The main concern with milk consumption today has to do with the way we get it. Dairy production is much different than it was for our ancestors.
Today’s dairy cows are milked for a very long period of time, about 300 days. For much of that time they are pregnant, when their estrogen levels are very high. Their natural estrogens get released into the milk we drink. Analysis of modern milk has found very high levels of estrogens. Studies have shown that milk from traditional herding societies, where the cows are only milked for half of the year, have much lower levels of estrogens.
Dairy consumption accounts for more than 50% of estrogens we consume. Estrogens of this type, so called “natural estrogens”, are way more potent than any form of synthetic estrogens, such as those in pesticides and chemicals.
Increased levels of estrogens is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. This is why excess dairy intake is of concern. Milk drinking has also been shown to increase levels of IGF-1, a growth factor that has been linked to breast cancer.
Even though these concerns exists, you should know that researchers have not been able to find a direct link between breast cancer and dairy intake. Studies have produced very contradictory results.
I would still be cautious with dairy intake. The fact that our modern milk supply is known to have high levels of estrogens is a big red flag to me. I don’t think you need to avoid dairy but I think you should keep intake low.
As with all other animal products it is best to choose organic dairy whenever possible. This won’t decrease the amount of natural estrogens in the milk but it will ensure the cow wasn’t treated with any additional synthetic hormones or antibiotics. It also helps promote good animal welfare.
Hormones like to hang out with fat. Some research suggests that low-fat dairy products (skim, 1%) have lower levels of hormones. Choosing these products over full fat dairy may help reduce your exposure to hormones.
Worried you won’t be able to get enough calcium without lots of dairy? Don’t be. Calcium is found in a lot of other healthy foods. Here are some non-dairy foods high in calcium. Be sure to consume them regularly!
- Greens: especially broccoli, kale, bok choy, and collards. *hint – spinach and chard are high in calcium but it’s not absorbed well due to the presence of something called oxalates. The calcium from kale, broccoli, bok choy and collards is absorbed very well!
- Calcium fortified plant milks
- Tahini (sesame seed paste, used often in hummus)
- Almonds/almond butter
I love to hear your thoughts! Has your view of dairy changed at all after reading this? Do you consume dairy regularly? Leave your thoughts in the comments box below.