Most advertisements try to float the reader / viewer to the side of the river that hosts the heralded product. You’ll unlikely see a car salesman tell you there’s a better deal across the street. If you know someone who tells the doctor what medications to Rx based on TV blurbs, you know the story. It’s all in the power of the ad, truth or not. You probably don’t know that the dairy industry has a champion called the International Dairy Journal, a highly-respected periodical that doesn’t exactly promote good old dihydrogen oxide, the most abundant molecule on the planet. In January of 2012 there appeared in this publication a piece that addressed dairy foods and cognitive decline, commonly known as dementia, declaring that study participants who consumed dairy products at least once a day performed better on measures of cognitive function than those who rarely or never consumed dairy. (Crichton, 2012) What? Did you expect something less stellar? At least, the study candidly admits that the causal mechanisms “are still to be determined.” Maybe there’s more to dairy than we know about if something needs to be determined.
Two years prior to this study, the same authors told us that drinking low-fat milk improves social functioning, stress and memory. Maybe this proclamation means that low-fat milk can make you a better dancer and that you won’t worry about it if you think you are, but really aren’t, whether you forget or not. Funny thing, whole milk has no such benefit. (Crichton, 2010) Yet, there’s the admission that the jury is still out. Neither report had a definitive conclusion. Both of these studies took place in Australia, but that shouldn’t make any difference because Australian and American cows speak the same language, except the Aussies add “mate” after “moo.”
Not to pop the milk drinkers’ balloon, despite the pleasure it might bring, but an in-between 2011 investigation performed by the Agricultural Research Service section of the USDA found that milk was less effective than meat for improving cognitive function and physical activity, but this time in a child population. (Allen, 2011) What this boils down to is that the stuff in meat is the same as the stuff in milk, but there’s more of it. That would be iron, zinc, riboflavin, vitamin B12, and the rest of the nutrients for which animal products are hailed.
There is, however, another side to this coin. (Maybe “dodecahedron” would be a better metaphor because there are a few sides.) That milk contains about four hundred different fatty acids makes it the most complex of all natural fats. These fats come from one of two sources—the feed or the microbial happenings in the cow’s rumen. In the olden days, back in the 1940s and early 50s, these fats floated on top of the milk because homogenization either wasn’t used or didn’t work as planned. The kid who was the first to rise in the morning could retrieve the glass container from the front steps and eat the cream from the top of the bottle, leaving the low-fat remainder for the rest of the family. Little did he or she realize that the goodness of butyric acid, a salutary short-chain fatty acid, was accompanied by the not-so-goodness of saturated fat and a little trans fat. A small fraction of the beneficent essential fatty acids is in the mix, but hardly enough to make much difference. However, there are other things in milk. Among them are somatic cells, which some people equate with pus. Aww, they wouldn’t allow that, would they? Note that the job of the USDA is to promote agricultural interests, not yours. In fact, clever inventors have devised ways to measure the somatic cells in your milk bottle with amazing precision (Tsenkova, 2001), with each state in the nation setting its own allowable levels based on regional variables. (http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5089395.) and (http://aipl.arsusda.gov/publish/dhi/dhi11/sccrpt.htm)
Where does this stuff come from? The milking machine. A cow’s udder is treated with iodine prior to being sucked dry, and both the iodine and a few of the cow’s body cells end up in the milk. Doesn’t pasteurization kill germs? Some. But the dead cells are still in the milk, and besides, pasteurization is not sterilization. The latter is intended to kill everything. The former is intended to achieve a reduction in the number of viable organisms, reducing their number so they are unlikely to cause disease. Milk can be pasteurized by heating to 145° F for half an hour or to 163° F for fifteen seconds. The thermoduric bacteria that survive are held in check by refrigeration. To add insult to injury, the iodine may induce thyroid or dermatological issues over time. That’s another story, though.
