature of the modern industrialised dairy industry and the serious implications that this has for our health. I do hope that White Lies receives the recognition it deserves and that this will embolden politicians to take a stand against the dairy industry. To do so would improve human health, improve the environment, address serious issues of animal welfare and save the taxpayer a great deal of money spent in subsidising an industry that was the centre of the BSE crisis, the foot and mouth disease disaster and now the bovine tuberculosis problem.
Cow’s milk is a perfect food for a rapidly growing calf but that doesn’t mean it is good for human babies – or adults! If you want to improve your health by making just one change to your diet, I recommend you eliminate all dairy from the diet.
Professor Jane Plant CBE (DSc, CEng)
Life Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine
Professor of Applied Geochemistry
Imperial College, London