Milk: Does it Really Do a Body Good?

  • Posted by Dr. Jay Gordon

In August 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued an official statement about allergenic proteins in a mother’s diet appearing in her breastmilk and creating problems for her baby.  They stopped far short of talking about excellent research showing that cow’s milk in the diet of a pregnant or breastfeeding woman creates even more problems than we ever thought for her nursing baby.

Breastfeeding moms get lots of advice about the food they should be eating while nursing their babies.  I try to discuss this with the mom- and dad-to-be when we meet during a prenatal appointment.  I often wish I could talk to more women before they become pregnant to discuss anti-allergy measures and other topics.

Please don’t misunderstand the incredible superiority of human milk for human babies.  Infants who receive formula have more intestinal problems by far than infants who drink breastmilk.  Uninformed medical practitioners have actually told mothers that their babies were “allergic to their breastmilk.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Babies can be allergic to protein fragments from mom’s diet which end up in the milk, but if they are sensitive to those proteins, they would be much more affected by an artificial baby milk made entirely of non-human protein.  Even so called “hypoallergenic” formulas are rarely any better.   They are made of proteins broken down into smaller fragments to provoke less of a reaction.  They are still allergenic and don’t solve the problem for many babies.

Common Symptoms of a Reaction to Dairy

  • Green, runny stool
  • Blood tinged stool
  • Skin rashes
  • Chronic nasal stuffiness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive abdominal discomfort
  • Cramping
  • Coughing
  • Mimic of GER (gastroesophageal reflux) symptoms
  • Heartburn
  • Spitting up
  • Gassiness
  • Constipation

Gassiness

Babies are gassy.  That is an immutable fact caused by the need to double or triple one’s weight in a year.  Try doing that yourself and see if you don’t spend a little time gassy.

I have seen the gassiest babies get better when moms removed dairy products from their diets.

Some babies seem to cry much more than others and their parents describe them as “writhing in pain.”  Changing the nursing pattern helps some newborns and older babies if overactive milk ejection reflex (OMER) or a hindmilk/foremilk imbalance is the cause, but many more babies are helped when mom changes the way she eats.  My list of allergens begins with cow’s milk and continues with eggs, peanuts, wheat and citrus.  The most important change a mom can make is to stop drinking milk and eating things made with milk.

Blood in Stools

Babies with blood in their stool often stop having blood when moms stop drinking milk and eating other dairy products.

Cow’s milk protein irritates the intestinal lining and virtually always causes what’s called “microhemorrhaging.”  Sometimes this bleeding is quite visible and helps alert parents to the need for mom to change her diet.  Blood in the stool can be frightening but is rarely dangerous.  It has a few other causes such as viral irritation, but the most common reason I have seen it is dairy allergy.

Eczema

Eczema lessens and often goes away completely when breastfeeding moms become dairy-free.

Skin rashes occur frequently in newborns and babies.  The most common, worrisome, persistent problem is an allergic rash called eczema.  Dermatologists and allergists describe eczema as not a “rash that itches, but an itch that rashes.”  That is the first thing that happens and the first thing the parents may notice: increased irritability and “face rubbing” by their baby.   They may also see a red rash which becomes more and more “angry” looking and eventually gets scaly and even bloody.  Superficial skin infections can follow and be difficult to treat.

Dairy elimination is crucial.  Long before you use cortisone cream, stop all dairy.  Stop peanuts and eggs, too.

Constipation

Babies who are constipated often improve when dairy is eliminated from mom’s diet.  Older children may also get relief from constipation with complete dairy elimination.  In older children, studies have shown that some bedwetting may also be cured by dairy elimination.  The allergic reaction to the offending protein in milk is exhibited in a variety of ways that affect the bowels and urinary tract.  If your child is suffering from problems in these areas, dietary restriction should most certainly be considered prior to doing further testing or using medications.

Changing a breastfeeding mom’s diet or changing the diet of an older child eating solid foods will often lessen medical problems dramatically.

Cold Symptoms

Babies who have constant runny noses often get better when moms stop all dairy.  Cow’s milk allergies may look just like “hay fever” at any age:  stuffiness, cough, runny nose that seems to persist for weeks and weeks.

Older kids with ear infections often stop having ear infections when dairy is removed from their diets.

This has been a key intervention in my practice.  I have cared for hundreds of kids who have taken ten or even twenty courses of antibiotics and even steroids.  They were able to cancel scheduled ear surgery because they got better when they stopped drinking milk and eating cheese.  The ear infections just plain stopped for many of the children and for others they decreased to manageable childhood illnesses rather than being a constant source of pain, school absences and incapacity.

Read more at: http://www.notmilk.com/mucus.html

GER (Reflux)

Before a baby gets evaluated for GER (gastroesophageal reflux), breastfeeding moms must eliminate all dairy from their diets.  To some, this seems like a drastic step.  It is far less drastic or invasive than the tests and medications for GER in babies.