The casein in milk protein yields peptides called casomorphins, with different breeds of cattle offering different peptides, totaling about thirteen variants, each of which is divided into categories known as A1 and A2. A1 caseins contain the amino acid histidine, essential for the growth and repair of tissue, but also responsible for manufacturing histamine, the stuff that makes your nose runny in an allergic reaction or that makes you itch after a mosquito attack. Although concentration-dependent, this state of affairs is uncomfortable at best, and is blamed specifically on beta-casomorphine-7, “…a naturally occurring product of cow’s milk with opiate-like activity…” (Kurek, 1992). A2 caseins contain proline, a non-essential amino acid that is a component of cartilage. That casomorphins have opioid activity matters little in light of the discovery that particular A1 casein can become glycated and promote adverse immune effects (Elliott, 2006), among them diabetes.
So, what is glycation? It’s the result of a sugar bonding to a protein or a fat without the watchful eye of an enzyme, such as might happen in a frying pan or even in the body after ingesting a sugar, resulting in a haphazard process that impairs cellular function. This is not to be confused with glycosylation, an enzyme-controlled process aimed at a specific molecule to enable its particular function. Glycation forms advanced-glycation-end products, or AGE’s that are implicated in neurodegenerative diseases (Li, 2012) and mitochondrial dysfunction (Hashimoto, 2003).
About 8% of infants under age one are allergic to cow’s milk (Constantinide, 2011). This might account for the crankiness of the child who is unable to define the earache or the gastric distress that cause discomfort and pain. Yes, a child may outgrow milk allergy, only to be bombarded with symptoms decades later, most of which arise from reactions to the foreign protein that is casein, a material once used to make paint. Casomorphin from type A1 is believed to play a role in ischemic heart disease, while that from type A2 encourages neither heart disease nor diabetes (Kaminski, 2007). Are you expected to test your milk to find whether it’s higher in one or the other variant? Type A1 Beta-casomorphin-7 is implicated in several human miseries, and is especially hazardous to those with leaky gut syndrome, to this day a questionable diagnosis to the traditional medical community. Nonetheless, BCM-7 affects GI motility and mucosal immune function (Elitsur & Luk, 1991). Now that it’s been established that type A1 is the bad casein, here’s the list of cattle ranked according to A1 casein content, from bad to good: Holstein (much more A1 than A2); Jersey, Ayrshire and Milking Shorthorn (these three have almost equal levels); Brown Swiss (more A2 than A1), and Guernsey (almost a 100 x A2 than A1). The next time you get milk from the supermarket, the neighborhood convenience store or the gas station around the corner, be sure to ask the dairy manager/clerk from which breed of cow the milk was pumped.
There is much more to deny a cow its center stage, ranging from mineral imbalances to disease promotion via shared hormones with humans, items to be addressed another time. But if there’s cognitive benefit to be derived from milk, it comes from phospholipids (Schubert, 2011) (Lopez, 2008), the structural and functional cellular components that are better obtained, without unwanted tag-a-longs, from non-dairy sources. Milk phospholipid and fat content depends on what the cow is fed. Cattle feed high in flaxseed, for example, will produce milk higher in polyunsaturated fats and lower in saturated ones (Lopez, 2008). Regardless, only about 1% of milk lipids are phospholipids. Even if there were a higher percentage, the heat of pasteurization that destroys enzymes (It takes only 120° F to deactivate an enzyme.) also would oxidize the phospholipids to uselessness.
Cow’s milk does a body good if you’re a calf. The ideal for humans is, well, breast milk. If breast feeding is out of the question, there are alternatives that supply the fats an infant needs for development. Hemp milk is one of these, but it’s expensive. It’s loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and potassium, and enough vitamins to meet the need. Omega-6 fats can be fortified with sunflower, safflower or evening primrose oils, and phospholipid needs can be more than satisfied with real, honest-to-goodness phosphatidylcholine. After age four, a tot can switch to alternative milk, but the supplementary essential fats and phosphatidylcholine should stay because they definitely do a body good…all the way into old age. It is not common for animals to drink the milk of another species. Who chose cattle to be the source of beverage, cavemen? “Hey, Charlie, let’s yank on that thing hangin’ down under that animal and drink what comes out.” One more thing: what milk does to a prostate gland shouldn’t happen to anyone (Schmitz-Dräger, 2011) (Tate, 2011) (Torfadottir, 2012).
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