baby is born, breast milk is the best nutrition a mother can provide.
All mammals nurse their young, and breast milk benefits a newborn infant
in ways above and beyond nutrition. In fact, until 1 to 2 years of age, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, the Institute of Medicine and more promote breast-feeding as optimal.
breast-feeding until that age is often difficult, if not impossible,
because mothers have to return to work, and children go off to preschool
or day care. So we often replace human milk with the milk of cows or
other animals. But at a certain point, we have to acknowledge that we
are the only mammals on the planet that continue to consume milk after
childhood, often in great amounts.
more evidence is surfacing, however, that milk consumption may not only
be unhelpful, it might also be detrimental. This is in spite of the
fact that the United States Department of Agriculture and other
organizations advocate that even adults should drink at least three cups a day.
More than 10,000 years ago,
when human beings began to domesticate animals, no adults or older
children consumed milk. Many people don’t drink it today because they
are lactose intolerant. They do just fine.
But if you believe the
advertising of the dairy industry, and the recommendations of many
scientific bodies, they are missing out on some fantastic benefits to
milk consumption: that milk is good for bones, contains calcium and
vitamin D, and “does a body good.”
There’s not a lot of evidence for these types of claims. In 2011, The Journal of Bone and Mineral Research published a meta-analysis
examining whether milk consumption might protect against hip fracture
in middle-aged and older adults. Six studies containing almost 200,000
women could find no association between drinking milk and lower rates of
More recent research confirms these findings. A study published in JAMA Pediatrics
this year followed almost 100,000 men and women for more than two
decades. Subjects were asked to report on how much milk they had
consumed as teenagers, and then they were followed to see if that was
associated with a reduced chance of hip fractures later in life. It
A just-released study in The BMJ
that followed more than 45,000 men and 61,000 women in Sweden age 39
and older had similar results. Milk consumption as adults was associated
with no protection for men, and an increased risk of fractures in
women. It was also associated with an increased risk of death in both
trial, and no one should assume causality here. But there’s no
association with benefits, and a significant association with harms.
Even studies that examine the nutrients in milk, trying to look for protective effects, often come up short. A 2007 meta-analysis
in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined high-quality
studies of how calcium intake was related to fractures. The many studies
of more than 200,000 people age 34 to 79 could find no link between
total calcium intake and the risk of bone fractures.
meta-analysis also reviewed randomized controlled trials that examined
if calcium supplements could lower the risk of fracture. More than 6,000
middle-aged and older adults participated in these studies, where
subjects were randomly assigned to get extra calcium or a placebo. Not
only did the extra calcium not reduce the rate of fractures, the
researchers were concerned that it may have increased the risk of hip fractures.
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