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Questions about Milk

Questions about Milk | The Paleo Diet

Hi Cordell,

Here are my answers:

1. Do you consider milk healthy or unhealthy for the human body?

Human mother’s milk is extremely healthy for the suckling new born infant and baby until weaning, which typically occurred in hunter gatherers at about 2-3 yrs of age.  Drinking of cow’s milk or other species’ milk by children and adults is an unhealthy practice that increases the risk of many chronic diseases and adds no micronutrients to the diet that cannot be obtained from fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, seafoods and nuts.  Human’s have no nutritional requirement for cow’s milk.

2. What are some of the adverse effects milk has on the human body?

1.    Of all foods, cow’s milk consumed by humans is number one when it comes to causing food allergies.
2.    Early consumption (less than 1-2 yrs of age) of cow milk by infants increases the risk for type 1 diabetes
3.    Cow milk drinking is implicated with a variety of autoimmune diseases including but not limited to multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis
4.    In large epidemiological studies published by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, cow milk drinking has been shown to be strongly associated with acne.
5.    Cow milk drinking by either infants, young children or even their nursing mother’s has been shown to cause colic in babies.
6.    Cow milk drinking has been shown to promote heart disease from a variety of mechanisms other than the saturated fat content of whole milk
7.    Milk contains an astonishing number (more than 75 –  see list below) of hormones, and bioactive peptides of which many likely breech the gut barrier and interact with the immune system and normal physiological function.  One of the most problematic is cow insulin, which is involved in increasing the risk for type 1 diabetes in young children.  Also alarming are the estrogens found in cow milk.  One of these estrogens, estrone sulfate, has high bioavailability — meaning that it escapes human digestive enzymes and has been shown to readily enter the human bloodstream following milk ingestion.  Lifelong elevation of estrogens in women increase the risk for breast and ovarian cancers and in men prostate and testicular cancers.

Growth Hormones
Insulin, Insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), Insulin like growth factor 2 (IGF-2)
Insulin like growth factor binding proteins, 1 to 6 (IGFBP-1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6),
Betacellulin (BTC), Growth hormone (GH), Growth hormone releasing factor (GHRF), Transforming growth factor alpha (TGF ?), Transforming growth factor beta 1 (TGF-?1), (TGF-?2), Platelet derived growth factor (PDGF)
Steroid Hormones
Estrogens (Estrone, Estradiol-17?, Estriol and Estrone sulfate), Progesterone, 20 alpha-dihydropregnenolone, 5? androstanedione, 5 ? pregnanedione, 20?- and 20?-dihydroprogesterone, 5?-pregnan-3?-ol-20-one,  5?-androstene-3?17?-diol, 5?-androstan-3?-ol-17-one, androstenedione, testosterone, and DHEA acyl ester
Bioactive Proteins and Peptides
Relaxin, Thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH), Luteinizing hormone releasing hormone (LHRH), Somatostatin (SIH), Gastrin releasing peptide (GRP), Calcitonin, Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), Prolactin, Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), Lysozyme, Lactoperoxidase, Lactoferrin, Transferrin, Immunoglobulins (IgA, IgM, IgG), Proteose-peptone, Glycomacropeptide, Plasmin, ? Casein, ? Casein, ? Casein, ? Lactoglobulin, ? Lactoglobulin, Bovine serum albumen (BSA), Gastric inhibitory polypeptide (GIP), Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), Antitrypsin, Plasminogen activator inhibitor-1, ?(2) antiplasmin , Butyrophilin, Xanthine oxidase, Mucin-1, Mucin-15, Adipohilin, Fatty acid binding protein, CD36, Periodic acid Schiff 6/7
Bioactive Peptides formed in gut from Milk Proteins
Casomorphins, ? Lactorphin, ? Lactorphin, Lactoferroxins, Casoxins, Casokinins, Casoplatelins, Immunopeptides, Phosphopeptides.

