Got milk? No? Good!


I have had mild lactose intolerance since childhood. This means that I have no problems with butter or ice cream or milk in my coffee and tea and cereal and in other foods but cannot drink a full glass of milk with getting an upset stomach. It turns out that what I thought of as a limitation and even a minor health hazard (milk is good for you, right?) may actually be a positive thing. While butter and eggs got the green light some years ago, switching from being bad for you to being either good or neutral, a new study suggests that milk may go the other way, switching from being an unalloyed good to health hazard.

A new study from Sweden involving over 100,000 people observed over a period of 20 years finds that people who have more than a glass of milk a day have higher mortality rates and, even more surprisingly, that the risk of bone fracture in women increases. The study authors say that the last finding should be treated with caution because women who had reason to fear bone fractures for other reasons may have drunk a lot more milk, thinking of it as a preventative measure.

Look for future studies, maybe funded by the dairy industry, to see if this conclusion holds up. That industry has invested a vast amount of money enlisting all manner of celebrities in their Got Milk? ad campaign and made the milk mustache a badge of honor, though it dropped that campaign earlier this year in favor of a new one in order to boost sluggish sales. This study will be a cause of concern to them.

Comments

  1. DsylexicHippo says

    I would take this study on milk with a grain of salt and wait for the next reputable one that comes to the exact opposite conclusion. Just like coffee. They say it’s good for you one day and bad for you the next. I’ve learned to tune them out. Moderation is the key. So is listening to your body.

    Note: I was speaking metaphorically when I alluded to listening to your body. For those with lactose intolerance, actual listening skills may come into play.

  2. says

    I would worry more about the overuse of hormones, anti-biotics and creutzfeldt-jakob disease in the US milk supply than any possible danger from the milk itself.

    I also have a food intolerance. The biggest problem isn’t avoiding the food, it’s the people who feel a need to “prove” it doesn’t exist by giving it surreptitiously. Some ethnic groups are known to have intolerances (e.g. northeast Asians and milk products, east Europeans and celiac disease, etc.), others aren’t so some people assume it’s not there.

  3. Reginald Selkirk says

    Another diet and health study. I must rush to change my lifestyle immediately
    /sarcasm

  4. Rob Grigjanis says

    I developed fairly severe lactose intolerance at about age 40 (even a bit of milk in my coffee made me ill). In the years since then, it has disappeared, and I can now gorge on ice cream with no ill effects. A few years before this, I developed a horrible allergy to coriander. This too has (largely) gone away so that I can eat small quantities. Much later, developed an allergy to cat dander. This remains. All very mysterious.

  5. Katydid says

    @2; I’m right there with you. I have a food intolerance that makes me violently throw up when the substance hits my stomach, then I spend the next few hours spasming and shivering. If I had a nickel for everyone (including family) who have said to me, “Oh, I didn’t think it would hurt you to just have A LITTLE…” as they sneaked it in my food.

    Also, yes, it’s concerning what might be hiding in milk. Hormones, e coli, BSE, etc.

  6. doublereed says

    A new study from Sweden involving over 100,000 people observed over a period of 20 years finds that people who have more than a glass of milk a day have higher mortality rates and, even more surprisingly, that the risk of bone fracture in women increases. The study authors say that the last finding should be treated with caution because women who had reason to fear bone fractures for other reasons may have drunk a lot more milk, thinking of it as a preventative measure.

    So… that sounds like a pretty clear case of reverse causation. Women find out they are in danger of bone fracturing and drink more milk in response.

  7. Kevin Kehres says

    I’d love to see the multivariate analysis controlling for those at high risk for osteoporotic fractures. With that many participants at that long a period of time, there’s gotta be some useful data.

    For me, I never, ever, ever liked milk. My brother would drink mine when we were kids. Ick. Disgusting.

    Needless to say, I’m at no risk for falling for any campaign by the milk industry.

  8. Karen Locke says

    I eat cheese, perhaps too much cheese, and it doesn’t bother me. But I did a dairy-free diet for a couple of months to check for food sensitivities (gah, it was hard! Soy cheese!) and took to drinking soy milk on my cereal and almond milk in my coffee. I’m back to eating good cheese, but I like soy milk and almond milk, and dairy milk tastes “wrong” now.

  9. Mano Singham says

    This article gives the amount of lactose in all manner of dairy products and says that if it has less than 2% lactose, you should be ok unless you really overdo it. Cheese generally has very low levels of lactose and the more aged it is, the less it has.

    If cheese does give you problems, this other article says it may be due to other factors.

  10. tecolata says

    We need to be careful as other have pointed out to understand that correlation is not causation. There could very well be other factors involved (as has been said, people at risk for fractures may drink more milk).

    When I was young my mother made me drink my milk or I could not get dessert. I’d do damn near anything for dessert!

    During menopause I became lactose intolerant and switched to dairy alternate. Now I can tolerate small quantities of butter or parmesan on the pasta, but pizza gets to me. I can’t drink a glass of milk at all. Sadly, more than a small scoop of ice cream triggers a reaction, but it’s worth it on special occasions.

  11. badgersdaughter says

    I was mildly lactose-intolerant for three years in my 30s. Never before, not even as a baby, and not since.

  12. Mano Singham says

    The apparent transient nature of lactose intolerance had not struck me. Because of my early problems, I never drink a glass of milk these days so maybe I am also no longer intolerant but just don’t know it. But since I have no desire to drink milk, it is not worth my while to try it.

  13. M'thew says

    According to Robert Cohen of the NotMilk website, this was also already indicated by the Harvard University’s Nurses Health Study. Robert’s take on this is on this page.

    I gave up on reading NotMilk because I got the impression that Cohen’s statements are often too confident for the data he presents. It may be clear to anyone perusing his site that there’s a lot of righteousness there, perhaps not always rightfully so. Nevertheless, there are a lot of downsides to the consumption of dairy products – and not always just for the humans doing the consuming. I’d be interested in better takes on the correlation between dairy consumption and strength of human bones, but with all the conflicting interests that might be a long wait.

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