Can Milk Be Bad For You?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Uncategorized

is milk bad for youGot Milk? Maybe Not

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

 

You’ve probably seen the ads featuring your favorite celebrities sporting a white mustache and saying “Got milk?” Those ads all suggest that milk is essential for strong bones and a healthy body.

And you are probably aware of dietary recommendations from learned experts saying that you should be consuming at least 2-3 servings of milk every day – more if you’re over 65.

If so, you are probably really confused by the recent headlines saying things like: “Milk Consumption May Increase the Risk of Fractures” and “High Consumption of Milk May Increase Mortality Risk”.

Can milk be bad for you?

Before you pour all your milk down the drain and put Bessie the cow out to pasture, we should examine the study behind the headlines.

Does Milk Actually Increase Fracture Risk?

The study in question (Michaelsson et al, British Medical Journal, 2014; 349; g6015 doi: 10.1136/bmj.g6015) followed 61,433 Swedish women (aged 39-74) for an average of 20.2 years and 45,339 Swedish men (aged 45-79) for an average of 11.2 years. The women filled out two food frequency questionnaires, one at the beginning of the study and another approximately 10 years later. The men filled out one food frequency questionnaire at the beginning of the study.

Mortality and cause of death were obtained from the Swedish Cause of Death Registry. Bone fracture information was obtained from the Swedish National Patient Registry (In countries like Sweden big brother knows everything about you).

The results were pretty dramatic. When they compared women who were drinking three or more glasses of milk per day to women who drank less than one glass of milk a day, the highest level of milk consumption was associated with a:

• 93% increased risk of dying from all causes.
• 90% increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
• 44% increased risk of dying from cancer.
• 16% increased risk of having a bone fracture of any kind.
• 60% increased risk of having a hip fracture.

In contrast, consumption of fermented milk products (cheeses, soured milk and yoghurt) was associated with a decreased risk of mortality and bone fracture in women (a 10-15% decrease in risk for every serving consumed).

What Are The Dangers of Drinking Milk?

The authors speculated that that the increased mortality and fracture risk was due to galactose (a sugar formed from lactose, the primary naturally occurring sugar in unfermented milk). Their argument supporting this hypothesis was four fold:

1) In our intestines lactose is split into two sugars, glucose and galactose.

2) In animal models (primarily mice and rats) lifelong consumption of galactose is associated with shortened lifespan caused by, among other things, oxidative damage and chronic inflammation.

3) There is a rare genetic disease called galactosemia in humans that is caused by the lack of a crucial enzyme required to metabolize galactose. Patients with this disease die at a very early age without treatment. Even with dietary restriction of galactose they experience oxidative damage, inflammation and an increased risk for chronic diseases, including osteoporosis.

4) In a subset of patients enrolled in this study, high milk consumption was associated with an increase in blood markers of oxidative stress and inflammation.

While the results seem clear and the hypothesis seems plausible, we should perhaps look at the limitations of the study before making significant dietary changes.

Limitations of the Study

There are a number of significant limitations to this study.

what are the dangers of drinking milk1) It simply measures associations, not cause and effect.

2) The statistics were not entirely consistent. For example, while consumption of three or more glasses of milk (average = 3.4 glasses/day) was associated with 90% increased risk of mortality and cardiovascular mortality in women, there was only a 15% increase in risk associated with every glass of milk consumed. 15%/glass times 3.4 glasses/day = 51% – not 90%. A little bit of higher math tell us that these numbers don’t quite add up.

3) In men the effects were much smaller to nonexistent. In men high milk consumption was associated with a 10% increased risk in overall mortality and a 16% increased risk cardiovascular mortality, but milk consumption had essentially no effect on cancer mortality, fracture risk or hip fracture risk.

4) The galactose hypothesis is interesting, but far from convincing. Mice and rats don’t necessarily metabolize galactose in the same way as humans. Furthermore, in humans galactosemia is a very rare disease, and there is currently no evidence that dietary galactose poses a problem for people without the genetic defect that causes galactosemia.

5) Most importantly, there have been a number of previous studies examining the effects of milk consumption on both fracture risk and mortality, and those studies have been remarkably inconsistent. Some show increased risk and others show decreased risk. Meta-analyses of all previous clinical studies have shown no significant association between milk consumption and mortality (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 93: 158-171, 2011) or hip fracture (Journal of Bone Mineral Research, 26: 833-839, 2011).

