The Case Against Conventional Dairy

Filed under: General Health, Nutrition

So for you consistent readers of my blog I am sure you noticed that I have begun to lean away from dairy in my personal diet. I have also begun to suggest to clients to decrease overall dairy intake, for a plethora of reasons. I have gotten tons of questions from them, from people at CP and from readers to this very blog as to why exactly I have chosen to head in this direction.

The answer is I have been slowly heading this way for a few months. I have always been a large dairy consumer, and was practically a complete dairy apologist any time someone would come along and try to knock it if off of the pretty pedestal I had it on. Dairy is a great source of a blend of proteins, casein and whey. It is also a great source of calcium, tends to come with a little vitamin D and also provides some riboflavin, phosphorus, vitamin B12 and potassium to boot. It is a food of great complexity.

Considering how much milk I drank over the first 25 years of my life, I did not come to this decision lightly. Unfortunately the milk we drink today does not resemble a food that our great grand-parents would have recognized 100 years ago. It is mass-produced shit.

Let me back-track a little bit. Lets take a quick look at the history of dairy, and in more specifically, milk. Ryan Andrews over at PrecisionNutriton.com covered some of this topic beautifully, so rather than reinvent the wheel, I am going to quote what he wrote, as it was brilliant. Hang on to your hats, this one is gonna be a doozy.

Civilizations began to use milk as a source of nourishment around 8000 BCE.

Although animals used for milk include cattle, goats, sheep, horses, buffalo, yaks, donkeys and camels, cow’s milk is one of the mildest tasting mammalian milks and the most popular.

No culture has ever habitually consumed milk from an animal that didn’t live on grass/leaves, as flesh-eating animals secrete milk with an odd flavor that most people don’t fancy. Most flesh eating animals also give birth to a litter (think dogs and pigs), which means the mammary system is spread along the length of the torso. Translation: Milking is difficult with big, clumsy human hands.

Cheese is said to have been discovered by an Arab nomad travelling across the desert during the Neolithic period with milk in a container made from an animal’s stomach. The enzymes in the stomach curdled the milk.

Fast forward to the 1800s & 1900s when our relationship with dairy cows changed. Populations increased and the importance of calcium and phosphorus for skeletal health became evident. Milk was promoted by public education campaigns and doctors as a rich source of these minerals. Doctors considered milk as an “indispensible” component of a child’s diet based on this association.

The industry responded to the demand and milk came from cows crowded into dirty milking sheds. Lots of cows, lots of dirt, and little space meant sick cows. There was concern of a milk-borne epidemic as this new form of unhygienic milk production took precedence. Dairy farmers tried sterile bottling and disease testing on cows, but problems persisted; thus, pasteurization and refrigeration became common after 1900.”

Clearly this is where the problems truly began, since to some degree or another we have been consuming dairy and milk for approximately 10,000 years without issue! As some of you may know, I am no fan of pasteurization as I think it destroys the taste and flavor or raw milk, as well as many beneficial compounds, including lactobacillus acidophilus, one of the most highly studied health-promoting cultures in yogurt. I wrote a blog on the topic here.

“Cows have a nine month gestation period and lactate only when they’ve recently given birth, just like humans. In the past, dairy farmers would allow cows a seasonal reproductive cycle, and birth was planned in sync with the new grass of spring.

This way, the mother had lots of nutritious grazing and time to replenish nutrient stores. Grazing is healthier for cows because it provides fresh air and exercise and grass is what the bovine digestive system is built for.

In contrast, industrial production involves feeding cows grain. More grain means more rumen (stomach) acidity, more thirst, diluted milk and ruminal acidosis. Acidosis leads to ulcers, infectious bacteria, inflammation and growth of E. coli. Antibiotics are administered to offset these ailments.

Current dairy producers inseminate cows just a few months after her previous birth, guaranteeing minimal time between pregnancies. When cows produce milk for longer than one year, their immune systems are compromised and milk quality is diminished.

