Is milk bad for you? What are the negatives of drinking milk?




Milk is increasingly popular in many areas of the world, but it is not nearly as beneficial to health as consumers are led to believe. Milk and dairy products have been linked to a variety of public health hazards for individuals and communities, including chronic diseases, pollution, and climate change.


Milk production and consumption are increasing in the Global South, as dairy is looked to as a means to enhance nutrition and alleviate poverty. Countries like India, Nepal, Ethiopia, and Kenya have prioritized the development of their dairy industries, and India is currently the world’s largest milk producer, generating 22% of the global supply. By 2030, world milk production is expected to grow by 35% to meet rising global demand.


The growing global demand for dairy brings significant negative consequences for animal welfare, the environment, and public health. Intensive production systems that are spreading to meet demand overcrowd animals on large factory farms — causing pollution, disease, and destruction of natural resources. These negative outcomes also extend to individual consumers, who may experience undesirable health effects from consuming dairy.


Is milk high in cholesterol?


Cheese and other processed dairy products are, like meat, high in cholesterol and saturated fats, which have been linked to the development of coronary heart disease and stroke. Foods obtained from plants contain no cholesterol.


Commonly consumed dairy foods like butter contain extremely high levels of cholesterol — 244 milligrams per 100 grams.


Is milk bad for your skin?


Milk contains proteins, like whey and casein, that are intended to be ingested by calves to help them grow to adult size. When humans consume these proteins, they cause a series of reactions that can lead to skin inflammation and acne. In people, whey and casein release a hormone called insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1) during the digestion process that stimulates acne breakouts. Hormones in milk can also send the wrong signals to the body’s endocrine system, resulting in repeated breakouts.


Observational studies have revealed a significant link between milk consumption and acne, and reviews of epidemiological evidence have also suggested an increased likelihood of acne breakouts in individuals aged 7-30 who consumed milk. In particular, people who are already prone to acne may experience worsening outbreaks when they drink milk.

Can milk cause allergies and lactose intolerance?


Worldwide, food allergies affect around 6-8% of children and 4% of adults. The prevalence of food allergies has increased over the past few decades, which is likely related to changing diets, influenced by heavy marketing of dairy by big industrial producers that are often based in the Global North. Cow’s milk is one of the most common allergens in young children and can cause serious reactions that tend to affect the gastrointestinal system. Symptoms include difficulty swallowing, vomiting, gagging, choking, diarrhea, pain, bloody stool, rashes, and colic. Although rare, life-threatening anaphylaxis can also occur.


Milk allergies differ from lactose intolerance in their mechanism of action within the body. Allergic reactions occur when the body identifies the proteins in milk as dangerous invaders, and the immune system produces antibodies against them — leading to a cascade of harmful reactions. On the other hand, people who are lactose intolerant cannot make the enzyme lactase, which breaks down sugars in milk.


Around 70% of the world's adult population is lactose intolerant. This prevalence is even higher among Black, Native American, and Asian American communities, of which 75–90% are lactose intolerant. In Asia and Africa, the majority of people are lactose intolerant, while in European countries, most people possess the ability to digest milk. Lactose intolerance can cause uncomfortable bloating, cramping, and diarrhea when milk or dairy products are ingested.


Does milk contain antibiotics and hormones?


Antibiotic resistance is a growing threat to human and animal health. The growth of bacterial pathogens resistant to currently available drugs has resulted in untreatable infections and deaths. Bacteria develop resistance in situations where antibiotics are misused. When antibiotic residues are present in food, resistant pathogens are more likely to develop and infect people.


In dairy production, animals are often kept in overcrowded, stressful, and unhygienic conditions that can suppress their immune systems and promote the spread of infectious bacteria. To maintain high production levels and control disease, dairy producers feed animals antibiotics, which end up in the milk. In many areas of the world, the use of antibiotics in farmed animals is largely unregulated and drug withdrawal times are not consistently observed.


Antibiotic residues and bacterial growth create situations ripe for the emergence of resistant pathogens. In Kenya, a study found antibiotic residues in almost 7% of pasteurized milk samples, and almost 93% of unpasteurized milk samples with bacteria in them tested positive for resistant strains.


There are many naturally occurring hormones in milk that promote growth in calves but may have detrimental effects on humans. Hormones found in milk include estrogens, prolactin, corticosteroids, progesterone, IGF-1, and androgens. Hormones in milk may have negative effects on endocrine system function in people, and steroids may increase the risk of certain cancers.


Is milk the only source of calcium?


Calcium is an essential nutrient necessary for healthy bones, teeth, and metabolism, but consuming milk is not the only way to get enough calcium in the diet. There are many nondairy foods rich in calcium that are also healthier than dairy products, including:

  • Almonds

  • Tofu

  • White beans

  • Kale

  • Broccoli rabe

  • Chia seeds

  • Sunflower seeds

  • Okra

  • Arugula

  • Figs

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Bok choy

Is milk bad for the environment?


Dairy farming has numerous negative impacts on the environment, which are being made worse by its worldwide expansion. Globally, more than 265 million cows produce milk for human consumption, many of whom exist on factory farms.


Dairy farms pollute local environments, releasing waste, contaminants, and drug residues into surrounding soil and waterways, causing fish die-offs, and damaging aquatic ecosystems. Farms also pollute the drinking water of nearby communities, and aerosolized particulate matter and toxic gasses from animal waste affect air quality.


The livestock sector, which includes dairy cattle, contributes to water scarcity and is estimated to account for 10% of global anthropogenic water usage, mainly used to irrigate crops to feed animals. Additionally, each dairy cow requires between 21 and 127 liters of water per day, depending on the production system used.


To produce 1 kg of dairy milk, 628 liters of water are used. The same amount of soymilk takes only 28 liters.


Dairy farming is a major source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that contribute to climate change. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, greenhouse gas emissions from dairy increased by 18% from 2005 to 2015 as the industry expanded due to consumer’s demands. Animal agriculture is estimated to produce at least 14.5% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity, and dairy represents around 20% of that number, in the form of methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide.


To give you an idea, the production of dairy milk emits more than three times more greenhouse gasses (GHG) than the same amount of soy milk. When we compare the same amount of protein offered, cheese production emits more than five times more GHG than tofu.


Animal agriculture, including dairy production, also destroys biodiversity by damaging ecosystems and preventing local communities from growing traditional, ecologically appropriate crops.


Alternatives to milk


Choosing plant-based alternatives to animal dairy avoids the health risks of milk and is an animal and environmentally friendly option. There are many plant-based milks to choose from, including soy, oat, cashew, and rice milk. Dairy is not necessary for a well-balanced diet, and the nutrients present in milk can be acquired by eating a plant-based diet.


Additionally, culturally relevant, traditional, and indigenous food sources provide nutritional and sustainable alternatives to dairy, which is often heavily marketed to Global South populations by agribusinesses headquartered in the Global North.


Conclusion


Milk is characterized as essential for health and an important part of a healthy diet, despite little evidence to support these claims. Worldwide, the demand for milk has increased over the past several decades, resulting in the dairy industry’s expansion across the globe. Nonetheless, the production model of choice for increased profit and output exacts a heavy toll on local environments and communities.


The best way to avoid the negative effects of milk and dairy products is to choose plant-based options instead. A plant-based diet can be healthier and more environmentally friendly, sustainable, and humane.