While some of the media articles were characterizing this study as ground-breaking and one that should lead to changes in dietary recommendations, the authors were far more cautious in their interpretation of the data. They said: “The results of this study should be interpreted cautiously given the observational design of our study. The findings merit independent replication before they can be used for dietary recommendations.” I agree.

Where Else Can You Find The Nutrients That Milk Provides?

In summary, there is no consistent evidence that milk consumption increases your risk of mortality and bone fractures. However, there is also no consistent evidence that milk consumption decreases your risk of mortality or fracture.

Since milk provides no proven benefit and may pose some risk many of you may be wondering where else you can get the nutrients that milk provides.

Milk is an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, protein and riboflavin. When you carefully evaluate alternative food sources for these nutrients you will quickly discover that your choices are not straight forward. You need to be a knowledgeable consumer and careful label reader. For example:

vitamin-C• Green leafy vegetables are a high in calcium, but many of them also contain oxalate, which chelates the calcium and reduces its bioavailability. In short, green leafy vegetables are a healthy source for some of the calcium we need for healthy bones, but they should not be our primary source because of the relatively low calcium bioavailability.

• Cheeses are an excellent source of calcium, but many cheeses are high in fat and sodium.

• Yoghurts and other fermented milk products are an excellent source of calcium, but many of them are high in added sugars and artificial ingredients, which I do not recommend (see my article “Do Artificial Colors Cause Hyperactivity?” (https://healthtipsfromtheprofessor.com/do-artificial-colors-cause-hyperactivity/).

• Tofu and tempeh provide only 1/3 to ½ the calcium found in milk and provide no vitamin D.

• “Milk substitutes” made from soy, rice or other sources are often high in added sugars and may not provide the same nutrient profile as real milk. You have to read the labels carefully.

• Calcium supplements are an excellent source of calcium, but they have been controversial in recent years (see my article “Does Calcium Increase Heart Attack Risk?” (https://healthtipsfromtheprofessor.com/calcium-supplements-increase-heart-attack-risk/). My take on the controversy is that the latest studies have shown fairly convincingly that calcium supplements do not increase heart attack risk. However, if there is any risk, it is associated with calcium supplements that were not designed properly for incorporation of calcium into bone. My recommendation is to only choose calcium supplements that have been clinically proven to increase bone density.

• Well designed protein supplements can also be a good source of calcium and vitamin D, but many of them contain artificial sweeteners, which I do not recommend (see my articles “Do Diet Sodas Make You Fat?” (https://healthtipsfromtheprofessor.com/do-diet-sodas-make-you-fat/), “Does Sugar Cause Heart Disease?” (https://healthtipsfromtheprofessor.com/does-sugar-cause-heart-disease/), and “Can Soft Drinks Cause Heart Disease?” (https://healthtipsfromtheprofessor.com/soft-drinks-and-heart-disease/).

The Bottom Line:

1) A recent study suggested that high milk consumption (> 3 glasses per day) in women might be associated with a:

• 93% increased risk of dying from all causes.
• 90% increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
• 44% increased risk of dying from cancer.
• 16% increased risk of having a bone fracture of any kind.
• 60% increased risk of having a hip fracture.

2) That study has a number of limitations and is not consistent with previous studies. Even the authors of the study stated: “The results [of this study] should be interpreted cautiously…”

3) Previous studies looking at the association of milk consumption and both fractures and mortality have been inconsistent. Meta-analyses of all previous studies show no significant association between milk consumption and either fractures or mortality.

4) In short, there is no consistent evidence to support the recent headlines suggesting that milk consumption might increase your risk of mortality and bone fractures, but there is also no consistent evidence that milk consumption decreases your risk of mortality or fractures.

5) Since milk provides no proven benefits and might pose some risk, you may be asking where else you can find the nutrients that milk provides. While there are a number of other dietary sources of the calcium needed for strong bones, each of them has potential limitations (for details, see the article above). You have to be a knowledgeable consumer and careful label reader if you are looking for non-milk sources of calcium.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Latest Article

Omega-3 Benefits: Lower High Blood Pressure

Posted July 16, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

What Does the FDA Say About Omega-3 Benefit Claims?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

 

Among omega-3 benefits is lower high blood pressure.  That claim can be made according to the FDA. 

lower high blood pressureHeart Disease is still the number 1 cause of death in this country. And, while deaths from heart disease have been declining in recent years, deaths due to high blood pressure have been increasing.  That is concerning because:

High blood pressure is a killer! It can kill you by causing heart attacks, strokes, congestive heart failure, kidney failure and much more.

