The realisation is growing that changing our diet can have an enormous impact on health – for better or worse. But what constitutes healthy food – and unhealthy – is not universally agreed and seems to change on a weekly basis. Cow’s milk is vigorously defended by the dairy industry and they have managed to turn it into a national icon. Woe-betide anyone who challenges their sacred cow. Not surprisingly, the resulting controversy is confusing. On the one hand consumers are told that milk is essential for good bone health while on the other, that it causes allergies, illness and disease.
Of course we need calcium for bones and teeth as well as blood clotting, muscle function and regulating the heart’s rhythm. But no matter how loudly the dairy industry shouts, an increasing body of evidence begs the question: is cow’s milk really the best source of calcium? It certainly is not for most of the world’s people. Claims that dairy is best carry strong overtones of cultural imperialism and simply ignore the 70 per cent of the global population who obtain their calcium from other sources – people such as the Japanese who traditionally have consumed no dairy yet have far better health than British people and live considerably longer.
Milk has been part of the human diet for less than 8,000 years – this is very recent in evolutionary terms. It is not just that most people don’t drink it – they cannot because their bodies will not tolerate it. Up to 100 per cent of some ethnic groups are lactose intolerant. It’s obvious that the claims made for milk ignore the research and owe more to marketing hype than science.
The dairy industry has spent many years and many millions promoting the notion that cow’s milk is good for us through expensive advertising campaigns such as the ‘White Stuff’ – fronted by the milk-moustachioed celebrity, Nell McAndrew. Now, because of an increasing body of evidence, there are signs of a growing realisation that milk is neither natural nor healthy.
The very people who are most aggressively targeted by the dairy industry – the young – are those most at risk of being damaged by milk. It is not just the few per cent under the age of one who will develop allergies but those likely to develop type 1 diabetes from cow’s milk infant formula. The evidence is convincing even though the mechanism may not yet be fully understood. This is not the time to be withdrawing support from the midwives and infant feeding coordinators, who encourage breastfeeding in parts of the country with the lowest uptake.
Author of the world-famous book, Baby and Child Care, Dr Benjamin Spock, withdrew his support for cow’s milk in 1998. In 1999, a study published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery reported that gastrointestinal bleeding caused by an allergic response to milk was a major cause of rectal bleeding in infancy, leading to iron-deficiency anaemia. This is now universally accepted. The World Health Organisation recommends that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life in preference to being given cow’s milk or soya formulas.
But it’s not all about infants; cow’s milk was linked to teenage acne in a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. In the same year, the journal Pediatrics published a review article concluding that there is scant evidence that consuming more milk and dairy products promotes better bone health in either children or adolescents. Since then, more evidence has built on these findings. T. Colin Campbell, professor emeritus of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University, culminated a lifetime of research with The China Study, one of the most comprehensive nutritional studies ever undertaken. Campbell agrees there is little evidence to show that increasing calcium intake will prevent fractures. In fact, research is moving in the opposite direction, showing that the more dairy and animal protein that is consumed, the higher the incidence of osteoporosis.
Cow’s milk is clearly implicated in disease in both the young and old. Both UK arthritis charities, Arthritis Care and the Arthritis Research UK, agree that moving away from fatty foods such as meat and dairy and towards a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains can help people with arthritis. The rate at which some cancers are increasing is also a matter of concern. When Professor Jane Plant wrote Your Life in Your Hands, an account of how she overcame breast cancer by eliminating dairy, one in 10 UK women were affected by the disease. That was in 2000. When this report was first written in 2006, the figure had gone up to one in nine women. Now in 2014, a shocking one in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives!
Female breast cancer incidence rates in Britain have increased by almost 70 per cent since the mid-1970s. Just in the last ten years they have gone up by six per cent. In rural China, on the other hand, where very little if any dairy is consumed, just one in 10,000 women gets breast cancer. These figures should be shouted from the rooftops as a basis for action. Plant and Campbell – and many others for that matter – are in no doubt that cow’s milk and dairy foods are responsible.
A point that is consistently overlooked is that two-thirds of the UK’s milk comes from pregnant cows and as every mum knows, hormone levels during pregnancy can rise dramatically. This is no laughing matter as prostate, ovarian and colorectal cancer are all implicated. These cancers and the so-called diseases of affluence, such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and even osteoporosis, occur increasingly in the countries that consume the most dairy products. It is not rocket science… cow’s milk and dairy products cause disease.
The conclusions of this report are drawn from a huge body of peer-reviewed research from academic institutions all around the world. While the majority was done in an academic environment involving clinical trials or statistical analysis, some is of a more personal nature. Professor Jane Plant’s spirit and courage in overcoming breast cancer through the elimination of all dairy could not fail to inspire the increasing number of women who are affected by this type of cancer.
Plant did not set out to promote one type of diet above another but as a scientist (geochemist) she took an analytical approach to the problem of cancer and ultimately found the solution: a dairy-free diet. Similarly, what initiated Campbell’s extensive China study was not an attempt to justify or promote vegetarianism. In fact, Campbell grew up on a farm in northern Virginia and for much of his life ate the typical North American diet high in meat, eggs, whole milk and butter. He began his academic life trying to increase animal protein production. It was evidence from his own laboratory research that pointed an accusing finger at animal protein as a trigger for many diseases and he set out to confirm it through epidemiological research. For health reasons, he and his family now eat a vegan diet.
The World Health Organisation believes that the only way people can improve their health is through informed opinion and their own, active co-operation. We agree! As a science-based health charity, Viva!Health provides unbiased information on which people can make informed choices. We monitor and interpret scientific research on diet and health and communicate those findings to the public, health professionals, schools and food manufacturers. Importantly, we have no commercial or vested interests and offer a vital – and what sometimes feels like a solitary – source of accurate and unbiased information.
This report combines the findings of over 400 scientific papers from reputable peer-reviewed journals such as the British Medical Journal and the Lancet. The research is clear – the consumption of cow’s milk and dairy products is linked to the development of teenage acne, allergies, arthritis, some cancers, colic, constipation, coronary heart disease, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, dementia, ear infection, food poisoning, gallstones, kidney disease, migraine, autoimmune conditions, including multiple sclerosis, overweight, obesity and osteoporosis.
As a species, we do not need saturated animal fat, animal protein or cholesterol. We do not need the trans fatty acids in processed foods. We do not need salt and sugar in their current quantities. We do need to move towards a plant-based, whole grain diet containing a wide range of fruits, vegetables, grains, pulses, nuts and seeds for the nutrients that will promote a long and healthy life.
These, of course, are the same foods which contain protection against disease in the form of antioxidants and fibre. What is killing the Western world are the degenerative diseases associated with affluence. It is clear that the same diet that is good for preventing cancer is also good for preventing heart disease, obesity, diabetes and so on.
The official approach to the causes of all these diseases remains extremely equivocal and dietary advice seems to be based far more on not upsetting particular vested interests than improving the public’s health. As a consequence, no matter how much money is thrown at the NHS, the incidence of all these diseases goes on increasing remorselessly because public health policy is geared almost exclusively towards cure rather than prevention. It is predicted that by 2020 almost one in two people (47 per cent) will get cancer in their lifetime and that by 2035 the NHS will be spending 17 per cent of its entire budget on treating diabetes alone. This is clearly unsustainable and we need to start looking for preventative measures.
Only when prevention assumes the pre-eminence it should have will the avoidance of dairy and other animal products be seen as central to improving public health. Meanwhile, it is left to individuals to discover what they can about diet and heath while Government health policy continues to kill us and sows the seeds for the destruction of our own children’s health, most of which will germinate in early adulthood. It is a national disgrace and an evolutionary disaster.