By ELLA NONNI
Some people cannot drink milk due to lactose intolerance — they do not possess the enzymes to breakdown the type of sugar found in dairy. Some claim we shouldnot be drinking milk because it is the baby food for another species — and no species on earth consumes its mother’s milk past infancy. Others vilify the hormones in dairy milk—whether the ones that are naturally in excess in a lactating female, or the growth hormones (rbGH: recombinant bovine growth hormone) that many dairy livestock are treated with to increase milk production. Yet others denounce casein, the tough protein used to build the hooves and strong teeth of cows, which is not found in human milk.
It may be that all of these elements make milk less-than-ideal for human consumption. It is true that lactose is, or should be, a problem for most of us. Humans stop producing the enzymes lactase and rennin — which break down lactose — by the age of three or four. Technically, we are not biologically designed to consume milk past the age where we would evolutionarily stopped getting it from our mothers.
It is also true that estrogens and progesterone produced by lactating cows can cause endocrine issues in humans, particularly by causing early puberty in girls. And rbGH, the other hormone of concern in milk, increases the incidence of “Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1” (IGF-1) in humans, which can decrease insulin sensitivity, acting as a precursor to Type II diabetes. IGF-1 may also increase a person’s risk of heart disease or cancer.
Now onto the lesser-known “devil in milk:” casein. Milk is 85% water, and the remaining 15% is the sugar, protein, fat and minerals. 80% of the protein in milk is casein (20% is whey). Most notably of the caseins is beta-casein, which comprises 30% of the protein in milk. Beta-casein comes in two forms: A1 and A1. All bovine beta-casein was originally the A2 variety, yet for reasons which are historically unclear, a mutation occurred some five thousand years ago creating A1 casein, and that gene spread rapidly in cattle throughout Europe. All cows of European descent, including all American dairy cows, now carry this A1 beta-casein gene, yet goats, sheep, buffalo, camels and humans all produce A2 beta-casein. The problem with A1 beta-casein is that a portion of its amino acid chain breaks off in the gastro-intestinal tract when it is digested. This side chain is called BCM 7, and it is a powerful exogenousopiate — one that does not occur naturally in humans. In fact, some hypothesize that the mutation for A1 beta-casein persisted in the population because cows exposed to this new opiate by-product were more docile. Essentially, they were stoned.
BCM 7 interacts with the human digestive system, internal organs and brainstem. BCM 7 has been shown to cause neurological impairment in animals and humans, including autistic and schizophrenic changes, has been found to cause interferences with the immune system, and its consumption is correlated with a higher incidence of auto-immune diseases. In one study, injecting BCM 7 provoked the development of Type I diabetes. BCM 7 has been incriminated for contributing to heart disease, because it has a pro-inflammatory effect on the blood vessels, and a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition showed that A1 beta-casein (compared to A2) caused significant gut inflammation. Ever hear the advice to avoid dairy when you are sick? That it contributes to mucus production? The culprit is BCM 7, which selectively binds to the epithelial cells in the mucus membranes of the nose, stimulating mucus secretion. It is important to note however, that casein consumption of any kind, even A2, promotes cancer in all stages of development.
Of more pressing concern for teens and young adults, dairy milk has the potential to cause or exacerbate acne. Whether from the excess female sex hormones or the “build-up” of A1 beta-casein by-products, the correlation has been proven in several studies. Regardless of the cause, if acne is a problem for you, try giving up dairy completely for a couple weeks, and see what happens. It worked for me.
The dairy industry has done everything in its power to sell milk as a healthy choice — dairy even has its own food group. And it is true, that for infants (of any mammalian species), mother’s milk is the most nutritious food source available. But past infancy, we are not really meant to consume milk, especially a milk chemically designed for another species. So the next time you pour yourself a large glass of milk, rip open a yogurt lid, or order extra cheese on your pizza, remember that you are eating various forms of the baby food for an animal quite different from yourself, and the health effects of that choice are not well known. There is a reason so many people cannot tolerate dairy, and luckily, the food industry has responded to rising demand for alternatives, now offering everything from soy milk, to coconut milk, to oat milk. For those who want to avoid acne, digestive discomfort, or the risk of various other chronic diseases, you can have your cheese, and eat it too.
Ella Nonni is a junior in the College of Human Ecology. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Eat a Peach appears alternate Fridays this semester.