Not only is this uncomfortable for the cow, it increases pregnancy-triggered estrogens in the milk supply. Estrogens can fuel tumor growth.

The number of dairy cows in the U.S. decreased from 18 million to 9 million between 1960 and 2005. Total milk production increased from 120 billion to 177 billion pounds during the same period. This is due to strategic breeding and pharmaceutical aid.”

Life of a cow (1850) Life of a cow (2005)
Grazed on pastures
Produced 56 pounds of milk/day
Milked for 6 weeks after birth
336 pounds of milk per year
Milk = $5/gallon
Life span of 20 years before dying of natural causes
Raised in confined feedlot with grains
Produced 67 pounds of milk/day
Milked for 10 months after birth (and during subsequent pregnancies)
20,000 pounds of milk per year
Milk = $3/gallon
Life span of 3-4 years before being sent to the slaughterhouse. “Spent” dairy cows are used for the cheapest forms of beef.

Those are some scary numbers right there. So not only do we have the fact that pasteurization sucks, the artificial diet makes the cows sick so they are stuffed with antibiotics, they are kept pregnant practically year-round which reduces immunity and milk quality, and the cows are practically milked to death; this whole systems is pumping cancer-causing estrogens into us and our food supply? And we recommend giving this food and its hormones to our developing kids?

There have been a few new studies looking at the estrogens in milk, and it is scary stuff. These estrogens can fuel the growth of many tumors and are linked to prostate, breast and ovarian cancer. The hormones come along with the fat in dairy, so one would assume that fat-free or skim would the way to go. The problem with that assumption is that there is one of the most biologically active and dangerous estrogen metabolites is found in the highest concentrations in skim milk. Not good. Whole milk also had the lowest total amount of estrogens. Not only that, but in large-scale epidemiological studies low-fat milk and dairy was associated with larger waist circumference, while whole fat dairy was associated with smaller waist circumference. We know that waist circumference, more specifically visceral fat, is associated with many health problems, so keeping a smaller waist circumference is essential to good health.

For more on the dairy-estrogen connection, you can read some articles here and here.

While many people also believe that since milk is a great source of calcium, it is therefore imperative for optimal bone health. This unfortunately is highly suspect.

“In many parts of the world cow’s milk is a negligible part of the diet, and yet, diseases associated with lack of calcium (e.g., osteoporosis, fracture) are uncommon.

In fact, data suggests that calcium rich dairy foods actually increase calcium losses from the body. How much calcium we get from the diet really isn’t that important, rather, what matters is how much we retain in the body. Populations consuming the most dairy have among the highest rates of osteoporosis and hip fracture in later life. While cow’s milk can be high in certain nutrients, it’s difficult to argue that it is “essential” for optimal health.

While kids believe drinking milk is the key to bone health, scientific reviews acknowledge the following:

“Scant evidence supports nutrition guidelines focused specifically on increasing milk or other dairy product intake for promoting child and adolescent bone mineralization.” (Lanou 2006)”

Countries that eat the most dairy seem to have the most hip fractures

It certainly makes me wonder. In case you were wondering about the connection between the calcium in dairy and weight loss, I am calling bullshit on it. There have been over 35 clinical trials since 1989 looking at the relationship between dairy and weight loss, and only 4 have shown a connection. Oddly enough all four of those studies were conducted by the same guy, Michael Zemel. Think he might be a stooge?

Moving on, there has also been some talk about casein, a protein found in dairy, linked to different forms of cancer, with strong associations for lymphoma, thyroid cancer, prostate cancer, and ovarian cancer. Considering all the milk and cottage cheese I have consumed over the years, this concerns me greatly. For those of you who put cottage cheese in their protein smoothies or consume it at night before bed, just switch to Greek yogurt which is also a rich source of casein, it is a much healthier alternative which I will cover in a second.

