The Internet is the best and worst thing ever to happen to the fitness industry. You can find some very bright posts on it, but then again, there are some idiotic ones. If you go to sites such as www.rense.com/general26/milk.htm, you’ll be convinced that drinking cow’s milk increases the risk of heart disease, cancers, bronchitis, diabetes, suicide and probably watching “The View.” What do the data show? Does milk kill? Does it matter if it is cow’s milk? Here are some interesting tidbits.
One group of scientists studied the effectiveness, safety and acceptability of camel milk as an adjunct to insulin therapy in type 1 diabetics. You may have heard the argument: “Do you see humans putting their mouths on the teats of cows and sucking on them? Then humans shouldn’t be drinking cows’ milk!” Well, God forbid you put your mouth on the teats of a camel. Twenty-four type 1 diabetics were enrolled and divided into two groups. Group 1 received usual care—that is, diet, exercise and insulin—and group 2 received 500 milliliters of camel milk in addition to the usual care. The researchers discovered that camel milk is safe and effective in improving long-term glycemic control, with a significant reduction in the doses of insulin in type 1 diabetic patients.1
Another study examined the effects of milk protein on rehydration after exercise in the heat by comparing energy- and electrolyte-content-matched carbohydrate and carbohydrate-and-milk-protein solutions. Eight male subjects lost 1.9 percent of their bodyweight by intermittent exercise in the heat and rehydrated 150 percent of their body mass loss with either a 65 grams-per-liter carbohydrate solution or a cocktail consisting of 40 grams per liter of carbohydrate and 25 grams per liter of a milk protein solution. When matched for calories and fat content—as well as for sodium and potassium concentration—and when taken after exercise-induced dehydration, the carbohydrate-and-milk protein solution was better retained than the carbohydrate solution. Thus, gram for gram, milk protein is more effective at aiding fluid retention than carbohydrate.2
So camel milk is good for diabetics, and milk protein is great for rehydration as part of a sports drink. Hmm, what other evidence is there for the benefits of milk? To wit: Bovine lowfat fluid milk is a safe and effective postexercise beverage for people who are not lactose intolerant.3 Another study found no association between dairy products and breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Among premenopausal women, high intake of lowfat dairy foods, especially nonfat and lowfat milk, was associated with reduced risk of breast cancer. Similar inverse associations were seen with calcium and vitamin D—components of dairy foods—but their independent associations with breast cancer are difficult to distinguish.4 Also, drinking a lot of milk may reduce the risk of colon cancer.5 Other studies have proven that milk and dairy products are associated with a reduction in metabolic syndrome6 and may protect people who are at increased risk from having a first heart attack.7,8
So if milk is so bad, why does the science show that it can be so good?
Editor’s note: Jose Antonio, Ph.D., is the CEO of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (www.theissn.org); also check out his site www.TheWeekendWorkout.com.
1 Agrawal, R.P., et al. (2011). Effect of camel milk on glycemic control and insulin requirement in patients with type 1 diabetes: 2-years randomized controlled trial. Eur J Clin Nutr. In press.
2 James, L.J., et al. (2011). Effect of milk protein addition to a carbohydrate-electrolyte rehydration solution ingested after exercise in the heat. Br J Nutr. 105(3):393-399.
3 Roy, B.D. (2008). Milk: The new sports drink? A Review. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 5:15.
4 Shin, M.H., et al. (2002). Intake of dairy products, calcium, and vitamin D and risk of breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 94(17):1301-1311.
5 Jarvinen, R., et al. (2001). Prospective study on milk products, calcium and cancers of the colon and rectum. Eur J Clin Nutr. 55(11):1000-1007.
6 Elwood, P.C., et al. (2007). Milk and dairy consumption, diabetes and the metabolic syndrome: The Caerphilly prospective study. J Epidemiol Comm Health. 61(8):695-698.
7 Elwood, P.C., et al. (2004). Milk drinking, ischaemic heart disease and ischaemic stroke II. Evidence from cohort studies. Eur J Clin Nutr. 58(5):718-724.
8 Biong, A.S., et al. Intake of milk fat, reflected in adipose tissue fatty acids and risk of myocardial infarction: A case-control study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 60(2):236-244.