milk means better health

On websites, blogs and forums, self-proclaimed experts selling expensive supplements and books have recently been viciously attacking dairy products.

Naama Constantini 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Naama Constantini 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Internet websites and forums have in recent months and years been overwhelmed by pseudo-scientific “information” that presents milk and dairy products in general as being as “dangerous to health” as cigarettes. But cow’s milk is among the most scientifically investigated foods and is regarded by leading physicians, clinical dietitians and scientific researchers around the world as close to a perfect food. Yet their voices are being drowned out by those out to make a buck and those who – out of ignorance – preach against consuming dairy products.
Dr. Tova Avrech, chief health adviser of the Israel Dairy Board, blames the “popularization of information. Genuine experts are not respected or believed anymore by the public. You read what is written by a popular blogger who hasn’t even taken a course or someone who has just managed to lose some weight. Readers believe them more than a professor who has studied and worked for 30 years.”
“We all know there is a trend today of health and nutrition, and everybody understands the connection between the two. These so-called experts lack objective scientific knowledge,” said Avrech, a dentist who previously studied several years at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School and was chairman of the board of directors of the Tara dairy company.
The Health Ministry, she recalled, “told us at the dairy board that their official website makes recommendations for milk and gives details on what pregnant women need to eat. But how many people actually read it? The vast majority of clinical dietitians and physicians are enthusiastic about milk, but it’s hard to fight popularization and the agendas of those who profit by fighting milk consumption.”
AS THE ministry has not yet gotten around to actively fighting back against these naive critics, vested interests, phonies and con-men and boosting milk, The Jerusalem Post interviewed Prof. Na’ama Constantini – a leading sports medicine expert in Israel – and studied reams of genuine scientific material advocating the calcium-rich food.
Constantini, the director of the Sports Medicine Center at Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus – affiliated with the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center’s department of orthopedic surgery in Ein Kerem – has no vested interest except to promote the health of the Israeli public. Her sports medicine center examines and treats not only amateur and professional athletes, but she personally takes care of young ballerinas and other dancers with eating disorders and bone problems as well.
Constantini is also the newly appointed chairman of the National Council for Women’s Health – and as osteoporosis (the potentially debilitating and even deadly disease of bone thinning) especially threatens women, she cares deeply about the issue.
Constantini is also the mother of seven sports-loving adult children and the wife of a well-known pediatric neurosurgeon. And they have a refrigerator full of dairy products of all kinds – testimony to her belief that milk is a highly beneficial food. “We go through liters of it every day,” she said in the kitchen of her Beit Hakerem home.
“For a few years now, there has been a war against milk,” said Constantini, who has appeared in the media to defend milk against the online onslaught. The attackers of milk on the Internet are myriad and their claims are without any scientific basis, Constantini said.
THESE ARE some of the nonsensical claims: Besides humans, no species drinks milk beyond infancy or drinks the milk of another species; Milk does not prevent osteoporosis; Milk is full of pus from cow-udder infections; Many people are allergic to milk, which also causes coughing, phlegm, ear infectious and runny nose; Don’t drink milk while pregnant or lactating.
Who needs milk? Nobody, they claim.
Instead, eat sardines, spinach, cabbage and cooked beans, and you’ll get more bone-building calcium. Milk is called a “veritable hormone cocktail including pituitary, steroid, hypothalamic and thyroid hormones.” Cows, they argue, are in “such a state of disease and mistreatment that they are continually being injected with antibiotic medicines and rubbed down with chemical-laden ointments to deal with their chronic infections. Over time, a bacterial infection causes harm to the cow’s mammary gland, wreaking havoc on the milk being produced....
From parasitic worms to cancerous tumors, these diseases are often passed along to the next generation of cows, and, more often, into the milk we drink.”
“Replace cow’s milk with healthy natural substitutes like rice milk, almond milk, raw goat’s milk or my favorite – hemp milk. If you do insist on drinking cow’s milk, make sure to buy only the non-genetically modified, range-bred, organic raw versions.... Eat less cheese, and always buy organic versions. Goat’s milk and cheese are the best for you,” instructs one man who called himself an MD.
Milk opponents on the web also claim that the rates of osteoporosis among American women are among the highest in the world even though they consume “tremendous amounts of calcium. Chinese people consume half as much calcium, and have a very low incidence of bone disease.”
That, they maintain, proves that milk is useless.
“The association between the intake of animal protein and fracture rates appears to be as strong as that between cigarette smoking and lung cancer,” they continue, mangling scientific findings. Calcium, continue milk critics, “may raise the risk of cancer. Research shows that higher intakes of both calcium and dairy products may increase a man’s risk of prostate cancer by 30 percent to 50%.”
“Milk doesn’t benefit sports performance.... There’s no evidence that diary is good for your bones or prevents osteoporosis – in fact, the animal protein it contains may help cause bone loss.... Take your cow for a walk. It will do you much more good than drinking milk.”
