Health Concerns About Dairy
Avoid the Dangers of Dairy With a Plant-Based Diet
Milk and other dairy products are the top source of saturated fat in the American diet, contributing to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have also linked dairy to an increased risk of breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers.
Saturated Fat and Heart Disease
Milk and other dairy products are the top sources of artery-clogging saturated fat in the American diet. Milk products also contain cholesterol. Diets high in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease, which remains America’s top killer. Cheese is especially dangerous. Typical cheeses are 70 percent fat.
Infants and children produce enzymes that break down lactose, the sugar found in breast milk and cow’s milk, but as we grow up, many of us lose this capacity. Lactose intolerance is common, affecting about 95 percent of Asian Americans, 74 percent of Native Americans, 70 percent of African Americans, 53 percent of Mexican Americans, and 15 percent of Caucasians. Symptoms include upset stomach, diarrhea, and gas.
Research shows that dairy products have little or no benefit for bone health. According to an analysis published in the British Medical Journal, most studies fail to show any link between dairy intake and broken bones, or fractures. In one study, researchers tracked the diets, exercise, and stress fracture rates of adolescent girls and concluded that dairy products and calcium do not prevent stress fractures. Another study of more than 96,000 people found that the more milk men consumed as teenagers, the more bone fractures they experienced as adults. Learn about how to build strong bones on a plant-based diet.
Research has linked the high fat content and hormones in milk, cheese, and other dairy products to breast cancer.
One study of nearly 10,000 women found that those who consume low-fat diets have a 23% lower risk for breast cancer recurrence. They also have a 17% lower risk of dying from the disease.
A 2017 study funded by the National Cancer Institute that compared the diets of women diagnosed with breast cancer to those without breast cancer found that those who consumed the most American, cheddar, and cream cheeses had a 53% higher risk for breast cancer.
The Life After Cancer Epidemiology study found that, among women previously diagnosed with breast cancer, those consuming one or more servings of high-fat dairy products (e.g., cheese, ice cream, whole milk) daily had a 49% higher breast cancer mortality, compared with those consuming less than one-half serving daily.
Research funded by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health, and the World Cancer Research Fund, found that women who consumed 1/4 to 1/3 cup of cow’s milk per day had a 30% increased chance for breast cancer. One cup per day increased the risk by 50%, and 2-3 cups were associated with an 80% increased chance of breast cancer. But the study cites research showing that vegans, but not lacto-ovo-vegetarians, experience less breast cancer than nonvegetarians.
Regular consumption of dairy products has also been linked to prostate cancer.
High intakes of dairy products including whole and low-fat milk increase the risk for prostate cancer, according to a meta-analysis that looked at 32 studies. In another study, men who consumed three or more servings of dairy products a day had a 141% higher risk for death due to prostate cancer compared to those who consumed less than one serving.
But avoiding dairy products and eating a more plant-based diet may help protect the prostate. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that men who followed a vegan diet had a 35% lower prostate cancer risk than those following a nonvegetarian, lacto-ovo-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, or semi-vegetarian diet.
Health Concerns About Dairy Fact Sheet
Many Americans, including some vegetarians, still consume substantial amounts of dairy products. And government policies still promote these products, despite scientific evidence that questions their health benefits and indicates their potential health risks. Though dairy is marketed as an essential food for strong bones, there is more to the story. Some important things to consider include potential health problems like heart disease, certain cancers, digestive problems, and type 1 diabetes.