Dairy that Hurts, Dairy that Heals
There are many different factors that can turn dairy into an enemy — think processed, grain-fed, factory-farmed — or a potential endo ally — think grass-fed, raw, probiotic and mineral rich. It also depends on your own unique heritage, ancestry, and body. To address all questions relating to allergies and intolerance, I have all the info you need in my Troubleshooting section. For now, let’s learn about the myriad of health consequences and benefits of dairy, depending on the source.
Dairy that Hurts
This information here is mostly what we all know from the endo-diet, how dairy be the devil, but I’m going to break it down so it’s a little easier to digest ;)
First it's good to know what pasteurization and homogenization do to milk. Pasteurization heats the milk to 165 degrees to kill all the pathogenic bacteria. This basically cooks the milk. Then homogenization comes along and pressure-squeezes the milk through teeny tiny holes in order to keep the cream from separating from the milk. This is for convenience, they say, because we're obviously too weak to simply shake the milk ourselves.
These processes sound simple and safe, and they wouldn't be harmful at all if we only did this every once in a while. Like maybe when Bessy the cow was sick and/or our arms fell off preventing us from shaking the cream. The problem is that although pasteurization kills bacteria, it also screws up the proteins, fats, and mineral makeup of this formerly "perfect" food, and homogenization turns any sort of leftover form into microscopic chaos. If you imagine all these nutrients in their raw state are neatly organized in gift wrapped packages, easy for your body to absorb and assimilate, pasteurization and homogenization take all your gifts and put them in a huge Vitamix... turned on high. That's why so many people are making themselves sick from drinking milk - asthma, eczema, acne, sinus issues, arthritis, inflammation, pain, and osteoporosis - because their bodies have absolutely no idea what to do with this alien food.
This dairy is inflammatory
Dairy can be quite inflammatory for two reasons: it’s processed (pasteurized and homogenized) and/or it’s from grain fed cows. Pasteurization can create an inflammatory response due it's ability to denature the proteins. Damaged amino acids don’t just slide through the digestive tract undigested - their newly mutilated and oxidized forms create pro-inflammatory irritants that disturb the gut lining, which is why so many people these days are developing casein intolerances. The franken-casein has morphed into an amino-acid creature that causes damage, rather than acting as a protein for bodily maintenance.
In the case of inflammation from grain fed cows, this goes back to the omega 6:3 ratio. The ideal ratio is 1:1 to 4:1 Feedlot dairy has a pro-inflammatory ratio from 6:1 to 12:1, meaning consuming dairy of this sort will easily skew your fatty acid balance to the side of inflammation.
This dairy is hard to digest
Not only is pasteurized dairy devoid of lactase, the sole enzyme responsible for digesting lactose, its new franken-form poses an additional roadblock. In fresh, raw milk, each milk fat globule is coated in a beautiful lipid-bilayer (fat and protein shell, persay) that is covered with communicators. Think of these communicators as little hands, waiting to shake the little hands on your own body’s cells as they meet, greet, and pass on the gift of nutrients. This is how nutrients communicate and are transferred within your body.
In the case of pasteurization, high heat denatures the proteins and fat on these lipid bilayers, more or less chopping off these “hands”. That means when they flow forth into your system, without a handshake of communication, your body has no idea what they are and how to assimilate them, potentially leading to gastric distress (either constipation or diarrhea) and definitely leading to poor nutrient absorption. Additionally, when the colloidal calcium is heated and pressurized with the fat, it reacts to form a milk-fat soap in a process called saponification, a substance that irritates the gut and makes minerals even less absorbable. According to this study, processed milk drops 6 fold in mineral bioavailability! That means even if the minerals are there in the nutrition information, it doesn’t mean you’re absorbing them. Which leads to…
This dairy may actually cause osteoporosis (ie acid forming)
Dairy in its raw form, on a microscopic level, has 2 main components. Actually, you can imagine two different hot pockets here for easy discussion. The first hot pocket has a protein crust with a highly digestible calcium center. The other hot pocket has a lipid-bilayer crust, with a nutritious fatty center. The crusts keep the calcium and fat away from each other while in its raw state because they actually lose their ability to deliver these nutrients to your body when they mix. They need the crusts to work.
But mix is exactly what they do during processing, in a big way. High heat and pressure distort the globules, protein, and minerals, making a big mess of a previously beautiful microscopic picture. This creates an acid forming food, one that can actually leech calcium from bones, and is especially true in the form of low-fat dairy. Your body needs saturated fat to help absorb calcium, which is why it’s actually better for your calcium levels to avoid low-fat milk altogether since you will lose more than you gain by drinking this industrially processed beverage.
Amy Lanou Ph.D., nutrition director for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C., reminds us: “The countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis are the ones where people drink the most milk and have the most calcium in their diets. The connection between calcium consumption and bone health is actually very weak, and the connection between dairy consumption and bone health is almost nonexistent.” Of course this is in connection with pasteurized milk, but the science still exists.
This dairy may be high in hormones
Industrial dairies inject their cows with synthetic bovine growth hormones to a) grow faster and b) make them produce more milk. It’s a really sick practice, and something that has turned an innocent milk-producing creature into a mega-milk fountain, producing some 4x the amount of milk daily of their farm raised ancestors.
Although it seems obvious that milk from this source will indeed still have excess bST and rBST in it, well… the science isn’t really there. Nor is it really there to support an estrogen hypothesis that industrial dairy cows that have more estrogen in their system negatively impacts the human system. I looked, guys, I really did, and I couldn’t really find conclusive science either way. But still, to be on the safe side, until we know for sure that these poor hormone injected cows aren’t negatively affecting our bodies I choose to steer clear of this type of dairy (amongst every other reason known to man).
