The 1993 “Got Milk” marketing campaign captured consumers for over two decades with the iconic 350+ white mustaches of famous actors, politicians, comedians, musicians and super models all endorsing the milk industry. The unprecedented clever campaign won multiple top awards. The campaign transformed a product, which, many children were forced to drink during their childhood; few adults actually drank or if they did would be too embarrassed to admit it. The campaign ads popularized and propelled the consumption of industrialized and pasteurized milk at a global level making milk a household ‘hip’ staple for any age, not just babies and toddlers.
Lets start at the beginning. Humans first learned to consume the milk of other mammals regularly following the domestication of animals during the gradual change from nomadic hunting and gathering communities to agriculture and settlement. The key point here is milk from other mammals. Prior to that, the only milk consumed by humans was milk produced by human mothers for their infants and toddlers. Its important to also note that the ability to digest milk was genetically limited to children, as adults did not produce lactase, an enzyme necessary to digest the lactose in milk. Eventually a chance mutation spread in human populations in Europe that enabled the production of lactase in adulthood. So if you are lactose intolerant, you are actually the “original” rather than the “mutated” human version.
During industrialization in the United Kingdom, growth in urban population brought a revolution in milk production and supply. Urban demand began to grow as consumer purchasing power increased and milk became regarded as a required daily commodity.
In the Netherlands after the second World War (1940-1945) the agricultural policies were aimed at ‘no more hunger’ focusing on increasing production of affordable food. This implied major government investments focused on obtaining highest possible yields through specialization, mechanization and scale enlargement. The technological gain in Dutch productivity supported by government policy made the Netherlands famous worldwide for its dairy products.
So in summary the precedent for drinking other mammal’s milk was popularized and propelled by industrialization and marketing. But the question remains whether Milk is healthy. From a health perspective, while you may have inherited the mutated gene, which enables you to produce lactase well into adulthood, you still might find that dairy products wreck havoc to your digestion and contribute to inflammation in your body. The reason for this is that the pasteurization process of dairy products denatures the proteins present in milk and this in turn makes it a highly inflammatory food. Most of us can handle and process the occasional inflammatory food however chronic long-term exposure to inflammatory foods can lead to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is also called persistent, low-grade inflammation because it produces a steady, low-level of inflammation throughout the body. Chronic inflammation has been linked to various diseases including autoimmune disease.
While the pasteurization process does reduce the small risk of milk contamination and allows for the extension of the product’s shelf life. The most extreme being Ultra-high temperature (UHT) milk, which is heated to at least 135ºC (275°F) for two to four seconds and stored in special packaging. UHT milk can last six months at ambient temperatures if unopened. The food production innovation comes at the expense of compromising the nutritional value as the pasteurization process simultaneously kills off the beneficial probiotics in the milk, reduces the vitamin content and turns milk’s lactose sugars into beta-lactose sugars that the body absorbs faster, causing blood sugar spikes.
It is also worth mentioning that pasteurization is not the only harmful way milk is processed. Homogenization adds its own complications. In raw milk, the cream separates from the rest of the milk and naturally rises to the top. However, homogenization is a process that prevents the cream from separating. This makes milk more stable for store shelves but also gives milk that predictable unified milky consistency we have all come to expect. But this practice also has harmful effects. All milk naturally contains a potentially harmful enzyme called xanthine oxidase (XO), when you drink non-homogenized milk, your body is able to efficiently break down the XO and keep it out of the bloodstream. When milk is homogenized, globules of fat surround the XO, making it impossible for your body to break it down, with unknown effects.
The subject of Milk is complicated and if we dive further there are many other key factors to consider. Industrialization of the production of milk also introduced less than natural and ideal grain diets for cows instead of their natural nature to forage in pastures otherwise known as “grass-fed”. What a cow eats has a direct impact on the quality of the milk it later produces. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential human nutrients, yet the delicate ratio between Omega 3 and 6 are extremely important. The change in the cow’s diet distorts the Omega 3 and Omega 6 ratio, making the consumption of milk from non pastured cows a health concern. The fatty acid profile in grass-fed organic milk and dairy products brings the omega-6/omega-3 ratio to nearly 1 to 1, compared to 5.7 to 1 in conventional whole milk. The disproportionate consumption of omega 6 when compared to omega 3 can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes.
Additionally with the mass production of Milk came the introduction of growth hormones and consequently increased use of antibiotics. All of these chemicals then flow through the milk and ultimately the humans who consume it. This has led to what is called antibiotic resistance, which occurs when bacteria change in response to the chronic exposure to the antibiotics. In effect, the antibiotics ability to combat bacteria is diminished. This means that antibiotics are not as effective in eliminating infections. With regards to growth hormones, there is still a lot of debate on the health impact to the human body.
In summary if you are blessed with the genetics to digest Milk products then best to gravitate to raw (unpasteurised), un-homogenized milk from “grass-fed” organic cows. This is the best way to minimize inflammation and benefit from the nutrition milk products have to offer.