Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Now milk is under attack

All the theories floated below have some plausibility but considering how universally milk is consumed in Western countries, it is hard to be believe that clear evidence of any harmfulness has not emerged long ago. If there is any potential harmfulness in milk, I suspect that we adapted to that long before the advent of modern medicine.

In fact it is known that we have. The milk-digesting enzyme (lactase) does not vanish with childhood in populations of Northern European origins, though it usually does in Asia. See here -- where lactase persistence is estimated to have emerged around 5,000 years ago

In Hindu culture, the cow has been a sacred object for thousands of years. In Britain, its milk is rapidly being accorded the same status. When David Cameron disowned a plan to abolish free milk for under-fives, floated by Anne Milton, a junior health minister, it was remarkable not just for the speed of the U-turn, but for how little explanation it seemed to require.

True, the label “milk snatcher” is deadly for a Tory politician, with its echoes of the attacks on Margaret Thatcher after she cut the ration in 1971. Yet there is something stranger at work – the unquestioning idea that milk is good for us. From Winston Churchill’s wartime order to keep the milk flowing, which was formalised under the 1946 School Milk Act, to Gordon Ramsay’s scowling demand on posters currently adorning London’s buses to “Make Mine Milk”, the idea that it is natural, healthy and an essential part of a good diet has been unchallenged.

In fact, there are strong arguments that giving cow’s milk to children is doing more harm than good. All of the nutrients in cow’s milk can be found elsewhere in a balanced diet. Although it is frequently cited as an important source of calcium for growing children, we can absorb only a third of the amount it contains due to the high levels of sodium, phosphorus and protein that are also present. Green vegetables – if children can be persuaded to eat them – are a much more efficient vehicle.

And while milk may be an easier sell to your offspring than Brussels sprouts, of more concern is the increasing evidence that cow’s milk can have negative side-effects, particularly if consumed at an early age. Many children who regularly drink milk – about 7.5 per cent of the child population – suffer from allergies that often go undiagnosed.

Besides the hormones and contaminants that saturate our homogenised milk, there are more than 30 protein types to which our bodies may react, which can manifest as eczema, constipation, drawn-out colds or frequent ear infections. Increasing numbers of paediatricians advocate trying cow’s milk-free diets to tackle such common symptoms. This is before you consider the 5 per cent of Britons – usually from ethnic minorities – who are lactose-intolerant. Once again, many do not recognise their affliction, and needlessly suffer conditions such as cramping and intestinal gas.

There are also suggestions that milk could be linked to diabetes. Finland, for example, has the highest incidence of Type 1 (that is, insulin-dependent) diabetes in the world – and the highest per capita milk consumption. In China and South-East Asia, where little milk is consumed due to the extremely high prevalence of lactose intolerance, this early-onset form of the disease is nearly non-existent.

Professor Outi Vaarala, a scientist at the University of Helsinki, has been studying this link for 20 years. She believes that the body develops antibodies against the presence of bovine insulin, which then shut down human insulin production – something infants are particularly prone to, as the intestinal wall is not sufficiently developed to prevent the cow hormone entering the bloodstream.

A pilot study has supported her hypothesis, but firmer results won’t appear until 2013.

Of course, this is just one of several theories that attempt to explain the apparent link – and although it would explain why infants weaned off breast milk too early seem to suffer higher risks of diabetes, it is more difficult to understand the frequent later development of the condition in young, milk-swilling children. If Prof Vaarala is right, something must have weakened the intestinal wall.

Cow’s milk has also been linked to Type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes, for the same reason that it is associated with heart disease – the sheer amount of energy in the liquid. Given that milk is designed to double a calf’s birth weight in 47 days – compared with the 180 it takes humans – it is unsurprising that it contains more protein than we require. Even in low-fat milk, there are relatively high levels of cholesterol and saturated fat. As the nutritionist Joseph Keon notes in his forthcoming book Whitewash, the fat in semi-skimmed milk could make up 2 per cent of the weight, but 34 per cent of the calories.

Ultimately, the evidence that cow’s milk will harm your health is still inconclusive – although arguably no more so than the dairy industry’s claims for its bone-strengthening, cancer-defeating capabilities. But before we give its producers carte blanche to provide nursery children with 100 pints of the white stuff a year, consider this: no other species in nature regularly consumes another’s milk. Faced with these concerns, we might ask if we really need to do so.


Nastiness a risk factor for heart attack

Whether called nastiness, hostility or some other similar term, this finding has been popping up for 30 years or more and seems well founded. Anger is stressful and a lot of anger can understandably do lasting harm

NASTINESS is not only a social problem; according to new research aggressive and antagonistic people may be at higher risk of heart attack and stroke simply because they are disagreeable.

Researchers at the US National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, discovered that disagreeable people have greater thickening in their carotid arteries compared with likeable people. Thickness of the walls of the carotid artery, which is found in the neck, puts people at higher risk of heart attack and stroke.

People who scored in the bottom 10 per cent on agreeable personality traits had about a 40 per cent increased risk for elevated intima-media thickness. The effect is similar to having metabolic syndrome, which is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, according to new research published in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association.

People who are agreeable tend to be straightforward, trusting and show concern for others, according to researchers. People who are classified as antagonistic tend to be distrustful, self-centered, arrogant and are quick to express anger, according to Angelina Sutin, the lead author of the study.

Thickening of arterial walls is a sign of age, but researchers found young people with antagonistic traits already have thickening in their carotid artery, even after controlling for risk factors such as smoking.

Highly agreeable women had the thinnest arterial walls. Theirs proved to be even thinner than men who had just as many amiable traits. On the other hand, women and men who are equally antagonistic had equally thick walls in their carotid arteries.

Researchers point out that doctors, in assessing other risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as weight and cholesterol level, may also want to take into account whether their patients are angry and disagreeable.

“People may learn to control their anger and learn ways to express anger in more socially acceptable ways,” Ms Sutin said.


1 comment:

John A said...



"All of the nutrients in cow’s milk can be found elsewhere in a balanced diet." As can all the nutrients in Brussels sprouts. The point?

"Green vegetables ... are a much more efficient vehicle." Fine - go eat your lawn. Oh, but do leave the dandelion wine for me.

"Many children who regularly drink milk – about 7.5 per cent of the child population – suffer from allergies that often go undiagnosed." Uh, first, do that few drink ,ilk? But alsom if the allergies are not diagnosed, how do you know they exist?

"Besides the hormones and contaminants that saturate our homogenised milk, there are more than 30 protein types to which our bodies may react Do you have any idea what is in your lawn? Are you aware that potatoes can be deadly? Are you sure there is not even a trace amount of lead in those Brussels sprouts?

"This is before you consider the 5 per cent of Britons – usually from ethnic minorities – who are lactose-intolerant." You do know that you would have trouble drinking fresh [cow] blood, but other peoples such as the Masai have accomodated to it?

I wonder if the author is against vaccination for, say, smallpox. After all, before its development Europeans had a level of "natural" omminoty (from exposure - to cows, mainly) and it is just too bad that other populaces did not have that advantage...