This casein-cancer connection is worrisome, especially since it is also known that consuming whey in conjunction with casein is superior for increasing muscle protein synthesis, decreasing muscle protein breakdown, recovery and muscular growth. The lactic acid bacteria in the yogurt seems to prevent the casein-cancer connection, as well as providing plenty of other cancer-preventing benefits. Also of note, it has been shown that the whey protein in dairy (whey makes up 20% of the dairy protein, casein is 80%) can also prevent the casein-cancer link.

One more knock against casein is its prevention of the health benefits of green tea. When milk is poured into green tea, the caseins bind to the catechins in the tea, and prevent them from exerting their health-promoting benefits.

After all of this, I didn’t even get into the fact that approximately 75% of adults are lactose-intolerant to some degree or another. Some people will make other claims about the negatives of dairy and wander into a fantasy world of negatives that have little to no evidential support.

To wrap up, this is why the majority of my dairy consumption has been cut back. I do still consume 16oz of Greek yogurt everyday, as it does provide high quality protein, inhibits the casein-cancer connection, and provides plenty of probiotic cultures that seem to have a cancer-preventing effect. I also still consume pastured butter for it is a fine source of many great nutrients including CLA, omega-3′s, the fat soluble vitamins especially D and K (specifically K2 MK-4) as well as butyric acid. I do have some cheese from time to time, but it is not common.

That about wraps it up for today, I hope I clarified a few of the reasons why I have begun to lean away from dairy.

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Posted on December 21st, 2009 by Brian St. Pierre

44 Comments

  1. Pau Lane Says:

    Wow, great post never realized how much milk has changed in the past 150 years. Keep ‘em coming Brian

  2. Jeff Brewster Says:

    Brian,

    In light of your very extensive post today, it makes me wonder why there’s been so much hoopla over casein hydrolysate.

    Between evidence pointing to gut losses and preferential use by splanchnic over peripheral tissues combined with your mentioning of the casein-cancer connection and the fact that a blend of casein and whey would be superior anyway, it seems like it is nothing but a ploy to get people to open their wallets for the latest fad.

  3. Sandy Sommer, RKC Says:

    I haven’t had any industrial dairy in 6 months. Have been using grass fed raw milk, cream and cheese. Even my whey supplementation is from raw milk from grass fed cows. Definitely see and feel the difference.

  4. Barry Carter Says:

    Very interesting -a well argued presentation

  5. ktrain Says:

    I think there are reasonable concerns regarding dairy. The flip side is that much of the science involved with these concerns involves correlation without any action related research. Without understanding how dairy derived calcium is *causing* fractures all we know is that there is correlation between societies that intake large amount of calcium and fractures. Elevated calcium in take also seems to correlate with countries where obesity is an epidemic. Show me a statistical study of calcium intake vs fractures when controlled for risk factors. That is real science. Lanou and Caslteman didn’t conduct studies, they simply poured through available research and without looking at the 1200 studies we’ll never know what the protocols for each were. Neither Lanou or Castelman are scientists per say, ie I don’t believe either has conducted a bone density study (Castleman is a journalist.) Both are peddling old things have been true for a while, eating vegetables improves bone health and weight bearing exercises increase bone health. The other piece they’re peddling is a fringe science/diet concept of alkalines in the blood…in the end this is a mass market book that is selling a diet. It’s not a peer reviewed because there is nothing to peer review….

  6. Robert Says:

    Brian, excellent article.

    I’m lactose intolerant, but I have a brother that drinks nearly a gallon of milk a day. I’ve been trying to convince him to lower or eliminate his intake, so I might show him this article.

    I also put milk protein isolate in my post-workout shakes and have heard about the casein worries. Thanks for clearing things up.

  7. Jim Says:

    I rememeber reading about dangers of milk pasterisation. So maybe this “casein-cancer connection” actually is “heat-treated casein-cancer connection”.

  8. Steven Coe Says:

    Brian, great post today. I’m a novice when it comes to nutrition, but I’ve been studying and trying to learn as much as I can. Recently I’ve been reading about paleolithic nutrition and I read that the correlation between calcium and bone health is highly dependent upon the body’s acid/base balance.