Dairy that Heals
Instead of inflammation and allergies, raw, grass-fed dairy products can infuse the gut with liberal amounts of probiotics, enzymes, and easy to assimilate minerals. It’s so different from its pasteurized kin that it truly should be seen as a completely different food! Here's why:
This dairy is naturally full of probiotics
Raw dairy has naturally occurring probiotics in it that help a) keep the milk fresh, and b) infuse your gut with helpful little bugs. If you’ve never dealt with raw milk before you may be surprised to learn it won’t go bad if you leave it out! It’s so chock full of probiotics that it will actually ferment without adding any additional culture, and this type of fermentation is known as clabbered milk. I recognized the world “clabbered” from my book nerd days (which I honestly never grew out of), but thought it was some ancient way of saying “yogurt”. Different, though still fermented, clabbered milk was an easy way to preserve fresh milk for days without refrigeration, but can only occur in raw milk (pasteurized milk will rot if left out).
If you can tolerate it, this dairy is actually easy to digest
Again this goes back to your own ancestry, but if you can’t tolerate pasteurized milk you still may be able to drink raw milk without issue because of its enzyme content. Raw milk includes the enzyme lactase, which is needed to breakdown the milk sugar lactose. I remember as a kid when I couldn’t tolerate dairy, my mom found me Lactase pills which I would swallow with difficulty in order to enjoy ice cream. Turns out that should always be included with the milk you drink… and when it’s in its raw form it indeed is.
Moreover, raw milk doesn’t have mutilated, franken-proteins or distored fat globules, meaning the gut irritation and bad communication signals don’t happen when you eat or drink dairy in a raw state. Instead, this milk is easily assimilated into your body since your body can fully recognize its cellular structure.
This dairy is vitamin and mineral rich
Like I mentioned above, just because dairy has minerals in it doesn’t mean you will be able to absorb it. You will in its raw form, however, because the little communicating “hands” are still in tact -- meaning your body can easily receive the nutrient packet inside each milk globule and easily assimilate the minerals within. That’s why raw milk drinking cultures throughout history and still today don’t suffer from osteoporosis, while the pasteurized milk drinking cultures like the U.S. do.
Plus, it’s chock full of fat soluble vitamins! Grass-fed animals don’t really just eat grass, they also eat sedges, shrubs, weeds, and bugs (by proximity). This means they’re stuffed to the brim with a wide variety of nutrients from the earth, and we get all the benefits when we consume the milk. Included are vitamin A, K, D, and E, four vitamins nearly all Americans are seriously deficient in. Plus you get vitamin C and B-complex, two water soluble vitamins that are killed off by heat processing. That’s why raw milk can also be very energizing rather than energy-sucking.
This dairy has CLA
I talked all about CLA before and I'll mention it again since grass-fed dairy is actually the #1 best way to get this vital nutrient into your body. CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) is somewhat newly discovered by scientists, but long needed by the body. I know I’m throwing around a lot of terms here, so just remember CLA is a type of polyunsaturated fat that acts much like an omega-3, although with some different benefits. It’s known for it’s ability to calm the immune system, help you burn fat, heal allergies, and most important for us, calm inflammation. CLA is also highly associated with providing a one-two-punch against obesity, hypertension, cancer, and rampant inflammation. That’s why this powerhouse fat is quickly gaining recognition amongst auto-immune and arthritis patients, as well as those dealing with obesity. Where do you find it? Only in animal products from animals eating their natural diet! And for those who can tolerate dairy, grass fed butter and cream are the best sources.
This dairy can heal your gut
Believe it or not, dairy can actually be a big part of the healing arsenal needed to stitch that endo belly back together. Not only is it probiotic and enzyme rich in its natural form (and much more so when fermented), it also contains an anti-inflammatory and gut-mending fat called butyrate. You can read about this in my nutrient density section HERE.
Additionally, raw milk contains molecules on the surface of the fat membranes called gangliosides, which inhibit harmful bacteria from growing on the intestines and have even been shown to stimulate neural development! These gangliosides are sadly murdered (you know, more or less) with homogenization, so you can only get the intestinal benefit from raw milk.
This dairy supports your local farming community, and the earth
Ok, so it’s not specifically endo related, but it is in the big picture! Unless you live in a state where raw milk sales are grocery-store legal, chances are your farmer lives down the road from you. My own 7 ft tall milk-man and his brood of 4 Herculean children live a mile away and I see his cows when I drive by the pastures every day. You might actually know this pasture above if you’ve seen Jurassic Park… lucky cows.
Plus, it’s another reason why raw milk is much more safe than you’ve been led to believe by big-ag. Because when it comes from a local farm down your road, you’re going to know the farmer, you’re going to see her farm, you’re going to drink the spoils of the land in your own community and know your dollar is supporting sustainable farming practices rather than agri-business a world away. A farmer who's your neighbor will want to maintain the integrity of her product much more than a capitalist feedlot owner in Illinois, and thus your milk will be much, much better quality. And safe, of course :)
And, of course, don't forget to breastfeed
Breastmilk provides the foundation of health for every element of our growing baby. From brain development to immune function to gut health to bone formation, breast milk is the most potent form of nutrition you can ever feed your growing mini. Some women medically can't breastfeed and must rely on formula, and there's never shame in that. The sadness arises when women are made to feel ashamed about breastfeeding for sexual, political, and cultural reasons, forced to breastfeed in public bathrooms and eventually feeling utterly isolated at home. This energy is sometimes powerful enough to force them to switch over to formula. This is why I love Hollie McNish :) Breastfeeding is natural, beautiful, and powerful, never forget that.