Our kids need milk! Or do they?
We all know that we need calcium for strong healthy bones, especially in growing children. The current view is we need to consume milk on a regular basis in order to get enough calcium for bone health.
Unfortunately, this understanding might not be correct. While it’s true that calcium is a critical nutrient for bone health, milk is not necessarily the best option as part of our diet, or more importantly, our children’s diet.
casein and lactose
One of the major issues with milk is that it is not tolerated well by most children. In fact, milk is one of the main contributors to food allergies and sensitivities in children. This stems from the milk protein – casein, and the milk sugar – lactose.
There have been many studies done on the effects of casein on our brain. One finding shows that casein reacts with the opiate receptors of the brain. When it reacts with these receptors, it can mimic the effect of opiate drugs, which can create addictive behaviours. This effect negatively impacts a child’s speech and auditory functions and integration.
Casein is also hard to digest and puts a tremendous strain on our digestive system, especially on a child’s immature digestive system. Regular consumption will eventually cause what is known as a leaky gut. When our gut is ‘leaky’, the walls of the intestines have become permeable. This allows abnormally large food particles to flow out of the intestine and into the blood stream.
These particles trigger the body’s immune system to go into defensive mode with the body deeming them as foreign substances that need to be destroyed. Such immune responses manifest as physical symptoms: constipation, bloating, cramps, skin rashes and runny noses. But changes in behaviour also occur as our gut function is closely connected to our brain function. Imbalances in the gut environment lead to imbalances in the brain chemicals, which alters our behaviour.
Lactose, or milk sugar, is another component of milk that can cause health issues. Lactose is broken down in our digestive system into two sugars – glucose and D-Galactose – by the enzyme lactase. Some people are not able to produce lactase, and as a result become lactose intolerant. When they consume milk or dairy products, they experience symptoms such as bloating, cramps and diarrhoea, etc..
The other form of sugar, D-galactose, is inflammatory. High levels of D-galactose in our system from the regular consumption of milk has been shown to cause low grade inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body that impairs its ability to detoxify and repair damage.
The immune system uses immune cells called macrophages to fight ‘invaders’ and maintain homeostasis or balance. Activated macrophages produce pro-inflammatory cytokines in the up-regulation of inflammatory reactions. Both macrophages and pro-inflammatory cytokines reside within our bone marrow, therefore the activation of both cells triggers osteoclast activity – a process of breaking down the bone. As our bones are broken down, the calcium contained within the bones is released into the blood stream, which in the long run leads to osteoporosis.
We now have a double whammy: not only does milk consumption cause leaky gut, which creates a myriad of health issues, but regular consumption of milk can also lead to lower calcium levels, despite the fact that it contains a good amount of calcium.
The great news is that not all milks are created equal. Some are more tolerable than others. If you choose to continue consuming milk, the list below illustrates the most tolerable to the least tolerable types of milk.
Camel’s milk > Raw Goat’s milk > Conventional Goat’s milk
> A2 Cow’s milk > Un-homogenised grass-fed organic cow’s milk
> Conventional Cow’s milk (pasteurised and homogenised)
Alternative sources of calcium
You might be asking: if my kids don’t have milk, what should they have instead?
You might be surprised that there are lots of other non-dairy food options that contain good amounts of calcium. Some of them are
Seeds, in particular sesame seeds and chia seeds
Tinned salmon with the bones
Tinned sardines with the bones
Tinned mackerels with the bones
Many people don’t realise that calcium and vitamin D go hand in hand. Vitamin D is the vessel that brings calcium into the bones. Without it, calcium will not be absorbed. The best source of Vitamin D is our beloved sun. Spending some time under the sun allows our body to replenish Vitamin D levels, which in turn helps calcium to be absorbed into the bones, creating strong bones for growth and development.
This does not mean sending your children outside for hours under the sun. Twenty to thirty minutes every day, preferably in the morning before the sun gets too strong, is more than enough. If your children are not able to tolerate the sun, the other option would be to take Vitamin D supplements. Choose a good Vitamin D supplement that contains Vitamin D3, not D2. Vitamin D2 is synthetic or man-made and has been shown cause more harm than good to our body. As always, please consult with your doctor or natural health care provider before giving your children supplements.
Milk has long been promoted as an essential part of our diet for bone health, especially for growing children. However, there have been an increasing number of studies proving otherwise. Milk contains good amounts of calcium, but it is hard for your body to digest and can cause inflammation, which can be detrimental to our health in the long term.
Should you decide to consume milk, choose one that is more tolerable such as goat’s milk or camel’s milk rather than the conventional pasteurised and homogenised cow’s milk. In addition, milk should not be the only source of calcium in your child’s diet. There are plenty of vegetables, seeds and seafoods that contain good amounts of calcium that are more readily absorbed by our body for bone growth and development.