When eliminating dairy and watching for a reduction of GER symptoms, patience is a key.  The offending protein can take a few weeks to be completely undetectable in breastmilk.  Many will see improvement within days, because the levels begin to decrease as a diet devoid of dairy is consumed.  It is not unusual to see little change until two or three weeks after eliminating dairy.

The almost miraculous improvement in hundreds of troubled babies in 22 years of practice might be the strongest evidence, albeit anecdotal evidence, that I bring to the table.  Does this work 100% of the time?  No, nothing works 100% of the time, but dairy elimination is the single-most important advice I give to dozens of people each and every week.

Casein and B-lactoglobulin

The two proteins that trigger the biggest allergic response are casein and b-lactoglobulin.  If your baby doesn’t get as much relief as you had hoped just from dairy elimination, read labels carefully.  Soy cheese and many other foods that we expect to be dairy protein-free are really not.  Even diaper creams may contain casein.

Read more at: http://www.drjaygordon.com/nutrition/dangerousfood/dairy

Increased exposure to allergens like dairy allergens can even lead to fatal reactions.  Fortunately, the “minor” symptoms almost always go on for a long time before major reactions in almost all babies, children and adults.

Lactose Intolerance

The major “sugar” in cow’s milk is lactose and some people confuse lactose intolerance and cow’s milk protein allergy.  Lactose intolerance evolves gradually after about age 7 or 8 years and is particularly common in those of Asian, Native Alaskan and African decent. Gassiness and bloating after drinking milk, eating cheese or ice cream occur in many people.  Some choose to ignore it, others limit dairy and still others just use supplemental lactase (an enzyme) to lessen their symptoms.

Viral stomach flu can create temporary lactose intolerance.

We adults are clearly not meant to drink cow’s milk and the number of children adversely affected by dairy protein and dairy sugars is underestimated in mainstream nutrition books.

A very informative article in August 2000 issue of “Discover Magazine” features a discussion with T. Colin Campbell, an ex-dairy farmer now a Cornell University nutritional biochemist:

“The bottom line for Campbell is simple: ‘It’s unnatural to drink milk.’ Most adults in Asia and Africa, along with many in southern Europe and Latin America, have trouble digesting lactose, the main sugar in the milk of both humans and cows. Some suffer from bloating, cramps, or diarrhea if they try.  A 1978 population survey, compiled by geographer Frederick J. Simoons of the University of California at Davis, suggests that it was only because of a genetic aberration that milk became a food staple in northern Europe and North America. Nature normally programs the young for weaning before they reach adulthood by turning down production in early childhood of the enzyme that breaks down lactose. But a gene mutation inherited by people of northern European descent prevents the production of this enzyme from being turned down. As a result, the majority of Americans can drink milk all their lives.”

This excellent, short article also talks about osteoporosis as it relates to dairy consumption: Countries with the highest dairy intake have the highest incidence of osteoporosis.  This striking fact seems at odds with everything we think we “know” about calcium and nutrition. Osteoporosis is related more to calcium excretion due to salt and protein intake than to calcium deficiency in the diet.  The entire article and the attached graphics are well worth a look.

Other Medical Experts on Dairy

Hundreds of medical articles and many books have been written about the problems with milk products in humans.  The authors are physicians of great standing in the medical community.  The late Frank Oski MD was head of the Department of Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University and the editor of the Yearbook of Pediatrics. The late Dr. Benjamin Spock was the most famous and most influential physician of the past 100 years and many other doctors have participated in trying to bring dairy’s shortcomings to the attention of doctors and patients alike.

Dr. John McDougall often cites milk’s problems alphabetically:

Allergies (dairy is the leading cause of allergies in adults and children) and continuing with a discussion of .  .  .

Anemia. Again milk products are the number one cause of this problem because they cause blood loss and also interfere with iron absorption.  Additionally, kids who drink lots of milk feel very full and often have no “room” for healthier iron-containing foods.  Dr. Oski wrote many articles about milk’s role in causing anemia in America’s children.

Arthritis is the third on Dr. McDougall’s list and he documents published studies from the British Medical Journal, the Journal of Arthritis and Rheumatology and other major medical journals.  The mechanism of action involves antibody/antigen particles which lead to inflamed joints.

Atherosclerosis, or heart and blood vessel disease, make the third “A” on the list.  Milk is the number one source of saturated fat in most diets.  A further problem involves the antibodies formed against milk attacking the delicate lining of arteries.

Blood loss, constipation, and diabetes follow in alphabetical order.  The medical evidence strongly points to early exposure to cow’s milk leading to an increase in Type 1 diabetes.  I have seen constipation clear up in a matter of days when parents remove dairy products from their child’s diet and the intestinal blood loss from drinking milk (or exposure to milk protein through breast milk) is an accepted medical fact.

