We’ve been strongly led to believe that drinking milk and ingesting other dairy products is a necessary part of keeping our bodies, especially our bones, strong and healthy for years to come. More and more evidence is showing that reducing or completely eliminating dairy from our diets can have very positive health benefits. I’ve seen countless patients who’ve eliminated dairy and feel much better for it. Things like that nagging post nasal drip (that watery drip in the back of your throat), feeling mucousy, worsening allergies including eczema – all symptoms that improve when people get off dairy. How do we get our calcium then I’m often asked? Understanding a little more about calcium is an important step to deciding for yourself whether dairy is something you should be rethinking.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in our bodies. A huge 99% of it is located in teeth and bones, whilst the remaining 1% is located in our blood and other tissues. Our bodies effectively maintain our calcium balance within very narrow limits in the blood and bones, and it’s the 1% or so in the blood, that is maintained preferably as opposed to the bone / teeth levels. This blood level is used for critical functions such as muscle contraction, nerve impulse transmission and blood clotting. Our bones and teeth act as a type of reservoir for calcium. When the blood needs more for vital functions, it simply gets this from the bones / teeth. The idea is that this will later be replaced, but this is not done through dietary consumption alone. Things like exercise, eating an array of fruit and veggies (where you’ll find a surprising amount of calcium!), decreasing animal protein and even things like getting adequate vitamin D are all essential components of healthy bones.
Obtaining enough calcium in the diet can be very easy. Things like green leafy veggies, nuts and seeds, sardines, brown rice and even legumes are wonderfully rich sources. Factors reducing calcium loss include alcohol, caffeine and smoking. Lifestyle factors such as these should be taken into account when reviewing individual needs. So how about milk? It contains a lot of calcium, but is it really beneficial for us, especially in conditions such as osteoporosis?
Milk contains plenty of calcium and protein, both of which are beneficial for our bodies – but not necessarily always so.. When we drink an animal based product such as cows milk, our bodies interpret the protein content as acidic. Our bodies are generally much happier in alkaline body fluids as opposed to acidic fluids (though keep in mind, that some organs, like our stomach, need to be very acidic in order to do their job). In order to neutralise this acidity, our body uses calcium, amongst other minerals, to do so. If we are ingesting animal proteins in abundance, this can lead to calcium being leached from the bones in order to maintain our all important blood calcium level.
When it comes to conditions such as osteoporosis, milk may not be all its cracked up to be. Osteoporosis is a progressive disease that leads to deterioration of bones and bone mass, increasing the risk of bone fractures, especially later on in life. Women tend to suffer more from osteoporosis than men, especially after menopause. A lot of people increase their milk consumption with such conditions, thinking the extra calcium will be of benefit. The famous Harvard Nurses Health Study followed over 75,000 women for over a decade and showed no protective effect of increased milk consumption on fracture risk. An interesting point to also note, is that the countries with the highest dairy consumption, also have the highest rates of osteoporotic fractures, as stated by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Conventional / factory farming also means that cows are forced to produce milk in far greater quantities than nature ever intended. Many people don’t know, but in order to satisfy our thirst for milk, cows are kept in a state of almost constant pregnancy with the resulting calves being treated as waste products. Dairy calves do not grow at the same rate as beef calves and their meat is considered sub-standard, so most are killed within their first week of life, causing great stress to the mother as well as the calf.
These ‘over productive’ farming practices commonly result in infections including mastitis. When a cow is infected like this, the large majority of the naturally present ‘somatic cells’ in milk are neutrophils. Neutrophils are inflammatory immune cells that form pus. We pasteurise milk because of this, but pasteurisation also destroys a lot of nutrients which begs me to ask the question – why do we drink milk in the first place?
Personally I’ve chosen to live a dairy free life for myself and my children due to the vast health benefits I see. I see this often in clinic, and I feel this within my own body. I also cannot tolerate the idea that another being is forced to endure a constant state of pregnancy purely to satisfy my want (not need) for milk, which adds another level of contentment for choosing a dairy free life. If you are at all concerned about your calcium intake by eliminating dairy, come in and talk to us. Rest assured that there are plenty of milk substitutes on the market including oat milk, coconut milk, rice milk, almond milk and more. We have a fact sheet that you are welcome to pick up which includes a calcium counter and gives you an array of foods and their value in calcium. Come in and talk to us or book in with our Naturopath if you are considering any such changes and need some guidance or advice.
In health and harmony,