Thursday, January 8, 2009

Milk Allergies on the Rise

Statistics show that food allergies are on the rise, and milk allergies are becoming very common in both children and adults. It is the leading cause of ear infections in children, and more and more adults are being diagnosed as lactose intolerant. So why do we still consume so much cow’s milk throughout our lives, especially when a calf only consumes it’s mother’s milk until it is able to eat solid food. What makes humans think the breast milk of another species, which was never intended for us to drink in the first place, is not only good but necessary throughout our lives for optimal health?

First things first, let’s revisit the definition of an allergy…more specifically a food allergy. An allergic reaction to food is the immune systems response to what it considers “foreign bodies” within the blood stream. This occurs from improper digestion. When our bodies digest food properly, the stomach passes the digested food to the small intestines where the nutrients are absorbed, entered into the blood stream, and delivered throughout the rest of the body. When poorly digested food enters the small intestines, the undigested food molecules can pass through the intestinal walls and enter into the blood stream where they are perceived as being foreign bodies. This triggers the common allergic reactions that many people suffer from. Add to that the effects of undigested food rotting within the intestines, which becomes an open door for unwanted parasites and bacteria. All of this taxes the immune system, making us susceptible to other allergies, viruses, and diseases. That alone should make people think twice about consuming dairy products, especially children.

So why then do humans still consume so much dairy. Could it be that it has been pushed for many years as practically being a necessity for building strong bones in children, as well as to aid adults in maintaining proper calcium levels; especially woman? In order to examine this further it’s important to rethink the way we look at the recommended daily allowance of nutrients. The ratio of vitamins and minerals within the body is as important, if not more than individual values. This is because many nutrients work together for optimal absorption, and at the same time others may work against; especially if taken in excess. One great example is the calcium to magnesium ratio. As you may well know research has shown that magnesium is crucial to the absorption of calcium within the body. It’s often recommended that the dietary ratio of calcium to magnesium should be 2:1, while the recommended dietary ratio of calcium to phosphorous is about 1:1. I mention phosphorous because research shows that phosphorous in excess can interfere with calcium absorption.

So what really happens each time you consume an equivalent of 8oz of milk. An 8oz serving of skim milk contains about 306mg of calcium, and about 27mg of magnesium. This results in a ratio of about 11.3:1; that’s about 5.6 times the calcium compared to the recommended ratio of 2:1 for proper absorption. Now let’s take a look at phosphorous; an 8oz serving of skim milk contains about 247mg which is very close to the 1:1 ratio recommended for adults, but let’s look at it from an infant’s stand point. When compared to human milk, cow’s milk contains over 6 times the amount of phosphorus.

What exactly does this mean? Based on the calcium to magnesium ratio in cow’s milk, when you consume an 8oz serving of skim milk (as an adult or as a child) your body can’t possibly be expected to absorb all of the calcium. These high levels of calcium can interfere with the absorption of other minerals as well as lead to kidney problems such as kidney stones. To make matters worse when cow’s milk is consumed by infants, it is being done so with phosphorous levels far exceeding that of humans milk…what nature intended for them to consume, which can interfere with the absorption of calcium. So based on the information above this would mean that not only is the low magnesium levels and unbalanced phosphorous to calcium ratio having a negative effect on calcium absorption, but this can also lead to a depletion of stored minerals within the body. So the next time you reach for a glass of milk be aware that it may not be the healthiest choice.

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