    Do you think a acid/base balanced diet is a possible reason why diseases associated with a lack of calcium are not prevalent where cow’s milk is a neglible part of the diet?

  9. Deborah Says:

    You make a compelling case against “dairy.” The product today is so far removed from its original form that it is scary. My trainer recently suggested the substitution of Greek yogurt and I think that I will give it a try. I’ve been consuming very little milk during the past 5 years, but I have to say, after reading this post, I’m ready to elminiate it completely.

  10. Sean Says:

    Hey Brian,

    Just curious, if you could gain access to raw milk, would this change?

  11. Some Dairy Q & A : The Home of Brian St. Pierre Training Says:

    [...] epic blog post a few days ago (The Case Against Conventional Dairy) has generated a lot of talk and questions. It was by far my longest and most in depth blog to [...]

  12. A Big Thank You : The Home of Brian St. Pierre Training Says:

    [...] likely, listening to the interview with Mike Boyle, give it a listen. (I go into detail about my dairy blogs, the Iron Gym and Tony wishing he was Dr. [...]

  13. Rees Says:

    Awesome post man. I actually just posted it on facebook. Hope you don’t mind. Thought it was worth it.

  14. El Daveo Says:

    Sweet, some alarmist nonsense. Well done!

  15. AB Says:

    There’s some good analysis up, along with many logical fallacies, and alarmist conclusions.

    Alan Aragon on the calcium-osteo link:

    Argument #1: If milk is so great, why is it that America has such a high rate of osteoperosis?

    Alan’s Response: There are many factors.

    Osteoporosis is a multi-factorial disease. Implying that milk consumption has failed to eradicate osteoporosis in the US is like saying fruit and vegetables consumption has failed to eradicate cancer. Shouldn’t eating your five-a-day “save it?” Not necessarily, but it can certainly hedge your bets against it–IF and only if a host other beneficial lifestyle habits are maintained. There’s always a mix of genetic and environmental factors that interplay in the manifestation of diseases like osteoporosis.

    It’s commonly thought that a high protein intake contributes to osteoporosis as well, but can we sit here and blame protein consumption? Let me add a little wrinkle here for you to chew on: calcium and protein work synergistically to strengthen bones. It’s not a matter of calcium being ineffective, it’s a matter of making sure its cofactors and synergists are present in adequate amounts in the diet. Adequate amounts of cofactors & synergists, sad to say, is not a common characteristic of the American diet. No wonder population studies give mixed results.

    Correlation does not equal causation.

    Something that needs to be cleared up here is this… If you’re gonna mention population research to support an anti-milk stance, consider the inherent lack of control of the universe of variables involved. There’s a nearly infinite set of monkey wrenches (or “confounders” as scientists call them) that makes the epidemiological data roughly an even split between saying milk is good for bone health and milk does nothing at all.

    However, the story changes drastically when you look at randomized controlled trials (RCTs). All types of research have their strengths and weaknesses. Epidemiological research is an attempt to spot potential correlations amidst an ocean of variables. In contrast, experimental research in the form of RCTs attempts to suppress the possibility of all other variables messing with the determination of two variables: the cause, and the effect. In contrast to the mixed bag of population data, nearly 100% of the RCTs on milk intake and bone health show a positive effect. Same story with calcium’s positive effect on bone.

  16. Stuff You Should Read : The Home of BSP Training & Nutrition Says:

    [...] The Case Against Conventional Dairy – by Me. I personally think this is the greatest blog post I have ever written, and it is certainly the [...]

  17. Leah Says:

    Vermeers milkmaid says it all….

  18. Hello, Brian Says:

    Brian. You are the shit! Great article. I am scrared to death.

  19. The China Study Fallacy : The Home of BSP Training & Nutrition Says:

    [...] In this China Study there was some work done on rats in which they fed them 20% of their calories from casein (the major protein in dairy). This caused an increased mortality rate, and an increase in degenerative diseases. This is concerning, no question, and one reason why I only recommend whey protein powder to clients, I cover more of this particular topic HERE. [...]

