Health Insider: Got Milk?

April 6, 2016


This week we have Karley Neyenhuys of Complete You joining us once more! Karley has recently started her own blog where she shares delicious recipes and lifestyle advice. She is very kindly sharing one of those articles today. Karley is an Exercise Physiologist, Nutritionist, Biologist and Health Educator so she really knows her stuff. Enjoy x


Got Milk?

The growing concerns with dairy

Milk, why are you so complicated?! Growing up we learnt that dairy is a food group we need daily. But today more and more diets are excluding dairy (think paleo), and we hear more and more about lactose intolerance, milk allergies and dairy increasing the risk of certain cancers and arthritis.

Before we look at the growing concerns, let’s remember the nutritional benefits of dairy.  One glass of milk (250 mls) will give you:

Carbohydrates in the form of lactose for energy

Calcium for strong bones and teeth

Protein for muscle growth and repair

Fat – structural component for hormones and cell membranes

Phosphorus for energy release

Magnesium for muscle function

Riboflavin for healthy skin

Folate – important for pregnant women, it helps reduce the risk of neural tube defects in growing babies

Vitamin A for good vision and immune function

Vitamin B12 for normal functioning of the brain and nervous system

Vitamin C, an antioxidant in our bodies

Zinc for proper immune function

Iodine for a healthy metabolism

The increasing concerns

It really doesn’t reduce the risk of bone fractures

What?!  All that calcium has no effect?

There has been no research or evidence to support the oft-quoted belief that a high calcium/high dairy diet helps build strong bones or reduces the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.  Having a diet too high in dairy can actually have a negative effect; increased levels of calcium can increase magnesium loss.  Magnesium assures the strength and firmness of bones and makes teeth harder.

In fact, a 12 year long Harvard Nurses’ Health Study found that those who consumed the most calcium from dairy foods broke more bones than those who rarely drank milk, concluding, “These data do not support the hypothesis that higher consumption of milk or other food sources of calcium by adult women protects against hip or forearm fractures.”

So, what does this mean? Essentially, calcium is an important mineral for your bones – but don’t rely solely on dairy to get your calcium.  As a general rule, keep your diet full of variety.  Rich sources of calcium can be derived from dark green leafy vegetables – broccoli, Brussels sprout, collards, kale and green cabbage are also loaded with highly absorbable calcium.  And don’t forget your nuts like almonds, and seeds like sesame.  Vitamin K is also found in dark green leafy vegetables and plays an important role in calcium regulation.  Low levels of vitamin K have been linked to low bone density.  So dish up those greens.

Furthermore, studies have shown that vitamin D appears to be more significant in building healthy bones and preventing fractures.  Naturally made by your skin when exposed to sunlight, you can also take supplements. Look for supplements that provide 800 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D per day.

Finally, exercise is the best way to increase bone density.  Weight bearing exercises such as walking, running, dancing, weightlifting, boxing and hiking puts a level of stress on our bones.  The cells within the bone respond by making the bone denser and stronger.  What more can I say; get out in the sun and get moving!


It can cause inflammation

Like gluten, dairy can cause inflammation in some people.  Symptoms can be digestive such as bloating, cramps, gas, constipation and diarrhoea or a chronic inflammation like arthritis.

There are two reasons that help explain this:

Lactose intolerance

The frequency of lactose intolerance ranges from 5% in Northern Europe to more than 90% in some African and Asian countries.  This wide variation has been linked to genetics but also to the exposure of dairy.  Certain cultures consume more dairy than others and have lower rates of lactose intolerance, such as that of northern Europe.  Lactose is the sugar in dairy, a disaccharide which means it must be broken down in the digestive system before it can be absorbed into our bloodstream.  To do this we need the enzyme lactase to break the lactose molecules into glucose and galactose.  People with lactose intolerance do not have sufficient lactase molecules to digest lactose, and symptoms arise.  The inflammation of the gut lining can lead to further complications such as leaky gut syndrome.  Those suffering from inflammatory bowel disease seem to have difficulties digesting lactose, and find that only when they give it up does the healing process begin.  

It has also been found that the milk protein casein is similar in molecular structure to the protein gluten found in wheat.  Those individuals who are gluten sensitive may also find dairy products hard to digest.  Studies have shown that 70% of gluten sensitive patients have elevated antibodies to casein.  This means their immune system is reacting to the casein.  People suffering from arthritis who also have gluten sensitivity need to avoid casein altogether as the inflammation response makes symptoms worse.

Dairy is highly acidic

I’m sure you all remember homeostasis from Year 10 Science!  Our bodies must work to maintain a blood pH level close to neutral; not too acidic, not too alkaline.  Milk, like most animal products, is an acid forming food.  Which means the body triggers a biological reaction to neutralise all the damaging acidic protein before it reaches the kidneys.  To do this, the body sacrifices bone density, pulling alkaline reserves such as calcium, magnesium and potassium from the bones to neutralise the acid.  This will weaken your bones, but help protect your kidneys and urinary tract.

In fact, research has shown that countries that consume high amounts of dairy (Northern Europe and the US) also have the highest rates of bone fractures. 


Other concerns

*Dairy is often filled with hormones and antibiotics.  Some farmers inject their cows with a genetically engineered form of bovine growth hormone (rBGH), a synthetic hormone used to artificially increase milk production.  Studies have shown that drinking rBGH milk significantly increases IGF-1 blood levels and consequently, increases the risk of developing breast cancer.  No thanks!  Thankfully, the use of rBGH has been banned in Australia, New Zealand and Japan but it is still used in other countries.

*Dairy has been linked in some studies to increased risk of ovarian cancer.  High levels of galactose, the sugar released by the digestion of lactose in milk, have been studied and found to be possibly damaging to the ovaries and leading to ovarian cancer.  However the research is not yet sufficient as to be conclusive.

It can mess with your hormones.  Dairy milk contains the female hormone oestrogen and has androgenic properties, which means it can raise testosterone levels in your body. When your hormones become imbalanced, havoc occurs. 

*Dairy is high in saturated fat.  Too much dairy, especially the processed stuff like ice cream, cheese and creamy desserts can increase cholesterol levels and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Choosing to eliminate dairy entirely from your diet is a big decision.  If you believe that your symptoms may be dairy related it will not hurt to stop intake for a few weeks to see how your body reacts.  You can then reintroduce it slowly.  Besides milk, other forms of dairy include butter, cheese and yoghurt, all of which are made differently.  Cheese and yoghurt are fermented, which means micro-organisms are added.  Due to fermentation, certain cheeses are almost entirely lactose free and much easier to digest, such as hard cheddar cheese, colby, gruyere, havarti and swiss.  You can also make your own yoghurt!. Get all the healthy probiotics for your gut without the lactose and all the other added sugars found in processed yoghurts from the supermarket.

Milk is pasteurised and homogenised, making it processed and containing less nutrients than raw milk.  Look for grass fed organic products or A2 milk and consume in moderation.  Two serves daily is plenty, you could enjoy 200g of natural yoghurt and two slices of aged cheddar cheese.  If you cannot tolerate it, enjoy the alternatives like almond milk, coconut milk or yoghurt, and rice milk.

Karley X


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