Dem Bones

Osteoporosis and the milky myth “got milk?” is the ubiquitous catchphrase of the ad campaign launched in 1993 by madmen at Goodby Silverstein & Partners agency in California. It’s doubtful even their most optimistic projection anticipated it would take on a life of its own and become a social phenomenon. The ads’ white-mustachioed figureheads number in the hundreds and include politicians, actors, athletes and other notables. The underlying endorsement is that cow milk “does a body good.” However, science and critics don’t agree. Many say milk does more harm than good. The dairy industry, like other agribusiness giants, is subsidized by federal tax dollars. Pricing has been controlled since the 1930s. Cow milk is virtually force-fed to school kids (by default, as part of the federal school lunch program) and the massive marketing campaign waged by milk producers’ associations does the rest. While Americans consume more milk than other countries, we continue to have far more incidence of osteoporosis. Bone health is one of milk’s top selling points. The backbone of the milk industry’s pitch is that milk provides calcium and calcium is needed for healthy bones. It’s a narrow plank on a shaky platform. Calcium is an important nutrient mineral. But there’s more involved. Touting the calcium content of a food that is high in fat, cholesterol, sugars and hormones and is linked to cancer and heart disease recalls tobacco ads from the 1950s and ’60s that highlighted smokes “easy on the throat” or “doctors’ choice.” Plus, consumption of milk is suspected of causing poorer, not better, bone health. Hey kids! Osteoporosis isn’t an “old people” disease Up to 85 percent of skeletal growth happens in our teen years. That is when we should pay attention to the body’s building blocks. In the case of skeletal structure, much of that means minerals and not only calcium. It’s a balance thing. Too much calcium (hardly likely in today’s teenager,) can be problematic, and how we get our calcium plays into how healthy our bones grow. Milk doesn’t appear to be the best source, according to several researchers. Udder nonsense The real hot button comes from studies linking milk to cancer. Some found more than two glasses of milk daily doubles the risk of ovarian cancer. WebMD reported “Study Links Milk to Ovarian Cancer” with the subhead “But Experts Say Results Do Not Mean Women Shouldn’t Drink Milk.” Of course the “expert” WebMD quotes is a registered dietitian identified as a spokesperson for the American Dairy Council. Lower on the radar screen is a drug in milk that’s given to increase cows’ milk production. Monsanto (which gave us Agent Orange and Roundup) sell Posilac to dairy farmers. Posilac is a genetically engineered drug otherwise known as recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone or rBGH. It increases production in cows about 10 to 15 percent, just enough to pay for the drug and maybe a few pennies more. Monsanto insists it is safe; after all, it’s FDA approved. (That would be the same FDA that said Vioxx was safe. Along with about two dozen other drugs pulled off the market in the last 10 years.) Critics cite a link between elevated hormone levels in milk with breast and other cancers. For a scathing indictment of hormones in pumping up milk production and what it means to humans, visit Elsie doesn’t live here anymore If milk isn’t better than kale, almonds or exercise at building bones, and it has links to cancer, why drink it? Good question. Perhaps because it tastes good and Angelina Jolie looks hot with that moustache. (Oops! This just in: Angelina switched to soy!) It’s important to know crucial calcium is available from other sources. The Harvard School of Public Health website,, suggests compelling reasons why milk might not be the best choice for health, including the links to cancer. They provide a list of alternative sources for high quality calcium that includes green leafy vegetables, broccoli, black-eyed peas, sardines, canned salmon and more. Shell game In the 1980s, eggs got a bad rap, suspected of raising cholesterol. That was false. Evidence shows eggs are among nature’s most well-balanced food sources — as long as you get them from a farmer you know and not a salmonella-ridden industrial producer. And a very cool thing about eggs: they come in their own nutrient-rich, natural packaging — the eggshell. Vince Gironda, famed Iron Guru and trainer to the stars — including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Cher and David Lee Roth(!) — was a vocal advocate of natural, free-range eggs. He lectured me about them in the early ’80s. He gave me a recipe for a blender drink that included raw cream and farm eggs, with other ingredients. He insisted an essential part of the blend was the eggshells. “You won’t find a better balance of minerals on the planet,” he said. And who was I to argue with a 65-year old Siciliano who would still bench 300 pounds? Vince was rarely wrong. Eggshells are an excellent source of bio-available calcium. Provided the eggs are from a good source, simply rinse the shells and let them dry thoroughly. Then use a blender, spice grinder or food processor to finely pulverize them. A half-teaspoon is about 400 mg. of available calcium. Don’t have a blender or food processor? No problem. Go “low tech” with a rolling pin. Add the powder to a glass of juice and forego the dairy. Much more is involved with maintaining healthy bones: exercise, other vital nutrients and avoiding soda pop, for example. But if you’re one who finds major ad campaigns, government subsidies and eating food designed for the infant of other species good enough reason to suspect milk doesn’t do a body good, there are better. Be well.

posted at 09:00 pm
on Wednesday, November 03rd, 2010


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