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Some Disadvantages of Milk

Compiled by Stephen Leckie, Publications Editor for the Toronto Vegetarian Association, and a healthy vegan (no dairy) for the past six years.

Problems with Milk

According to Frank A. Oski, M.D., Director of Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University, There may be a link between milk and insulin-dependent diabetes. In addition, infants may suffer blood loss in their intestinal tract, depleting their body's iron.

Milk is deficient in iron.

Milk, is a common cause of allergies and digestive problems, particularly among people of African and Asian descent, who lack the enzyme required to digest the milk sugar lactose.

Further Problems

Milk products are deficient in fibre and overloaded with fat and cholesterol.

Milk is a concentrated source of protein. Ironically, over consumption of high protein foods such as dairy products may contribute to osteoporosis. 


Canada has one of the highest rates of milk consumption in the world, but maybe not for long. Milk consumption has slipped to 103.75 litres per person per year from 109 litres in 1980. Consumption of butter has fallen to less than three kilograms a year from a high of eight 30 years ago. This parallels a drop in the incidence of coronary artery disease over the past 25 years.

The dairy industry had sales of $7.2 billion in 1990. 

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Dr. Spock's Views

Child-care expert, Dr. Benjamin Spock, 89, once an advocate of drinking cow's milk, has joined several doctors in questioning its nutritional value and warning of a possible link to juvenile onset diabetes and allergies. "Breast-feeding is the best milk feeding for babies," says Dr. Spock.

Dr. Spock was backed up by Dr. Frank Oski, director of pediatrics at John Hopkins University and Dr. Neal Barnard, president of the 2000 member Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine. At a news conference on Sept. 28, 1992, Dr. Oski stated that cow's milk is overrated as a source of calcium, is often contaminated with traces of antibiotics, can cause allergies and digestive problems and has been linked to juvenile diabetes.

Health problems associated with cow's milk are perhaps not so surprising if one considers that human beings are the only species to drink the milk of another species, and the only species to drink milk beyond infancy. Whole cow's milk is suited to the nutritional needs of calves who double their weight in 47 days and grow to 300 pounds within a year. Cow's milk contains about three times as much protein as human milk, and almost 50% more fat.

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Lactose & Allergies

After four years of age, most of the world's people develop lactose intolerance, the inability to digest the milk sugar lactose. If they consume dairy products after early childhood it can cause diarrhea, gas and cramps. (3) As many as 20% of Canadians are lactose-intolerant, while another 5% to 10% may have allergies to milk proteins according to Dr. Milos Krajny, secretary of the Ontario Allergy Society.

Virtually every major allergy study implicates milk and dairy products as the leading food allergen. Dr. Krajny often recommends that his patients simply avoid milk for a trial period. His patients' typical complaints are: migraines, post-nasal drip, ear infections, gastro-intestinal problems and asthma. "I ask people to stop drinking milk and 70% of them [feel] fantastic" after they do so.

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Liquid Meat

Cow's milk and other dairy products are high in fat and cholesterol. The dairy industry has cleverly expressed fat content as a percentage of weight. Using this system, 2% milk, which is 87% water by weight, sounds like a low-fat product. Expressed as a percentage of total calories, 2% milk is in fact 31% fat. Whole milk is 49% fat. Yogurt is 49% fat, cheese is 60-70% fat and butter is 100% fat.

John A. McDougall, M.D., calls dairy foods "liquid meat" because their nutritional contents are so similar. Eating foods high in fat contributes to the development of heart disease, certain cancers and stroke--our country's three deadliest killers.

Calcium & Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is bone loss due to calcium resorption, which, contrary to the advice of the dairy industry, is not halted or prevented by an increase in the intake of calcium so much as by a drop in protein consumption. High protein foods, such as meat, eggs and dairy products leach calcium from the body by causing excessive calcium loss through the kidneys, making the kidneys work harder and causing loss of minerals such as calcium. (5) Societies with little or no consumption of dairy foods and animal proteins show a low incidence of osteoporosis. (6) Vegetarians and vegans in North America also have a lower than average incidence of osteoporosis. (7)

We need calcium in our diet, but sufficient calcium is easily available from many non-dairy sources. Hard drinking water generally contains plenty of usable calcium. All green vegetables contain calcium, as do all nuts, legumes and beans. Raw sesame seeds contain more calcium than any other food on earth. Most fruit also contains calcium.

