Saturday, 21 January 2012

Can Milk Do the Body Good?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, of all things, about milk.  Yes, milk.  Now, even though I had to modify my Whole30, and completely failed in my goals for the month of January, I stayed true on two fronts—no added sugar anything (not even baked paleo “treats”), and no dairy.  I was curious about whether or not I’d miss the stuff, in all of its forms, and whether or not it would make any difference to my body (my lactose-intolerance, eczema, sinusitis, etc.)
A couple of days ago, the Paleo Parents posted a link by a Dr Cate who had written 2 articles about evolution and dairy, taking a new look at milk and what effect it might have had on our evolution.
In the first article,  (read it here; , Dr Cate first talks about the flawed science of studying the impact of dairy on our bodies—by reviewing how the studies were done (scientist were analyzing the dehydrated freeze-dried individual components of milk instead of the whole, and how food companies pay for those studies) and she briefly visits both the pro-milk camps and the anti-milk camps.
Let’s take a moment to review the milk arguments...  The anti-milk proponents suggest that a) milk is Neolithic and therefore wrong, b) milk contains compounds, that in isolation can be harmful, so in combination should therefore be more harmful, c) offering milk beyond infancy may contribute to type 2 diabetes, d) milk causes a strong insulin response, and e) chemicals/hormones given to cows and added to milk during pasteurization leach into the milk and enter our own bloodstreams, causing a whole array of health issues including early puberty, eczema, allergies and so on.  Lauren Cordain is anti-milk.  Now, the pro-milk camp doesn’t argue milk’s Neolithic roots, nor does it argue the whole chemical additive and pasteurization thing.  But milk offers many health benefits, including the fact that milk’s insulin response makes it a great post-workout recovery fuel that helps transport glycogen and protein to where our bodies need it most, when they need it most.  Mostly, the pro-milk camp asserts that the arguments the anti-milk camp uses are, well, wrong.  For more on the pro and con arguments, go here ( ) and here, ( ).
It was actually part II of Dr Cate’s article that really got me thinking.  (To read the article, go here; ).  In THIS article, she makes some radical, but believable, leaps of faith in her thinking, and I for one, am prepared to join her.  She suggests that in between being Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers and Neolithic farmers, we would have transitioned through a phase of being herder-gatherers.  We would have figured out that herding large bovine animals was easy right after we realized that we had to follow herds as they moved about looking for good pasture.  Makes sense, right?  Why not follow the herd, and if we’re doing that, why not try to direct the herd in a direction that is more convenient for us, like between winter and summer camps we’ve already established and know to have good pasturing for these animals?  But here is where the leap really happens—if a calf dies, and the mother beast is engorged with unused milk and bellowing all night long in pain, how long would it take a Palaeolithic mother to figure out that the beast needs milking?  Not very long, I’m sure.  Wet-nursing has been around since the beginning of time.  The connection is apparent.
The article goes on--there is very strong evidence showing that bone length is greater in African tribes who consume dairy than those who don’t.  Yea, milk makes bones grow.  It makes us taller.  That fact is still apparent in African tribes of today when you compare the milk-drinkers to the non-milk drinking tribes (the pygmies were not milk drinkers).  There’s also a neat little argument that if dinosaurs didn’t die out, but rather, evolved into birds, couldn’t milk have been one factor that may have allowed Neanderthal to evolve into homo sapiens, rather than dying out as we have believed?  I’m no scientist, but I like the possible connection she suggests.
So milk may not be Neolithic food after all.  It may be that milk HELPED us to get from there to here, to evolve into what we are today.  Take that, anti-milk camp!
So, back to present-day milk...  I’ve said it a hundred times that I am lactose-intolerant.  Much of the adult population is.  It’s believed that over our lifetime we lose the ability to digest the lactase enzyme in milk.  I won’t argue that.  But WHY do we lose that enzyme?  What evolutionary purpose does it serve for our bodies to suddenly reject the benefits of milk as adults, when it needed them as infants?  I have a radical thought here—what if it’s not milk at all, but the chemicals in it and the things that we do to milk that is causing our body to eventually reject it?  Building up intolerance, like a low-level allergy, is our body’s way of saying, ok, enough chemicals?  So it’s really a defence mechanism against the chemicals, not the milk, and if we were able to consume whole, un-altered milk through our lifetimes, we would not develop any intolerance at all?
When I first found out I was lactose intolerant, there wasn’t as much lactose-free milk around.  So I was told to try goat’s milk instead.  I was told it is less-allergenic, less chemically-altered and that goats are more likely to be pastured than commercial milk-producing cows.  I don’t know if it’s true or not.  But I could tolerate goat milk way better than cow milk.  And the milk tasted richer, more like the milk you get in the UK, where cows are more frequently pastured (grass-feeding makes the milk naturally sweeter and richer tasting).
So what have I found so far in my month of dairy-free living?  Is my eczema gone?  Well, yes, but it was gone after around 4 months of grain-free living and doesn't seem connected to dairy at all.  Did my sinusitis go away?  Ummm, no, actually.  It did not change one bit.  Do my guts feel awesome?  Ummm, no also to that.  In fact, I’ve had a “food baby” belly for about 2 ½ weeks, more gas and bloating than is normal for me.  I developed a dental issue which likely has nothing to do with not consuming milk and had to take antibiotics, which may have caused the “food baby” appearance and it just hasn’t gone back to normal yet.  Funny enough, changing over to cream in my coffee instead of milk did my body good before eliminating dairy.  I wonder if I switched to full-fat dairy if I’d be able to even drink a bit of milk again, now and then?  What if I switched to goats milk?  It certainly supports the idea that it’s the chemicals, and the alteration process, that causes the problem, not the milk itself.  Did you know that when they make low-fat milk, the don’t just water down the milk to reduce the fat content, but that they add back in powdered milk to improve the texture of milk?  So low fat milk has more...milk... in it than full-fat milk does?  So drinking full-fat milk means actually drinking less milk than drinking low-fat milk.   Weird, indeed.  I wish I could test my theory with completely unadulterated raw milk, but raw milk is illegal in Canada.  So that argument, I will never know.
I am definitely in the pro-dairy camp, IF your stomach can tolerate it.  Maybe not as a main source of protein, but as a supplementary source, and as a way of making some foods more palatable/tasty. 
The goats milk argument is worth looking into.  I may do another post on that one later.  Maybe I’ll switch my lactose-intolerant teen over to goats’ milk.   And after this month is over, I am definitely going to start putting a little bit of cheese on my taco salad again.  But I might keep my dairy-free coffee creamer.  It’s really tasty.

What do you think of dairy?  Is there room for it in YOUR version of primal foods?  Do you give your kids full-fat dairy?  Let me know!

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