High blood pressure is a serial killer. It doesn’t just kill a few people. It kills lots of people. The American Heart Association estimates that high blood pressure directly or indirectly caused 410,000 deaths in 2014. That is almost 1 person every second and represents a 41% increase from 2000. It’s because high blood pressure is not a rare disease.

  • 32% of Americans have high blood pressure, also called hypertension, (defined as a systolic blood pressure of 140 mm Hg or more or a diastolic blood pressure of 90 mm Hg or more).
  • Another 33% of Americans have prehypertension (systolic blood pressure of 120-139 mm Hg or diastolic blood pressure of 80-89 mm Hg).

That’s over 65% of Americans with abnormal blood pressure!

High blood pressure is a silent killer. That’s because it is a very insidious disease that sneaks up on you when you least expect it. Systolic blood pressure increases 0.6 mm Hg/year for most adults over 50. By age 75 or above 76-80% of American adults will have high blood pressure.  Even worse, many people with high blood pressure have no symptoms, so they don’t even know that their blood pressure is elevated. For them the first symptom of high blood pressure is often sudden death.

Blood pressure medications can harm your quality of life. Blood pressure medications save lives. However, like most drugs, blood pressure medications have a plethora of side effects – including weakness, dizziness, fainting, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, diarrhea or constipation, heartburn, depression, heart palpitations, and even memory loss. The many side effects associated with blood pressure medications lead to poor compliance, which is probably why only 46% of patients with high blood pressure are adequately controlled.

You do have natural options. By now you are probably wondering whether there are natural approaches for controlling your blood pressure that are both effective and lack side effects. The answer is a resounding YES! I’ll outline a holistic natural approach for keeping your blood pressure under control in a minute but let me start with the FDAs recent approval of what they call “qualified claims” that omega-3s lower blood pressure.

 

What Does the FDA Say About Omega-3 Benefits?

omega-3 benefitsIn my book “Slaying The Supplement Myths” I talk about the “dark side” of the supplement industry. There are far too many companies who try to dupe the public by making outrageous and unsubstantiated claims about their products.

Only the FDA stands between us and those unscrupulous companies, and they take their role very seriously. That is why it is big news whenever the FDA allows companies to make health claims about their products.

Even then, the FDA is very cautious. They allow what they call “qualified” health claims. Basically, that means they are saying there is enough evidence that the health claim is probably true, but not enough evidence to say it is proven.

Of course, if you understand the scientific method, you realize there will always be some studies on both sides of every issue. That is why the only health claims the FDA allows are qualified health claims.

With that background in mind, let’s look at the qualified health claims the FDA allows for omega-3 benefits.

  • Since 2004 the FDA has allowed the qualified claim “Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
  • A few weeks ago, they added five qualified health claims about omega-3s and blood pressure. The 5 claims are very similar, so I will only list two below for the sake of brevity.
  • “Consuming EPA and DHA combined may reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of hypertension, a risk factor for CHD (coronary heart disease).”
  • Consuming EPA and DHA combined may reduce the risk of CHD (coronary heart disease) by lowering blood pressure.
  • Of course, they add the usual wording about the evidence being inconsistent and inconclusive.

 

Omega-3 Benefits?

measure omega-3 benefits levelWe’ve known for some time that omega-3 fatty acids help lower blood pressure, but two recent studies were instrumental in convincing the FDA to allow these qualified health claims. These studies have highlighted just how strong the effect of omega-3s on lowering blood pressure is.

The first study was a meta-analysis of 70 randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials of long chain omega-3 (EPA + DHA) supplementation and blood pressure (Miller et al, American Journal of Hypertension, 27: 885-896, 2014 ).

This study showed:

  • In the group with normal blood pressure at the beginning of the study EPA + DHA supplementation decreased systolic blood pressure by 1.25 mm Hg.
  • Given that systolic blood pressure rises an average of 0.6 mm Hg/year in adults over 50, the authors estimated that omega-3 supplementation alone would delay the onset of age-related high blood pressure by 2 years.
  • In the group with elevated blood pressure not taking medication at the beginning of the study, EPA + DHA supplementation decreased systolic blood pressure by an impressive 4.51 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 3.05 mm Hg.
  • The authors noted that this decrease in systolic blood pressure could “prevent an individual from requiring medication [with all its side effects] to control their hypertension” or decrease the amount of medication required.

