As a child, you probably heard your mother say, “You have to drink your milk if you want to grow and be strong!” And then as an adult, you might have heard, “You have to drink your milk if you want to continue being strong!”
Although paved with good intentions, these claims are actually myths. “A lot of people associate dairy milk as synonymous with bone health and there’s really no research to back that up,” Dr. Susan Levin states. “In fact, a huge study that looked at over 70,000 women for 18 years found there was no protective effect for consuming more milk for fracture risks.”
It’s interesting how popular this myth is in our society. A more evidence-based claim about dairy consumption’s link to breast cancer is, perhaps unsurprisingly, less so. According to Dr. James Loomis, “Milk protein can trigger IGF-1, which is known to trigger cancer. This can play a role in the formation of breast cancer.” IGF-1, insulin-like growth factor-1, promotes normal bone and tissue growth and development. It’s primarily produced in the liver, skeletal muscles, and other tissues as a response mechanism to growth hormones (GH).
So if our body naturally produces IGF-1, then shouldn’t it be good that we can get this from food sources too? Not necessarily. The issue is that with a high dairy diet, the IGF-1 levels increase these natural levels. Such an increase has a link to primary cancers, one of which is breast cancer. According to the NIH, “IGF-1 is known to promote cancer development by inhibiting apoptosis and stimulating cell proliferation.”
What can you do?
According to Dr. James, “Milk is a biological fluid and its job is to turn a baby mammal into a big mammal. And when you’re big enough to go out and find food on your own, you don’t need to drink milk anymore. In fact, the gene for that turns off historically.” This is very important as it shows our bodies are biologically not purposed to continue consuming milk past the ages of four or five. Fortunately, there are plenty of plant-based alternatives that provide similar protein levels!
Megan Anderson is a 2021 Summer intern with FFAC. She currently attends Rollins College where she studies Anthropology, Global Health and Pre-Medical courses.