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New Research Questions Dairy
You know it like the Pledge of Allegiance: "Milk helps build strong
teeth and bones."
But does it really? Or, as nutrition researchers from Harvard and
Cornell Universities are radically suggesting: Have we all been duped
by the dairy industry's slick, celebrity-driven "got milk?"
Milk, the sacred cow of the American diet, is under attack, and not
just by animal-rights activists. Though federal dietary guidelines and
most mainstream nutrition experts recommend that people age 9 or older
drink three glasses of milk a day, researchers are examining the role
of dairy in everything from rising osteoporosis rates, Type 1 diabetes
and heart disease to breast, prostate and ovarian cancer.
Last March, the journal Pediatrics published a review article
concluding there is "scant evidence" that consuming more milk and
dairy products will promote child and adolescent bone health. Some
leading practitioners of integrative medicine, including best-selling
author Dr. Andrew Weil, suggest eliminating dairy products from the
diet to help treat irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, eczema and ear
infections. The late Dr. Benjamin Spock reversed his support of cow's
milk for children in 1998 in his last edition of his world-famous book
"Baby and Child Care." One fact is indisputable: Our bodies need the
mineral calcium to build and maintain bones and teeth. Calcium also
helps with blood clotting, muscle function and regulation of the
heart's rhythm. The debate centers on whether milk is really the best
- or even a necessary - source. Ten thousand or so years ago, cow's
milk was not part of the human diet.
For consumers, the issue is profoundly confusing, especially when it
comes to osteoporosis. On one hand, we've had it hammered home since
grammar school that milk is a health food. We're told that increasing
calcium intake by drinking milk will prevent osteoporosis, the
weakening of bones.
But researchers Walter Willett, chairman of the department of
nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, and T. Colin
Campbell, professor emeritus of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell
University, say there is little evidence that shows boosting your
calcium intake to the currently recommended levels will prevent
"The higher the consumption of dairy, animal protein and calcium, the
higher the fracture rate - an indisputable observation in my view,"
said Campbell, whose life work is compiled in "The China Study"
(Benbella Books, $24.95), one of the most comprehensive nutritional
Though dairy is high in saturated fat, the dairy industry claims that
low-fat dairy products can encourage weight loss. During the last few
years it has spent millions on a controversial "got milk?" advertising
campaign, using milk-mustachioed figures such as television's Dr. Phil
In response, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)
filed false-labeling petitions last June with the Federal Trade
Commission and the Food and Drug Administration. They maintain that
the "got milk?" weight-loss ads are "dishonest," because scientific
evidence contradicts the claims. The dairy industry based its
assertion largely on the work of University of Tennessee researcher
Michael Zemel, who received funding from the Dairy Council and who
also has patented a weight-loss program using calcium.
"Our work promoting preventive medicine through healthy eating - with
a focus on a plant-based diet - does overlap with PETA's work in the
sense that they also are promoting vegetarian and vegan diets and
compassionate living," said Lanou, an assistant professor of nutrition
in the department of health and wellness at the University of North
"The depth and breadth of evidence now implicating cow's milk as a
cause of Type 1 diabetes is overwhelming, even though the very complex
mechanistic details are not yet fully understood," T. Colin Campbell
wrote in "The China Study." "Human breast milk is the perfect food for