However, the doses of omega-3s used in these studies ranged from 1 to over 4 grams/day (mean dose = 3.8 grams/day). That sparked a second study (Minihane et al, Journal of Nutrition, 146: 516-523, 2016) to see whether lower levels of omega-3s might be equally effective. This study was an 8-week double-blind, placebo-controlled study comparing the effects of 0.7 or 1.8 grams of EPA + DHA per day (versus an 8:2 ratio of palm and soybean oil as a placebo) on blood pressure.

This study showed:

  • In the group with normal blood pressure at the beginning of the study, EPA + DHA supplementation caused no significant decrease in blood pressure. This could be due to the smaller number of subjects or the lower doses of EPA + DHA used in this study.
  • In the group with elevated blood pressure not taking medication at the beginning of the study, EPA + DHA supplementation decreased systolic blood pressure by 5 mm Hg and, the effect was essentially identical at 0.7 grams/day and 1.8 grams/day.
  • The authors concluded “Our data suggest that increased EPA + DHA intakes of only 0.7 grams/day may be an effective strategy for blood pressure control.”

 

A Holistic Approach to Lower High Blood Pressure

holistic approach to lower high blood pressureThe FDA’s allowed claims about omega-3s are good news indeed, but that’s not the only natural approach that lowers blood pressure. You have lots of other arrows in your quiver. For example:

  • The DASH diet (A diet that has lots of fresh fruits and vegetables; includes whole grains, low fat dairy, poultry, fish, beans, nuts and oils; and is low in sugar and red meats) reduces systolic blood pressure by 5-6 mm Hg. [Low fat, low carb and Mediterranean diets also lower blood pressure, but not by as much as the DASH diet].
  • Reducing sodium by about 1,150 mg/day reduces systolic blood pressure by 3-4 mm Hg.
  • Reducing excess weight by 5% reduces systolic blood pressure by 3 points.
  • Doing at least 40 minutes of aerobic exercise 3-4 times/week reduces systolic blood pressure by 2-5 mm Hg.
  • Nitrates, whether derived from fresh fruits and vegetables or from supplements probably also reduce blood pressure, but we don’t yet know by how much.

If you’ve been keeping track, you’ve probably figured out that a holistic lifestyle that included at least 0.7 grams/day of long chain omega-3s (EPA + DHA) plus the other omega-3 benefits in the list above could reduce your systolic blood pressure by a whopping 18-22 mm Hg.  What

That’s significant because, the CDC estimates that reducing high systolic blood pressure by only 12-13 mm Hg could reduce your risk of:

  • Stroke by 37%.
  • Coronary heart disease by 21%.
  • Death from cardiovascular disease by 25%.
  • Death from all causes by 13%.

 

A Word of Caution

While holistic approaches have the potential to keep your blood pressure under control without the side effects of medications, it is important not to blindly rely on holistic approaches alone. There are also genetic and environmental risk factors involved in determining blood pressure. You could be doing everything right and still have high blood pressure. Plus, you need to remember that high blood pressure is a silent killer that often doesn’t have any detectable symptoms prior to that first heart attack or stroke.

My recommendations are:

  • Monitor your blood pressure on a regular basis.
  • If your blood pressure starts to become elevated, consult with your doctor about starting with natural approaches to bring your blood pressure back under control. Doctors are fully aware of the side effects of blood pressure medications, and most doctors are happy to encourage you to try natural approaches first.
  • Continue to monitor blood pressure as directed by your doctor. If natural approaches are insufficient to bring your blood pressure under control, they will prescribe the lowest dose of blood pressure medication possible to get your blood pressure where it needs to be.
  • Don’t stop making holistic lifestyle choices to reduce blood pressure just because you are on medication. The more you do to keep your blood pressure under control with a healthy diet and lifestyle, the less medication your doctor will need to use (That means fewer side effects).

 

The Bottom Line

Heart Disease is still the number 1 cause of death in this country. And, while deaths from heart disease have been declining in recent years, deaths due to high blood pressure have been increasing. That is why anything we can do lower blood pressure naturally is important. What does the FDA say about omega-3s and blood pressure?

  • Since 2004 the FDA has allowed the qualified claim “Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
  • A few weeks ago, they added qualified health claims about omega-3s and blood pressure. For example, they now allow the following claims.
  • “Consuming EPA and DHA combined may reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of hypertension, a risk factor for CHD (coronary heart disease).”
  • Consuming EPA and DHA combined may reduce the risk of CHD (coronary heart disease) by lowering blood pressure.

For more information on the studies that convinced the FDA to allow claims about omega-3s and blood pressure and for a discussion of holistic natural approaches for lowering blood pressure, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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