8.    Cow milk drinking by children has been shown to cause insulin resistance, a condition which underlies obesity and the metabolic syndrome.  When 24 8 year old boys were put on a high milk diet for only 1 week they all became insulin resistant.  When the milk was replaced with meat, insulin metabolism normalized.
9.    Large population studies called “Meta Analyses” show that cow milk drinking elevates a hormone called IGF-1 in both adults and children.  Lifetime elevations in IGF-1 increase the risk for many cancers including breast, colon and prostate.
10.  Milk contains a sugar called lactose.  About 65 % of the world’s people lack the gut enzyme (lactase) necessary to breakdown lactose and develop gas, and gastrointestinal distress when they drink milk
12.  Milk is called a disachharide — meaning that it is composed of two sugars (glucose and galactose).  In rodent experiments, both lactose and galactose promote formation of cataracts in the eye.
13,  Because of its high calcium content, consumption of either milk or other dairy products in a mixed meal impairs absorption of zinc and iron — two of the micronutrients most lacking in the U.S. diet.
14.  Meta analyses worldwide show that milk drinking increases the risk for Parkinson’s disease
15.  Recent studies have now elucidated a gut mediated mechanism by which milk drinking may promote asthma and mucus production in the lung.

3. It seems like most people believe milk is healthy because it supplies a lot of calcium. Is there any truth to this believe?

Cow milk and dairy products are one of the richest sources of calcium of all foods consumed in the human diet.  In fact, they contain supra-normal concentrations of calcium that would be impossible to achieve in the previous 2.5 million year history of our species prior to the domestication of cows, goats and sheep 10,000 years ago.  Supra normal intakes of calcium are not without consequence.  Meta analyses show that high calcium intake via supplementation increases the risk for heart disease, yet do not protect against bone fracture.  Further, excessive calcium compromises magnesium, iron and zinc metabolism.

4. Have you found a correlation between milk and osteoporosis?

The most recent Meta analyses show that milk drinking does not protect against either osteoporosis or bone fracture

5. Does organic vs non-organic or raw vs pasteurized milk make any difference?

Organically produced milk and dairy may contain lower concentrations of pesticides and other environmental pollutants.  Raw milk contains higher concentrations of hormones and bioactive peptides as well as bacteria which promote a variety of infectious diseases.  The pasteurization and homogenation processes by which commercial milk undergoes creates a number of by products which may increase the risk for heart disease.

6. Can hormones given to the dairy cows be transferred through their milk to humans and if so, what can this cause?

To increase milk production dairy cows are frequently administered Growth Hormone, which has been shown to elevate IGF-1 in milk.  Cow milk drinking in humans elevates IGF-1 in the human bloodstream.  As I mentioned earlier increases of IGF-1 in human blood increases the risk for a variety of cancers (breast, colon, prostate)

7. Are there any other diseases or problems you have found in relation to drinking milk?

See my  book, The Paleo Answer.  I have written an entire chapter on health problems associated with milk drinking and have provided more than 100 scientific references to document these effects.

8. Why do you think people think milk is so good for us? Is the media is to blame?

Yes, the dairy industry has conducted an ad campaign for more than 20 years promoting milk’s supposedly beneficial effects.  Yet, the scientific data when weighed without bias demonstrates multiple issues with cow milk and dairy that are problematic.


Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

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36 Comments on "Questions about Milk"

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  1. My dairy experience is an unusual one: I went vegan for two years and lost the ability to process milk when I went back to a standard diet. I have been having almond or cashew milk but slowly reintegrating cheese because dairy can be a low-carb source of protein. From a macro perspective, dairy looks good, but that piece about insulin resistance concerns me. Is there any evidence of that side effect in adults?

  2. laura says:

    If all of these hormones and pesticides (and other undesirable substances) are present in cow milk mainly as a result of how cows are raised, would not they be present also in the meat of the cows (as well as other animals we eat)?
    Oh, and if the rejoinder is something along the lines ‘not if you eat grass-fed organic beef”, why it is not possible to drink the milk of grass-fed organic raised cows?

    Also, I don’t think I got the point well. Is it the particular sugar, protein or fat in milk that is supposedly bad?

