Whether or not you should consume dairy products can be a hot topic of debate, and one that touches upon widespread potential health issues.
Almost everyone would feel better in some way if they cut out all dairy – from sinusitis and allergies to fatigue and gut issues. In my practice, I’m guided by the laws of nature. In the natural world, animals don’t drink milk beyond young childhood and don’t drink the milk of another animal. This leads me to believe that it is not healthful to drink milk or eat dairy products in general.
Milk is an emulsified liquid, which means it is fat globules of different sizes suspended in water. In its raw form, the fat separates and floats to the top in the form of cream. Homogenization is a process where the milk is put under a lot of pressure and forced through holes of the same size. This makes the fats smaller, of a similar size and evenly distributed throughout the milk. This extends shelf-life and offers more convenience (i.e. consumers don’t have to shake the bottle). People who are anti-homogenization argue that this process makes the fats harder to digest and allows them to pass through the intestinal lining without being broken down.
Another concern is the high level of hormones stored in the fat contained in most dairy products. If the cow that provides the milk has been dosed with extra hormones, we will be getting even more foreign hormones in every serving. Giving estrogen to cattle is standard practice in non-organic farms to add water weight and calm their anxiety in over-crowded conditions. Cows are also routinely given growth hormone to increase their weight and antibiotics to prevent infections.
Pasteurization is a process where the milk is heated to extremely high temperatures in order to kill off pathogenic bacteria. This is problematic because it also kills off bacteria that would actually be healthful, such as the probiotics found in unpasteurized yogurt. This process kills enzymes naturally available in the milk to help us digest it more completely. Proponents of raw milk argue that it is easy to produce milk that is not contaminated with harmful bacteria. This would be impossible in most commercial dairy farms due to overcrowding, poor sanitation and mass production.
Finally, cows that are fed grains rather than grass will produce essential fatty acids that are pro-inflammatory rather than anti-inflammatory (like omega 3 and 6’s). If the cow has more inflammation in its body, then its meat and milk will also be higher in inflammatory proteins. This, in turn, contributes to issues like heart disease, diabetes and cancer in humans.
It can be hard to give up dairy (especially cheese) because it’s so tasty. I recommend cutting out all dairy for 4 weeks and then re-introducing it after you’re “cleaned out.” Most folks notice a difference when they re-introduce dairy and tend to avoid it in the future. And, when they indulge, they’re making an educated decision and know what the ramifications will be. That’s the goal of nutrition education – to be informed about how what we eat impacts us, not to restrict everything and no longer enjoy eating.
Nicola Dehlinger is a naturopathic doctor at Pura Vida Natural Healthcare in Durango. She can be reached at 426-1684 or www.puravidahealthcare.com.