  20. Robert Says:

    Hello, Great post. I’d like to add a few video segments, one specific to dairy and the other a “primer” to factory farming which produces approx. 96% of our meat and dairy today. This will lend a strong visual counterpart to what is being described in here in words. See http://www.youtube.com/user/freefromharmblog#p/f/50/mbdFOUbUZwQ and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebTQXkMUqt0 and for a large selection of similar footage see http://www.youtube.com/user/freefromharmblog#p/f/.

  21. You Asked, I Answered : The Home of BSP Training & Nutrition Says:

    [...] Check out my blog The Case Against Conventional Dairy to find out more. [...]

  22. Alejandro Says:

    Nice article Brian.

    I was wondering how much of this information differs in relation to the use of UHT techniques (as is the case in most of Europe for example) for milk quality preservation?

  23. You Asked, I Answered : The Home of BSP Training & Nutrition Says:

    [...] more reading on the subject, check out some other blogs I wrote here and [...]

  24. Delicious Dairy : The Home of BSP Training & Nutrition Says:

    [...] that title may seem a little off coming from the guy who wrote The Case Against Conventional Dairy, but the key part of that other blog title is the conventional. Conventional dairy production is [...]

  25. Hockey Development and an Eye Opener on Dairy | David Lasnier Sports Training Says:

    [...] 2. The second one is a blog post written by Brian St. Pierre on conventional dairy products.  I read that post just last week and to say it was an eye-opener for me would be an understatement.  Brian presents some shocking facts about how dairy products are handled and produced.  This is a MUST READ for anyone concerned about their nutrition.  Since reading it last week, I am truly reconsidering my dairy intake on a daily basis and might just cut the majority of it from my diet sooner than later. make sure you check it out HERE. [...]

  26. 3 Things I Learned From Brian St. Pierre | David Lasnier Sports Training Says:

    [...] waist circumference.  For more info on that subject, make sure to check out Brian’s post on conventional dairy on his [...]

  27. Alejandro Says:

    Thanks for the insight Brian.

  28. The History of Dairy Says:

    [...] by a Ryan Andrews article on Precision Nutrition, has already done an excellent job of setting out the history.  I really recommend taking the time to read the article by Brian alongside this introduction [...]

  29. Pasteurised and raw dairy Says:

    [...] including riboflavin, phosphorus and potassium (see paragraph two of Brian St. Pierre’s [...]

  30. Full fat and low fat dairy Says:

    [...] Brian St Pierre comments that in “large-scale epidemiological studies low-fat milk and dairy was associated with larger waist circumference, while whole fat dairy was associated with smaller waist circumference”.  The only study I can find which he may have been referring to is the Hoorne study in which the authors concluded that they could find no link between higher dairy consumption and protection against weight gain.  [...]

  31. Dairy as a calcium source Says:

    [...] would also cite the study which Brian St Pierre refers to in his article about dairy, comparing fractures with calcium intake in different populations, but I have a concern that [...]

  32. matt Says:

    Great article, well done. I noticed that chart re calcium ingestion and hip fractures had some reference numbers 14, 15. Can you please forward me those references or a reference list. I would love to get the full text articles or at least an abstract. Thank you

  33. Rees Says:

    I send this to every one of my clients when they start w/ me

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  35. Gracie Schiebel Says:

    Great material, thanks. I would just to point out that even the Mayo clinic says that moderate exercise while pregnant can be very beneficial.

  36. Derby City CrossFit | DarkSide Strength | Louisville Monday 6/17/13 - Is It Worth Going Organic? Says:

    [...] to organic dairy (that is if you still want to consume dairy) I would recommend you check out Brian St. Pierre’s article on the subject. It goes into great details on this conventional vs organic dairy debate. Not exactly how cows are [...]

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