Talking to patients about dairy products is a lot easier than it used to be because the “problems with milk” are better known than just a few years ago.  Still, it’s hard to combat the $400,000,000 annual advertising budget available to the purveyors of dairy products.  Milk does not “do a body good” nor build strong bones.  It is a traditional food which has become a lazy staple of the American diet.

Children (and their parents) get healthier when they have fewer dairy products and are healthiest when they have none.

When I’m talking to older kids about making dairy a smaller part of their diets, I tell them that it’s kind of like an old Seinfeld joke:  “Hey, look at those large animals in the field!  Let’s go squeeze those things underneath them and then drink whatever comes out.  Then, let’s take whatever’s left over, put it aside for a year or so and .  .   . eat it!”  The kids respond with a hearty “eeeeew!”  Even adults get it sometimes.

4 Comments

  1. Regina Kennedy

    my son just turned 1 year, may 4. we went to the dr for his checkup and they pricked his finger and told me that he had an iron level somewhere in the 8 range. The dr then gave me an otc "prescription" for fer-n-sol. I gave approx. one dropper full for almost 1 week. I exclusively breastfed for almost 7 months, and am still breast feeding during the day and he sleeps with us at night, so he is feeding multiple times during the night. I drink raw milk,and during my pregnancy drank at least 1-2 glasses a night. I also ate at least 2 cage free eggs per day for most of my pregnancy and at least constant for the first 3 months after his birth. Just in the past month or so, I started buying organic pastureized milk and have be switching off the two, b/c the organic milk I can get @ 1%, where the raw milk has a lot of fat… I really really don't like how my son's stool was yesterday, really hard and what I would consider constipated, for him, and it was black of course. Since the dr told me he had low iron, I also started attempting to cook most of our foods in cast iron and trying to research good iron source foods. I have been giving him organic orange mango juice with most of the meals, as well, I had been mixing the iron supplement with it. I have a follow up appt in one month. How long does it take to increase iron in the blood?? I don't want to stop breast feeding, what do I do? He doesn't really feed nearly as much as he used to. It is approx. 10-15 times in a 24 hr pd. I read that blackstrap molasses is really good for you, but it's sugar, and I'm trying to lose weight. Just looking for a better opinion than my pediatrician that is not into natural medicine…

    1. Cheryl Taylor

      Ferrous sulfate is actually a very poor way to get iron because it is not very bioavailable. The best form of iron available to your son is via breastmilk. Here's a great link breaking it down for you: http://www.kellymom.com/nutrition/vitamins/iron.h

      Was he sick anytime in the month before that finger prick? Did you know that the body's own defense mechanism when combatting a bacteria or virus is to lower iron levels because the iron can encourage bacterial growth? So the body will naturally lower iron levels and it takes about a month after an illness before the iron levels return to normal range.

      You are correct that artificial iron such as ferrous sulfate drops constipate. In addition to breastmilk consider the iron in foods that he is eating and choose some high iron foods in addition to high in Vit. C to help with absorption. Cooking in cast iron skillets is also good. You're on the right track.

      Hope that helps.

      1. Regina Kennedy

        in feb we were all sick with bad colds… I think he might be starting the teething process again. He goes through periods of drooling a lot, so maybe he'll start getting more teeth in soon. He has been "itching" his right ear; this seems to be a normal thing he does when teething, but we were just at the dr last wednesday, he couldn't have an ear infection already, could he? What usually happens when a baby tests low for iron a second time? Are they going to try to give me some harsh drugs??

        Thanks for the site, my husband and I fed him dandelion leaves last night for dinner, along with hamburger and onions and couscous, he didn't eat much, but I think he likes the dandelion. We bought them at whole foods, but we are considering to harvest them ourselves, our yard is full of them.

        1. Cheryl Taylor

          Make sure that you don't apply pesticides or fertilizer to anything that you add to your diet. You have to be careful with growing food in typical residential areas.

          Yes, an ear infection can flare up from one day to a next, much less a week. Yes, some children pull on their ears when they are teething, because for whatever reason they feel the teething pain into the ear canal, which isn't a far fetched idea when the pain is along the jawbone that they feel it related over into the ear. It's hard to know without looking at the ear drum.

          With a child that has a hemoglobin that registered low it's wise to be aware of it and check it again. In that process remember that there are symptoms of concern with low iron, make yourself aware of what they are, and look at the whole picture. Make sure that your relationship with your doctor is one of communication and respect. There should be a good conversation about what you should keep an eye on, what is reasonable for recovery time after an illness (it takes a good month for iron levels to return to normal after an illness) and your desire to find natural sources of iron that will not interfere with the absorption of the most bioavailable iron that is in breastmilk.

          Hope that helps.

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