The Deal With Dairy
Milk and milk products are nutritious foods that can provide essential nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, potassium and protein, and can be associated with health benefits including bone health, a reduced risk of hypertension, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer. Most people that come into my office seem to be reaching for skim milk or milk alternatives because of the fact that they have less saturated fat. However, milk fat also contains beneficial unsaturated fatty acid groups known to have a positive impact on health, especially omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for a growing child. But there’s more to the picture than just saying milk is “good or bad”.
Organic vs. Conventional
The standard American diet tends to skew the ratio of omega-6 to the omega-3 in favor of omega-6 fats, which can contribute to a systemic inflammatory process and the increased prevalence of obesity, cardiovascular and nonalcoholic fatty liver diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and cancer. The main factor controlling the fatty acid profile of milk is the feed for the animals.
Findings from the study "Enhancing the Fatty Acid Profile of Milk through Forage-Based Rations, with Nutrition Modeling of Dietary Outcomes," published in Food Science and Nutrition, compared the fatty acid profile of milk from cows managed under three systems in the United States. What they found was that Grassmilk provides by far the highest level of omega-3s. However, doubling the amount of omega-3 in milk from grass fed cows wouldn’t be even close to what you’d get by consuming omega-3 supplements, such as fish oil, so it shouldn't be used in place of your 2-3 servings/week of omega-3 rich fish intake.
Does dairy cause acne?
The exact cause of acne is unknown, but there are a number of factors that can make it worse such as diet, emotional stress, genetics, and hormones. Most of the research on acne and dairy relies on anecdotal and descriptive data, based on the subjects’ experience. The strongest evidence of a link between diet and acne comes from the glycemic index studies which show the strongest association with skim milk. High glycemic carbohydrates such as white bread, chips, and white potatoes may worsen acne because of their potential to increase blood sugar, which can lead to acne through effects on growth and sex hormones.
If you think dairy could be contributing to your acne, keep a food diary and share it with your dermatologist. It may take up to 12 weeks of a diet change to determine if certain foods are contributing to acne.
What about hormones in milk?
All milk contains small amounts of the naturally occurring hormone bovine somatotropin (BST) or bovine growth hormone (BGH) that stimulate a cow’s milk production. A synthetic copy of this hormone called recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), created by Monsanto, is sometimes given to cows by dairy farmers to boost milk production. This hormone is specific to cows and the research is inconclusive in regards to its impact on human health.The concern has been around Insulin like growth factor (IGF-1), which is higher in cows who are treated with this synthetic hormone. The American Cancer Society reports early studies linked IGF-1 as a contributor to tumor development, specifically breast, prostate and colorectal cancers.
Who shouldn’t drink dairy?
Do you eat dairy and then within a few hours are sitting on the toilet with excruciating pain? I think you have the answer for this one. Some people contain less or none of the enzyme lactase which breaks down the milk sugar lactose. As we age, this enzyme typically lessens, which is why you may notice as you age, you can tolerate less and less dairy products with higher amounts of this milk sugar in it. People who are lactose intolerant tend to tolerate dairy products such as yogurt or hard cheeses such as parmesan, mozzarella, or cheddar in small amounts.
If you didn’t have time to read the fine print:
Dairy products offer many essential vitamins and minerals
Buy organic grass fed milk
Dairy may make acne worse through several mechanisms, but high glycemic foods may also be the culprit
Keep track of your symptoms to see if dairy might not agree with your digestive system before completely eliminating it from your diet
If you do decide to cut out dairy, work with a Registered Dietitian to make sure you are supplementing or eating appropriately to ensure adequate calcium and vitamin D intake
I’d love to hear from you - comment below and let me know your experience with dairy or whether you choose to consume organic or conventional.
In good health,
“... the way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world. Daily, our eating turns nature into culture, transforming the body of the world into our bodies and minds.”
― Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma
Patterson E, Wall R, Fitzgerald GF, Ross RP, Stanton C. Health implications of high dietary omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. J Nutr Metab. 2012;2012:539426.
Charles M. Benbrook, Donald R. Davis, Bradley J. Heins, Maged A. Latif, Carlo Leifert, Logan Peterman, Gillian Butler, Ole Faergeman, Silvia Abel-Caines, Marcin Baranski. Enhancing the fatty acid profile of milk through forage-based rations, with nutrition modeling of diet outcomes. Food Science & Nutrition, 2018; DOI: 10.1002/fsn3.61
Spencer EH et al. Diet and acne: a review of the evidence . Int J Dermatol 2009;48(4):339-47.
American Cancer Society. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone.