Milk is produced in the mammary glands of mammals and contains saturated fat, protein, calcium and vitamin C. It is the first food source for young mammals. During early lactation, all mammals produce colostrum, often referred to as “liquid gold” because of its colour and because it carries maternal antibodies to the newborn protecting it from disease.

Most infant mammals feed on their mother’s milk through breastfeeding. Humans also feed on milk from other animals, like cows and goats. While most people believe this to be safe and nutritous, some health experts believe there’s a risk in this practice, including: electrolyte imbalance, megaloblastic anemia, metabolic acidosis and several allergic reactions.

Why milk is healthy
Milk is healthy simply because it contains almost all of the essential nutrients that our body needs. It contains a high amount of calcium, important for making our bones and teeth healthy. It’s especially useful for balancing the diets of young children who don’t always eat their green, leafy vegetables.

Health Benefits of Milk

Promotes bone and teeth health Milk is an excellent source of calcium, widely recognized for maintaining bone and teeth health. Several bone disorders such as osteoporosis can be prevented with regular milk intake.
Improves skin health Milk helps improve overall skin health by maintaining a fair and smooth complexion. It helps relieve dry skin and gets rid of flakes. Lactic acid in milk is responsible for removing dead skin cells, promoting rejuvenation.
Protects against metabolic syndrome Milk and other dairy products may help reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome by up to 62%. Metabolic syndrome includes risk factors that may lead to coronary artery diseases, stroke, and Type 2 Diabetes.
Protects against cancer Evidence suggests that increased intake of milk may help protect your body from developing colorectal cancer and breast cancer.
Protects against gout Milk is found to decrease the risk of developing gouty arthritis.

Why milk isn’t healthy
How can something packed with so many essential nutrients be unhealthy? You may be hard-pressed to believe it, but milk does pose potential health risks:

Milk and breast cancer
A study conducted in Denmark suggested that milk has played a role in the increasing incidence of breast cancer over the past 50 years. Researchers from the Statens Serum Institute of more than 100,000 women found that milk consumption, particularly during growth spurts between the ages of eight and 14 years, can increase your risk of developing breast cancer.

In Japan, women’s height has increased over the past 50 years which may be linked to

increased milk milkconsumption in that country. During this time, breast cancer incidents doubled. An expert from the Harvard Medical School commented on the study, stating that “milk consumption increases the circulating levels of insulin-like growth factor 1, a growth hormone associated with higher stature.”

While there isn’t yet absolute proof that milk consumption during childhood growth directly increases your risk of developing breast cancer, evidence is mounting. Keep in mind that it would be milk consumption during childhood that increases your risk of developing breast cancer, and not what you consume as an adult woman.

Milk and ovarian cancer
Research shows that drinking more than one glass of milk a day may double your risk of ovarian cancer. The evidence gathered to date is minimal, and more studies are required to prove this assumption. “The picture is far from clear,” says Deana Rose, RD – Americal Dairy Council Spokeswoman.

A study conducted by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden had women complete detailed questionnaires about their diets for 13.5 years. After taking other ovarian cancer risk factors into account, researchers found that women who ate four or more servings of dairy (including milk, yogurt, butter and ice cream) per day had twice the risk for developing ovarian cancer.

Milk and prostate cancer
Prostate cancer is the fourth most common among men worldwide, with an estiated 400,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Dairy consumption has been associated with the development of prostate cancer and prostate cancer mortality. The largest figures were recorded by the World Health Organization between 1985 and 1989 in 59 countries.

Dairy products may influence the incidence of prostate cancer by several mechanisms:

  • calcium required vitamin D for absorption; a diet high in calcium can have a deletrious effect on your body’s vitamin D balance
  • dairy contains substantial amounts of fat and fiber, a combination that can increase serum testosterone concentration and activity, having a mitogenic effect on prostate tissue

Milk and other diseases
About 400,000 adults worldwide were monitored for 28 years. Those who consumed the greatest amount of milk products had a lower risk of heart disease and stroke than those who drank little to no milk at all. However, there is evidence worldwide showing that milk consumption increases hormone-related cancers. Cow’s milk, for example, is a source of estrogen and insulin-like growth factor which can cause irregular cell multiplication.

So, it seems that the jury’s still out and more research is needed before you should rule out milk as a safe and healthy source of calcium. As with most things in life, moderation is key.