Milk and Dairy: Are They Good for Our Health?
Dairy products occupy a gray space in the Paleo Diet. It depends very much on the quality and type of product consumed and on personal reactions. As with many foods, we need to keep in mind that adverse reactions may not be immediately obvious. Some things, such as Gut Dysbiosis and Leaky Gut, are problems that accumulate gradually. For this reason, it’s worth doing a detox and reset. Eliminating dairy products from the diet for a period of time gives the body, which may have never known anything else, the opportunity to stabilize. When reintroduced, if there’s a sensitivity, it’ll be much more obvious.
Food for Growing Calves
The thing about dairy products is that they’re made from cow’s milk, and cow’s milk is food for calves. Calves are big, omnivorous, have four stomachs and are in a rapid stage of growth. Milk provides calves with the perfect blend of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, calcium and hormones, as well as substances to stimulate and strengthen its immune system.
The question is: are the biological and hormonal messages intended for a calf appropriate for a human being? Opinion is divided and the science is young. It seems that for those who are dairy tolerant, some products can be a good source of saturated fats and proteins. The conjugated linoleic acid found in milk fat has been shown to have anti-cancer properties. But at the same time, the protein structures and carbohydrates in dairy products cause immune system reactions, insulin spikes, gastro-intestinal problems and can contribute to neurological disorders and cancer.
Milk Proteins and Carbohydrates
Milk is comprised of proteins and carbohydrates. The proteins are casein and whey. The carbohydrate present in dairy products is lactose.
Casein is the primary protein in dairy products, comprising about 80%. It’s also the primary protein in human milk. When digested by a calf it provides the amino acids that build muscles, connective tissues, skin, hair, hormones, enzymes, bones and teeth. It shares structural similarities with gluten. We know that gluten irritates the lining of the intestine and contributes to Leaky Gut, but we don’t know if casein has the same effect, or if it simply contributes to chaos after the intestine is already damaged.
Some of the protein structures in casein act as physiological messages from the mother cow to the calf. They bind to opioid receptors, strengthening the bond between mother and young and thus improving feeding behavior. Due to an effect which is similar to morphine, these proteins slow down the movement of food through the intestine. This is okay for a calf because it has four stomachs and a cow chews cud. But for a human?
These proteins can’t cross the intact and healthy intestinal lining of an adult human being. But in the common situation of Leaky Gut, these hormones of another species may enter. And if they do?
As you can see, there are lots of unanswered questions around milk proteins.
What we do know, however, is that in susceptible individuals – and regardless of the state of the intestine – casein will cause the immune system to respond with histamine. Symptoms include
- excess mucous
- gastrointestinal disorders
- seasonal allergies
Whey is composed of proteins and hormones that include insulin, estrogen and the growth hormone IGF-1, a growth hormone similar to insulin. IGF-1 is associated with various forms of cancer including breast, colon and prostate. It’s not a determining factor, but it seems that, for high-risk individuals, it could be an indirect facilitator because it increases cell growth without discriminating whether the cells are healthy or abnormal.
Lactose, being a carbohydrate, is sugar once it hits the bloodstream. It’s generally well tolerated by infants because they produce the enzymes which are necessary for its digestion. From weaning up to about four years old, the production of these enzymes gradually decreases resulting in lactose intolerance. Some humans of northern European ancestry continue producing the enzyme into adulthood – this is one of the very few examples of genetic evolution since the Paleolithic era. But the major part of the world’s population is lactose intolerant. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include
- gastrointestinal disorders
Even for people who seem able to tolerate it, lactose can contribute to an imbalance in intestinal bacteria that can lead to intestinal dysbiosis.
Insulin and Lactose: A Problem for Everyone
The common problem with dairy products for everyone, tolerant or intolerant, is that they are insulinogenic. Consuming lactose in combination with whey causes large quantities of insulin to be released. Insulin plays a nutritional role that’s appropriate for infant mammals in a stage of rapid growth. But when we’re not tripling our body weight in short periods, those large doses of insulin aren’t necessary. When dairy products are sweetened, as in yogurt and ice cream, even more insulin production is further increased.
If I Can Tolerate Lactose, Which Products are Best?
No one recommends eating large quantities of sweetened yogurt, ice cream and gorgeous cheese just because we like them. Tragic, I know.
If you must eat dairy products do your best to source them from pastured livestock and buy unpasteurized, organic dairy whenever you can. Milk from pastured, organic cattle contains
- higher percentages of healthy fats
- a healthier ratio of essential fatty acids (high Omega 3, low Omega 6)
- higher levels of antioxidants
- vitamin A
- vitamin E.
Dairy products that come from non-pastured and non-organic cattle, in addition to being less nutritious, contain traces of antibiotics, hormones, pesticides and anything else the animal has consumed.
Importantly, only consume whole fat dairy products. Avoid skimmed and partially skimmed dairy products because they raise the level of insulin and are devoid of nutrients. This is especially true for sweetened products, including those that have been sweetened with fruit and natural sweeteners.
Clarified butter is great because the lactose has been removed but the healthy saturated fats remain.
Full fat, unsweetened yogurt can be consumed even by those who are lactose intolerant because the fermentation process eliminates the lactose.
But, returning to a point made above, remember that even for people who seem able to tolerate lactose, it can contribute to an imbalance in intestinal bacteria that can lead to intestinal dysbiosis. The reason for this is that lactose is a FODMAP, and we’ll address this in the following post.
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