Milk Isn’t Nearly As Good For You As You Think

“Thank you, pretty cow, that made / Pleasant milk to soak my bread.” —Anne Taylor, “The Cow”

In A Nutshell

We’ve always been told that drinking a lot of milk is crucial to developing strong bones and keeping conditions like osteoporosis at bay. While we do know that calcium is an important part of maintaining bone health and strength, it’s been found that milk and other dairy products aren’t necessarily the best ways to do it. In fact, too much milk has been tied to an increased risk of some types of cancers.

The Whole Bushel

We’ve been hearing it ever since we were kids: from our parents, from television commercials, from advertisements. Drink lots of milk and you’ll stay healthy, have strong bones, and keep health complications at bay down the road. But once institutions started revisiting the question of just how healthy milk is for us, they’ve found that the answer might be a little disturbing for those who swear by their morning glass of milk.

First, the good news. Calcium is absolutely necessary for a healthy body overall, and milk does contain a lot of calcium.

That’s about all there is for good news for milk lovers, though.

Milk also contains other things that aren’t so good for us, especially whole milks. Whole milk—and other dairy products—can be high in saturated fats; this isn’t just bad for maintaining a healthy weight, it can also be bad for bone structure, too.

The Harvard School of Public Health has been looking into the matter of just how effective milk is at keeping conditions like osteoporosis at bay. And they’ve found that there’s no real evidence of any positive correlation between the amount of dairy and milk a person consumes and how likely they are to prevent the development of osteoporosis. The study has been looking at 25 years’ worth of comprehensive data.

According to another study that looked at 72,000 women and how often they drank milk, those that drank two glasses a day were more likely to have suffered broken bones than those who drank it only occasionally.

There are also a few disturbing studies that have found a correlation between drinking milk and something else, however—cancer. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found a correlation between a higher chance of surviving breast cancer found among women who don’t drink a lot of milk. The study wasn’t directly targeting milk, but the fats that are present in it. Other types of saturated fats had little to no effect on mortality rates, but only dairy fats showed any direct impact.

There have also been a number of studies linking milk consumption with the prevalence of prostate cancer. Men who drink less milk are statistically at a lower risk for developing prostate cancer and, similarly to the breast cancer studies, those that drink less milk have a higher chance of surviving. Similar to studies that have been performed with groups of women, it’s also been found that men’s milk consumption has little to do with the development of osteoporosis.

Those who stay away from milk and find their calcium elsewhere have also been found to statistically have lower cholesterol as well.

When looking at countries overall, those that are high on the scale of cow’s milk consumption also suffer the most instances of bone fractures.

So where should you be getting your calcium and other vitamins?

There are many green vegetables—like collard greens, broccoli and bok choy—that are high in calcium. The added benefits of turning to vegetables for calcium is that they’re usually also rich in other important vitamins, like D and K, and don’t have the high fat content that milk can have.

Show Me The Proof

LA Times: The dairy debate: Does milk build stronger bones?
Harvard School of Public Health: Calcium and Milk
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: Milk Consumption and Prostate Cancer
Psychology Today: Time To Take Milk Off The Menu?