  3. Greg Dahlen says:

    I have been more or less living on milk for the last five years. Every day I drink about two gallons of organic skim milk, plus a little pure cream here and there, and hardly eat or drink anything else. For me it has been great, among other things I easily maintain at the middle of normal on the BMI for my height (165 pounds, six feet, two inches.) Milk also helps with your aches and pains, although you chew and digest solid food, I believe it is never as broken up as milk, and hence irritates and clogs your cells as it moves about your body. I believe this diet would help with any disease, including the biggies like cancer, although this has not been proven.

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  5. Empowerment says:

    Clean eating is not a new concept! Nor is it a fad diet to shed weight. Clean eating is about sticking to what is closest to natural products and avoid processed foods that come out of a box. It’s not about restricting what you eat, but rather about making conscious choices to eat better quality foods. This means more natural products and less chemicals and additives. Although some people may be able to jump right into clean eating and never look back, most need to ease into this lifestyle. A sure way to get started is to firstly drink more water; secondly eliminate processed foods; thirdly balance your meals; and finally control portion size.

  6. Shirley J says:

    I'm not aware of any studies that compare homogenized/pasteurized milk with raw, or the difference if consuming fermented dairy such as yogurt or kefir. Without that it's meaningless to me except that homogenized/pasteurized cow milk is not healthy.

  7. Michelle says:

    I think it's totally common sense that any lactating animal (including humans) is in that mode to feed a baby and nothing else. All other uses are insane – there is no way that nature intended us to consume the lactating fluids of other animals. It just goes totally against nature. Period. Any arguments against that are nothing more than justification for something that our society has programmed us to accept as normal.

  8. jennifer says:


    Is unsweetenedf almond milk or coconut milk acceptable on the paleo diet?

  9. Sandi says:

    My question is about traditional diets that contain dairy, such as that of the Maasai people. Where does this fit into the argument about eating or not eating dairy?

  10. Cara says:

    In your posts above you clearly specify "Cow milk". What is your take on goat milk – more easily digested. For years I have been intolerant of cow milk, and healthier when drinking raw goat milk.

  11. Donovan says:

    What type of DHA and AA enriched, non soy-based infant formula do you recommend after weaning? Milk-based, hydrolysed?

  12. Josh says:

    In reference to your first point, where is the evidence which backs up this claim? That milk causes chronic illness?

  13. Nate says:

    @Trainer – I totally agree with the push to get back to organic, but where did you get that 3 million years number from? All the research I've seen points humans first drinking cows milk about 7,500 years ago in central Europe.

    All mammals, including humans, become lactose intolerant after weaning. Only about 25% of the adult population on the planet have the enzymes to digest milk properly – mostly people of European descent.

  14. Josh says:

    For all the above, just do your self a favour go and read Dr Cordain's new book The Paleo Answer. It provides fantastic research and evidence as to the problems of Dairy. Dr Cordain has conclusively written about the problems with ALL dairy goods. I have read many books on Paleo diets and The Paleo Answer is just fantastic, I have long given up dairy. Before asking a question for the busy man do him a favour read his new book, he wrote this to address issues such as dairy and vegetarian diets being healthy.

  15. Gary Yuen says:

    all the quoted studies about the dangers of milk cannot really be trusted. After all, cows, and other animals have been fed on a unnatural diet just like most of us. There are also other forms of milk closer to human — donkey, horse. And — many ancient medicines consider human milk the best for humans.

  16. Mellissa says:

    I've been studying the history of breastmilk/cowmilk consumption for a few years now & I totally agree with you. This is very encouraging to see that my personal conclusion is being supported by your work. I believe that the age of 2-3 to be the natural weaning age for humans is supported by evidence of the following; biologically, physiologically, psychologically, historically/anthropologically, and for some like me theologically. It's fascinating to me that the need to suckle for proper pallet formation (which does not pose the risk that suckling on an artificial nipple or another breast alternative does) remains until about 3 years, which perfectly correlates with the GI tracts need to be flushed with human milk and the toddlers need to be protected with the antibodies their mothers milk provides. I also find it un-coincidental that the "terrible twos" are usually not as evident in nursing toddlers as they are in those weaned prematurely, as premature weaning is associated with aggression and disagreeableness. I've just witnessed my own son self-wean at 33 months of age and am amazed at how he is suddenly so independent, communicating so well, not sucking on his fingers, not throwing "tantrums", and I am thrilled that I was able to provide him with such excellent nutrition as long as his body needed it. I will aim to nurse all of my babies until age 2-3. Thank you for making this information part of the web site!