Of course, these same advocates, lobbyists and even physicians in many cases have something to sell – milk from grass-fed cows, unpasteurized milk, soy milk, coconut milk, protein powders for sportsmen and a cornucopia of dietary supplements that cost a small fortune.
SARIT ATIA-SHMUELI, a clinical dietitian at Clalit Health Services (the country’s largest health fund), has edited a long Hebrew-language document based on the latest scientific evidence from Israel and abroad that serves as a “response to anti-milk forums” on the Internet.
She notes, for example, that when the pseudoscientists state that women in the Bantu tribes in South Africa “do not suffer from osteoporosis” even though they don’t drink milk, that the tribe’s life expectancy averages only 40 years – too young for signs of bone thinning to show up.
Milk allergies, she adds, have been recorded in only 0.1% to 0.5% of adults and 2% to 6% of children under the age of five – and not the “majority” of the population as claimed by the pseudoscientists.
Scientific studies have shown absolutely no connection between dairy products and mucous, phlegm, asthma attacks or ear infections, the dietitian continues, nor do they cause stomach gas in babies. On the contrary, they have been proven to reduce the risk of dental decay and gum disease.
While plain milk is preferable, chocolate milk is not the harmful product that some claim it to be. Despite the added sugar, chocolate milk has been found in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association to be a useful drink for children who prefer the sweet beverage to ordinary milk, as they ingested more nutrients without gaining weight as from other sweet drinks.
CONSTANTINI, WHO has had many conversations with scientists on the Israel Dairy Board – which supervises the country’s dairy companies – says the farms are very well maintained and watched. “Every time a milk tanker goes out, careful tests are conducted for bacteria, hormones, antibiotics, pH and everything else. The council, which makes surprise visits, destroys milk that doesn’t meet its strict standards. So the farmer has no interest in harming his living.
Any cow diagnosed with an infection is removed from the herds that are milked for dairy production.”
The same people in this country that oppose milk tend to be against vaccination of kids against polio and other childhood diseases, and also against water fluoridation, said the Hadassah sports medicine expert – both of which have been proven highly beneficial and safe.
There are even a handful of very wealthy physicians who attack milk consumption – and sell expensive food supplements and diets on their websites, “some of which may be dangerous to health. Facts don’t interest these people. They are very arrogant.
They take things out of context, try to confuse and brainwash people and profit from them. If these so-called experts campaigned against tobacco the way they campaign against milk, the country would be much healthier. One positive thing you have to say about these people – they are excellent at merchandising their products.”
At the same time, Israeli consumption of dairy products seems to be declining.
The Jerusalem sports medicine expert, who spent a year in Canada to complete high-level studies in her field that are unavailable here, notes that high levels of calcium are needed at every stage of life. It is recommended that everyone consume at least three servings of milk and other dairy products per day. While babies from birth to one year need 210 to 270 mg. of calcium daily, the recommendations are for 1,300 mg. between nine and 18 years and 1,200 mg. at 50 and above. Health-minded people who observe a desirable low-fat, high-fiber diet should know that this is liable to reduce their body’s absorption of calcium, Constantini noted.
The number of people who are actually allergic to milk is very small and highly exaggerated, Constantini said. “And while some people are lactose intolerant, they can easily use take a lactose pill before eating dairy or put a few drops on the food, and they will have no problem digesting it. In any case, yogurt is much easier even for the lactase-intolerant to digest.”
While some types of vegetables have relatively high calcium levels, the body’s absorption of these are lower than from milk. One glass of ordinary milk (1% or 3% fat) or yogurt has 300 mg. of calcium, and 96 mg. of that is absorbed by the body.
Compare that with soy or cooked dried beans, which have 50 mg. of calcium and only eight milligrams of absorbed calcium; 122 mg. of calcium of Popeye’s favorite food – spinach – will result in only 6 mg. being absorbed, Constantini said. “How much cabbage or sardines or spinach can a child eat? And while they build their bones up to the age of 20, afterwards they have to preserve their store of calcium.”
There are other constituents in milk that are no less important than calcium, she continued. “There is magnesium and vitamin D, for example, and it’s much better to get these nutrients from nature than from unproven synthetic or manufactured additives, which many people can’t afford.
Some young sportsmen are even importing expensive chia seeds from South America to get calcium, but there is no scientific data on how much of it is absorbed.”
One need only go to a health food store to see huge plastic containers of high-priced “sports powders” made of dried whey – made from milk – that are reconstituted with water, allegedly offering improved sports performance. But Constantini insisted that these have no proven benefit above those of ordinary milk, which has been recognized by experts as “the new sports drink.” The human “machine” is the most sophisticated creation, and together with regular exercise, it knows how to make proper use of milk, yogurt and cheese for good health, she concluded.