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New Research Questions Dairy

You know it like the Pledge of Allegiance: "Milk helps build strong teeth and bones."

But does it really? Or, as nutrition researchers from Harvard and Cornell Universities are radically suggesting: Have we all been duped by the dairy industry's slick, celebrity-driven "got milk?" advertising campaign?

Milk, the sacred cow of the American diet, is under attack, and not just by animal-rights activists. Though federal dietary guidelines and most mainstream nutrition experts recommend that people age 9 or older drink three glasses of milk a day, researchers are examining the role of dairy in everything from rising osteoporosis rates, Type 1 diabetes and heart disease to breast, prostate and ovarian cancer.

Last March, the journal Pediatrics published a review article concluding there is "scant evidence" that consuming more milk and dairy products will promote child and adolescent bone health. Some leading practitioners of integrative medicine, including best-selling author Dr. Andrew Weil, suggest eliminating dairy products from the diet to help treat irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, eczema and ear infections. The late Dr. Benjamin Spock reversed his support of cow's milk for children in 1998 in his last edition of his world-famous book "Baby and Child Care." One fact is indisputable: Our bodies need the mineral calcium to build and maintain bones and teeth. Calcium also helps with blood clotting, muscle function and regulation of the heart's rhythm. The debate centers on whether milk is really the best - or even a necessary - source. Ten thousand or so years ago, cow's milk was not part of the human diet.

For consumers, the issue is profoundly confusing, especially when it comes to osteoporosis. On one hand, we've had it hammered home since grammar school that milk is a health food. We're told that increasing calcium intake by drinking milk will prevent osteoporosis, the weakening of bones.

But researchers Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, and T. Colin Campbell, professor emeritus of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University, say there is little evidence that shows boosting your calcium intake to the currently recommended levels will prevent fractures.
"The higher the consumption of dairy, animal protein and calcium, the higher the fracture rate - an indisputable observation in my view," said Campbell, whose life work is compiled in "The China Study" (Benbella Books, $24.95), one of the most comprehensive nutritional studies undertaken.
Though dairy is high in saturated fat, the dairy industry claims that low-fat dairy products can encourage weight loss. During the last few years it has spent millions on a controversial "got milk?" advertising campaign, using milk-mustachioed figures such as television's Dr. Phil McGraw.

In response, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) filed false-labeling petitions last June with the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration. They maintain that the "got milk?" weight-loss ads are "dishonest," because scientific evidence contradicts the claims. The dairy industry based its assertion largely on the work of University of Tennessee researcher Michael Zemel, who received funding from the Dairy Council and who also has patented a weight-loss program using calcium.

"Our work promoting preventive medicine through healthy eating - with a focus on a plant-based diet - does overlap with PETA's work in the sense that they also are promoting vegetarian and vegan diets and compassionate living," said Lanou, an assistant professor of nutrition in the department of health and wellness at the University of North Carolina.
"The depth and breadth of evidence now implicating cow's milk as a cause of Type 1 diabetes is overwhelming, even though the very complex mechanistic details are not yet fully understood," T. Colin Campbell wrote in "The China Study." "Human breast milk is the perfect food for an infant."

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