  17. Trainer says:

    To say milk is bad for us is is misleading, milk from cows locked in a stall and eating oats and grains and reaching a mature weight at 6 months causes them to be sick and infected, they will need antibiotics and along with growth hormones is clear that no human should drink milk produced by a cow raised this way, however humans have been drinking milk from cows for 3 million years or more. About 40 years ago all food was organic and people were healthy, organic cows milk is fine for humans, they even make lactose free milk for those who are lactose deficient. i feel the problem people have today is from processed food and lack of education on what "Real Food" is.

    • Nicoli says:

      Humans have not even been on this earth for 3 million years!!! Humans started inhabiting this earth about 200,000 years ago. The funny thing about drinking cow milk is humans have evolved to drink it. In fact those of us who are lactose intolerant are actually the people who never inherited the mutated gene that produces lactase in humans.

  18. katie says:

    If milk isn't good for children, what do you suggest giving them? My child is 14 months old and no longer breastfeeding

    • Mellissa says:

      Hi Katie, I think as mothers we all do the best we can & while I agree that breastfeeding until the child is 2-3 years is the ideal for healthy mothers who are able, if this is not possible I wonder if goats milk or raw cows milk would be a good alternative in Dr. Cordain's opinion? In the meantime here's a link for information on different milks:

      It's important also to consider the protein size of these different milks. Just think about the create it what intended to sustain… this gives us the answer to why dairy-based formula fed infants tend to be larger on growth charts… cows are larger than humans & so is the protein molecule in their milk! It's often far to large for some babies causing upset stomachs. I think it's also important to consider the "brain" of the milk too… soy doesn't have one!

    • Kristi says:

      My children were strikly breast fed until about 18 months and would not drink from a bottle. Once they were that age and I was trying to wean them, they would not drink cow's milk. I had read many articles about the ill effects of cow's milk and spoke with our pediatrician and decided to give them vanilla rice milk. It is thinner and sweeter than cow's milk and tastes very similar to breast milk. They loved it and it has all the good vitamins and nutrients that are in cow's milk without all the antibiotics and hormones. Good luck momma – you will find what works for you!

  19. Nikhil says:

    Hi Dr. Cordain,

    What is your opinion on greek yogurt, kefir and other fermented dairy products that are said to contain healthy probiotics that encourage good gut health?

  20. Ian Goldsmid says:

    Hi Dr. Cordain,

    What about cheeses in particular highly aged gouda (organic) – and high fat (20%) greek style yogurt, all from organic pastured cows (New Zealand) ?

    Thank you,

  21. Ruby says:

    How about soymilk or almond milk?

    • Mellissa says:

      be careful with soy… it's suspected to be an endocrine disruptor. I stick with the nut milks… I think almond is excellent… good for ovaries and prostate too! Interested in what other replies you'll get!

    • Paul Hammer says:

      My personal observation regarding soymilk is based on several years of consuming 2 to 3 cups of low-fat soymilk on a daily basis. I dveloped type 2 diabetes 4 years ago, and discovered that soymilk raised my blood-sugar levels alarmingly. I cut out soymilk to help lower my blood-sugar levels. I am now on the Paleo diet and my blood sugar is at non-diabetic levels, without medication.

    • annette says:

      I drink almond milk – vanilla is 40 cal per 8 ounces so I get a lot of bang for my caloric buck! It's delicious – there is now a mix of coconut and almond milk that is also good – since I have stopped ingesting cow's milk in the form of milk and cheese, yogurt, etc., I am a lot less bloated and have not had so much gas. The only thing I do allow myself is my half-and-half for coffee and ice cream on occasion.

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