The Media, Milk Myths and Scare-Stories

Young people ditching dairy don't need cow's milk for healthy bones and misleading headlines are doing them a disservice

A number of newspapers are warning how young people cutting out dairy could be putting their bone health at risk. The National Osteoporosis Society (NOS) surveyed 2,000 adults and found that one in five 18-25 year-olds said they had cut out or reduced dairy in their diet. They say: "Dairy is an important source of calcium, vital in building bone strength when you are young". However, their website says: “A vegetarian diet is not a risk factor for osteoporosis and vegetarians and vegans do not appear to have poorer bone health than the rest of the population.” Mixed messages! 

Cow’s milk and dairy products are not essential for health – in fact they do more harm than good. They contain saturated fat, animal protein and cocktail of over 35 different natural hormones and growth factors. Cow's milk increases levels of IGF-1 in the body, this is a growth factor linked to cancer. Dairy products are linked to acne, allergies, arthritis, some cancers, colic, constipation, coronary heart disease, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, dementia, ear infection, food poisoning, gallstones, kidney disease, migraine, autoimmune conditions, including multiple sclerosis, overweight, obesity and osteoporosis. Read the evidence for yourself here

Some of the headlines that have come out in the wake of The National Osteoporosis Society's survey

Young people are not stupid; they are perfectly capable of making informed decisions based on the facts. Muddying the water with misleading headlines and scare stories is doing them a disservice. Research suggests that physical (especially weight-bearing – walking, dancing and climbing stairs) exercise is the most critical factor for maintaining healthy bones, followed by improving diet and lifestyle; this means eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and cutting down on sugar and caffeine and avoiding alcohol and smoking. 

The fact is over 70 per cent of the world’s population are lactose intolerant (they can’t digest the sugar in milk – drinking it makes them unwell). They don’t suffer osteoporosis more than us; in fact, the reverse is true – the highest levels of the disease occur in Europe and the US, where most milk is consumed. Osteoporosis is a big problem in the UK; half of all women and one in five men over 50 suffer a fracture or a break because of fragile bone health. Clearly, drinking milk is not protecting us! 

Of course you do need to make sure you have a good supply of calcium but many plant milks like soya milk are fortified with the same amount of calcium as found in dairy milk. Good plant-based sources of calcium include: dark green leafy vegetables (broccoli, kale, spring greens, cabbage, pak choi and watercress but not spinach), dried fruits (figs), nuts (particularly almonds and Brazil nuts), seeds including sesame seeds and tahini (sesame seed paste), pulses (including soya beans, kidney beans, chick peas, baked beans, broad beans, lentils, peas and calcium-set tofu) and calcium-enriched plant milks. See our calcium-rich foods wallchart here. 

To find out more about how to build and protect strong bones see Viva!'s Break Free campaign featuring their scientific report, easy-to-read guide and fact sheet.

Find out why you don't need dairy here and how easy it is to go dairy-free here

Statement from Viva!'s director, Juliet Gellatley on the National Osteoporosis Society's claim that milk is needed for bones:

"The National Osteoporosis Society are outrageous in implying that young people need to drink cows' milk for strong bones. They know full well that research shows this is not the case, and that dairy harms our health. The good news is that their survey shows that one-fifth of young adults (18-35 years) have significantly reduced or cut out dairy. Cows' milk is meant for calves - superbly designed for a fast growing mammal to triple his or her weight to a whopping 300-400kg within a year. It is not however, suited to human animals, hence it having to be reformulated for babies to make it as close to breast milk as possible. 
Cows' milk is laden with proteins that are linked to human cancers; and contains 35 hormones including oestrogens and progesterones, linked to breast and prostate cancers, and 11 growth factors - you guessed it, also linked to several human cancers. 
No mammal is meant to drink milk past weaning - we are the only one to do it (apart from cats and dogs that we feed). It is wholly unnatural. Humans are fabulously adapted to absorbing calcium from plants - we have been doing it far longer than our species has been stealing the milk of cows! 
Congratulations to all the young people who have stopped consuming dairy - you are on the road to good health and helping forge a kinder world.

More info at www.whitelies.org.uk including a calcium chart and the guide Why you don't need dairy www.whitelies.org.uk/resources/why-you-dont-need-dairy.

Links to the headlines: 

BBC: Dairy-free diets warning over risk to bone health

Metro: Dairy-free so-called ‘clean eating’ could be putting your health at risk

Huffington Post: Dairy-Free Diet Fad Causing Risk To Bone Health, Charity Warns

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Dr Butler graduated from Bristol University with a PhD in molecular biology and a BSc First Class (hons) in Biochemistry from UWE before joining Viva! in 2005. She currently researchers, writes and campaigns for Viva!Health.

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