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The Milk Debate

by Louise July 4th, 2011 | Health Research, Nutrition
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The fact that milk is a great source of calcium isn’t exactly breaking news. Through advertisements, milk and calcium have become somewhat synonymous in America. For example, a previously-posted article on Health EagleDrink Milk – Prevent Osteoporosis, triggered the following commentary:

“Adults should NOT be drinking milk …”

This statement elicited a direct response from another reader, “Adult[s] do need calcium. Haven’t you read the article how important milk is?”

This is an alarming reply, as it implies that recommending less consumption of milk is the same as recommending a decreased intake of calcium. Calcium is necessary for many functions in our body, especially for keeping our bones strong and preventing osteoporosis, but is milk really our best source?

On one hand, we have the pro-milk side, who believes that increased calcium intake, in the form of milk, is the best way to prevent osteoporosis. Gotmilk.com makes the claim that 75% of the calcium in calcium-fortified beverages, such as soy drinks and orange juice, gets left at the bottom of the container. From their standpoint, milk is the only sure-fire source of calcium.

So who disagrees? Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health do. The results from a large (70,000+ women) and long-term (18 years) health study showed no correlation between milk consumption and fracture risk. Rather, it has become apparent that consistent exercise (especially weight-bearing and resistance-training exercises) is an influential factor in preventing osteoporosis. Let it be made clear again that milk in this context is not synonymous with calcium.

The problem with milk, according to these researchers, is that it also contains vitamin A, which depletes calcium sources and adversely affects bone health. There is also research to prove that a diet high in calcium leads to increased risk of ovarian cancer for women and prostate cancer for men.

Also, some people are lactose intolerant, so they experience painful symptoms after its consumption. While most mammals become lactose intolerant during development, humans have developed some lactose persistence (which means we can continue to digest lactose during adulthood). In fact, a whopping three-quarters of adults worldwide actually have some degree of lactose intolerance, and may benefit from avoiding lactose in their diets.

The bottom line is that the jury is still out on the milk debate; however, more and more research is starting to indicate that milk isn’t quite the “superdrink” it has always been touted to be. While calcium is conveniently found in dairy products, we can also find it in vegetables, dried beans, and legumes, which might be, on the whole, healthier choices.

 

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All health and medical information is provided for educational purposes and is not meant to replace the medical advice or treatment of your healthcare professional.