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How Bad is Milk, Really?

In the news, we hear all kinds of things, from “milk is great for your bones and teeth, because it has lots of calcium” to “don’t drink milk, because it’s filled with hormones, and will cause all kinds of bad things, like cancer, osteoporosis, war, and even your car insurance to go up.”

The truth is really somewhere in the middle.

And by the way, although this article will talk specifically about milk, it can be applied to any food/drink.

How is Research Done?

First, let’s investigate research methods. When scientists try to determine whether a food is “good” or “bad”, what do they do? They take a human cell (it can be a liver cell, a muscle cell, a cancer cell, etc.), and put it in a test tube. Then, they give that cell a specific food. And then, they observe what happens to that cell when you introduce that food. This is called “in-vitro testing.”

But let me ask you something. Can you generalize from a cell in a laboratory, to cells of the human body, where there is very complex interaction between the nervous system, the immune, digestive and hormonal systems? No! This kind of research is done for the purpose of uncovering areas for future research, and to expand it later on, to actually doing live research in humans, and not just cells on a petri dish.

Yes, there is also research done directly on humans, and this kind of research is much more valid, but even so, it has its limitations.

In research, you really have to isolate a variable to identify cause-and-effect relationships. Real life isn’t quite so isolated. So what are the variables that affect how good or bad milk (or again, any other food) is for you?

Your Liver

Among other functions, your liver is responsible for processing hormones and toxins. In fact, it has 6 different pathways that it can use, and “stream” different toxins along different pathways.

Different pathways function differently in different people. For instance, one pathway is called “sulfoxidation”, and it helps detoxify MSG (monosodium glutamate, the chemical added to foods, usually in Chinese restaurants that gives it extra flavor). If you’re the type of person whose sulfoxidation pathway is working well, you will not really notice anything when you eat MSG. If you’re the type of person whose sulfoxidation pathway is not working well, you’ll get the typical symptoms of eating MSG. Things like foggy thinking, headache, sweating, weakness and others.

Now let me point something out. The food didn’t change. The person changed. So in one person, food with MSG can produce negative symptoms and health effects, and in another person, it may not.

Same thing with milk. For one person, milk may cause all kinds of issues, from gas, nasal congestion, and others. And yet another person can drink milk with no negative effects whatsoever. The same applies to every other food.

What Else You’re Eating

Foods are tested by themselves, but what else you’re eating either in that same meal, or throughout the rest of the day/week, will also affect how you respond to any given food.

For instance, we know that you shouldn’t eat tuna, because it has mercury. When mercury accumulates it can cause all kinds of problems with the brain. However, there are certain natural ways to completely negate the negative effects of mercury. If you eat foods that are high in either vitamin C or selenium along with your tuna, it helps your body block the mercury from being absorbed. So if after your tuna, you eat some strawberries for dessert, or if along with your tuna, you eat some Brazil nuts, don’t worry about the mercury.

Same thing goes for milk. If along with your dairy, you eat foods with nutrients that negate the potential negative effects of dairy, you’re fine.

The Bacteria in Your Digestive System

You have bacteria in your digestive system (most of it is in your large intestine, and hopefully almost none in your stomach, with a little bit in the small intestine), and just like all living organisms, they have a certain lifespan.

The bacteria change on a regular basis, depending on what you’re eating. So the argument is that human genetics are the same as they were 40,000 years ago. True enough. But the bacteria living inside us are not. The strains of bacteria that are present in our digestive system change, and change rapidly (in a matter of weeks-months).

That’s why for example, if you haven’t eaten beans for a long time, and you eat them once, you’ll get crazy gas. But if after your first time eating beans, you start eating them on a regular basis, after a period of a few weeks or months, beans no longer give you gas.

Did the food change? No. You’re eating the same beans. But your body changed in response to the new food.


Enzymes are specific proteins that speed up certain processes in the body. Different enzymes are used to process different components of food.

For example, if you’re lactose intolerant, you can drink milk, and it will give you serious gas. If you keep it up on a long-term basis, you can destroy your digestive and immune systems, and other health problems can follow. That’s because you lack the enzyme that breaks down lactose. It’s called “lactase.”

But if you have the enzyme lactase, milk won’t give you any problems.

There are other factors that affect how “good” or “bad” any given food is, and I discuss those in one of my talks called “Healthy Foods That Poison: Why You’re Getting Sicker and Fatter Despite Eating Healthier.” If you’d like me to give that talk to your organization, let me know.

In Conclusion

The point of this article isn’t to say that milk is good or bad. The point is to make you realize that there is no single food that is universally good, or universally bad. Whether a food is good or bad depends less on the food (although it still matters), and more on the person eating the food.



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About Igor Klibanov (9 Articles)
Igor Klibanov is one of the top personal trainers in Toronto. He is the founder and owner of Fitness Solutions Plus, a personal training and fitness/health education company. Igor began training in martial arts at a young age, and enjoyed learning about movement and the human body enough to pursue a degree in kinesiology and health science from York University. Igor is also a talented writer and author of 3 books on wellness.
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