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The Properties of Milk

by June Butlin(more info)

listed in nutrition, originally published in issue 56 - September 2000

Milk is a very important food for all mammals as it provides optimum nutrition for growth and development. However, when the milk of each mammalian species, whether goats, elephants, cows, humans, lions or wolves is analyzed, the findings are that it varies in composition and nutrient value. This is because the milk from each mammal is designed to meet the nutritional needs of their offspring.

We would, therefore, not expect to feed goats' milk to lion cubs or wolves' milk to calves; yet we do feed cows' milk to babies! Also cows' milk and cows' milk products are consumed extensively by adults, which is also unusual, as no other mammal except the domestic cat consumes milk after the weaning period.

Statistics in this country reveal that humans are convinced that milk is necessary for the development of babies after weaning, for strong bones in children, and to prevent osteoporosis in women after the menopause. However, in East Asia, Africa and South America people regard cows milk as unfit for consumption by human beings. With such conflicting views I would like to explore the properties of milk as it may not be the superfood it is reputed to be, and may actually cause problems for some people.

The first milk a baby receives is colostrum, which is rich in secretory IGA immunoglobulins and other antibodies, which help to build up the baby's defence against infection caused by bacteria and viruses. Colostrum, transitional and mature breast milk also contains gamma linolenic acid, the precursor to beneficial local hormones called prostaglandins. These have many health-enhancing functions, among which are the integrity of the cell membranes, raising the immune system and controlling inflammation. Cows' milk does not contain high levels of antibodies or gamma linolenic acid, but it does contain vast amounts of fat, 60% of which is saturated. This fat is associated with cholesterol build-up, leading to plaque formation and obesity. It is also the precursor to arachidonic acid producing prostaglandins associated with inflammation and sticky blood, which in excess are harmful. Saturated fats also inhibit the functions of the beneficial prostaglandins.

Cows' milk is richer in calcium than human milk, containing 1,200 mg of calcium per quart compared to 300 mg per quart in human milk.

However, the absorption of calcium is better from breast milk than from cows' milk. This is because the ratio of calcium to phosphorous is out of balance and the phosphorous can combine with calcium in the intestinal tract and prevent absorption. It is also low in magnesium, which is needed for calcium absorption. This can then lead to excess circulating calcium depositing in the joints and arteries contributing to arthritis and atherosclerosis. Milk is not a necessity for the calcium needed for strong bones, as populations who don't drink milk, such as Africans, tend to have less osteoporosis and greater bone density than British people.

Milk sugar or lactose is exclusive to mammalian milk, with sea lions and walruses being the only mammals that do not produce it. Lactose is a disaccharide made up of glucose and galactose and needs to be broken down into monosaccharides by the enzyme lactase before it can be absorbed from the digestive tract into the blood stream. Lactase is manufactured in the intestinal tract of infants during the last months of pregnancy, but between 1 1/2-4 years most children lose this ability. If lactase is not present in adequate quantities the lactose will not be broken down and will enter the large intestine undigested. The bacteria in the large intestine will then ferment the lactose and convert it into carbon dioxide (gas) and lactic acid. Lactose also causes water to be drawn into the intestinal tract by a process of osmosis. As a result more gas and water are present in the colon producing symptoms of bloating, belching, cramps, watery diarrhoea, bowel discomfort, abdominal cramps and stomach ache.

Many people are allergic to the protein in cows' milk, which can result in problems such as acne, eczema, constant nasal drip, congested sinuses and asthma. An allergic reaction can also cause inflammation and irritation of the gastrointestinal tract lining, resulting in seepage of blood into the gut. The loss of plasma and red blood cells can lead to low blood protein levels and to iron deficiency anaemia. People who are allergic to cows' milk are often allergic to goats' milk as well.

Cows' milk can harbour bacteria, viruses, antibiotics, pesticide residues and hormones that can be hazardous to human health. It enhances the activity of the toxic mineral lead and acts as a solvent for parasites. Many diseases are associated with milk including nephrosis (kidney disease), heart attacks, atherosclerosis, middle ear infection, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, fatigue, upper respiratory infections, mucus problems, gastro-enteritis, rheumatoid arthritis, anti-social behaviour, chronic fatigue and dental decay.

The response to milk will depend on the person's biochemical individuality and most reactions can be offset with the following quality nutritional advice. Breast milk is best for babies, but as this is not always possible, a formula with non-cows' milk protein and a supplement of gamma linolenic acid rubbed into the baby's skin will provide the essential fatty acids. For someone suffering from allergies that could be associated with milk, it makes sense to try alternatives such as soya, rice, oat or nut milk. Those suffering from lactose intolerance can use milk alternatives and may be able to tolerate yoghurt and cheese, as their properties are changed in the processing and contain reduced lactose. To minimize fat and cholesterol, skimmed milk or non-dairy alternatives can be chosen. For those worried about calcium levels their needs can be met by eating plenty of fish (particularly sardines and salmon), nuts, seeds, broccoli and dark green leafy vegetables. Finally, for those who choose to drink full fat milk, foods, which are high in magnesium and low in phosphorous, found in vegetables, particularly those with dark green leaves, need to be added to the diet to balance the minerals.

References

Oski FA. Don't Drink your Milk. Teach Services Inc. ISBN 0 945383 34 7. 1996.
Hoffer A. Hoffer's Laws of Natural Nutrition. Quarry Press. ISBN 1 55082 095-8. 1996.

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About June Butlin

June M Butlin PhD is a trained teacher, nutritionist, kinesiologist, aromatherapist, fitness trainer and sports therapist. She is a writer, health researcher and lecturer and is committed to helping people achieve their optimum level of health and runs a private practice in Wiltshire. June can be contacted on 01225 869 284;  junebutlin@btinternet.com

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