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Diabetes & Infants

A recent study of milk drinking patterns concluded that drinking cow's milk during infancy may trigger juvenile diabetes. (8) The study suggests that consumption of milk triggers destruction of insulin-producing pancreas cells by the body's immune system. The study was conducted jointly by researchers in Toronto and Finland.

A link between diabetes and cow's milk had been suspected because populations with high rates of milk consumption (such as the Finns) also have high rates of this disease. Also case histories of identical twins have shown that if one twin gets type-I diabetes, there is only a 50% chance of the other twin having it as well. Since identical twins have the exact same genetic make up, this suggests that diabetes can not just be due to genetics.


There is also increasing evidence of a link between milk consumption and cataracts. According to scientific studies, human populations that consume large amounts of dairy products have a higher incidence of cataracts than do those that avoid dairy products. (9)

It is the galactose in milk which is suspected to be causing the problems. High levels of it in the blood stream have been associated with the formation of cataracts. (10) Galactose has also been implicated in cancer of the ovary. Women with the disease have been shown to have a history of greater consumption of dairy products, particularly yogurt, compared to women without ovarian cancer. (11)

Most Canadians have grown up believing that dairy foods are healthy. This is primarily due to outmoded conventional wisdom but it is also the result of a successful advertising campaign by the dairy industry. In the face of scientific fact and common logic, they have convinced most of us that calves' food is essential for good human nutrition.

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Alternatives to Dairy

There are many delicious vegan products available today which are similar in texture and appearance to dairy products. Check out health food stores for a variety of soy milks, rice milk, almond milk and non-dairy ice creams. Soy cheese is available but most varieties contain the milk protein casein. Instead of buttering your toast try using a basting brush and a small dish of vegetable oil, such as canola, flax seed or olive oil. Dark chocolate, sorbet and many breads are usually non-dairy, but check the labels first. 

"The African Bantu woman provides an excellent example of good health. Her diet is free of milk and still provides 250-400 mg. Of calcium from plant sources, which is half the amount consumed by Western women. Bantu women commonly have 10 babies during their life and breast feed each of them for about ten months. But even with this huge calcium drain and relatively low calcium intake, osteoporosis is relatively unknown among these women."

-John McDougall, M.D.

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    (1) Cited from "Does milk do a body good?", Toronto Star, Oct. 1/92
    (2) "Dr. Spock sours on cow milk for babies", Toronto Star, Sept. 30/92
    (3) John A. McDougall, M.D., and Mary A. McDougall, The McDougall Plan, pp. 49-51
    (4) Cited in "Bossy gets her walking papers", The Globe & Mail, Oct. 31/92
    (5) "Effect of protein intake on calcium balance of young men given 500 mg calcium daily," Journal of Nutrition, 1974: 104: 695 "Protein-induced hypercalciuria: A long-term study," American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1979: 32: 741 Also see McDougall, p. 100
    (6) "Geographic variations of senile osteoporosis," Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 1970: 52B: 667
    (7) American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1983: 37: 453-6
    (8) "A bovine albumen peptid as a possible trigger of insulin dependent diabetes mellitus," New England Journal Medicine, July 30 1992, 327:302-7 30/92
    (9) "A geographic approach to senile cataracts: possible links with milk consumption, lactase activity and galactose metabolism," Digestive Diseases and Sciences 1982: 27(3): 257-264
    (10) "Lactose and cataracts in humans: a review," Journal of Am. Coll. Nutr. 1991: 10(1): 79-86
    (11) "Galactose consumption and metabolism in relation to the risk of ovarian cancer," Lancet 1989: 2: 66-71


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