4 myths and truths about milk

4 myths and truths about milk

We’ve heard some interesting things about cow’s milk over the years. I am going to share with you four myths about milk that I continue to hear from my patients’ parents.

Myth #1: Don’t give milk to a child with a fever, the milk will curdle (or some other variant).

Truth: As long as your child is not vomiting, milk is a perfectly acceptable fluid to give your febrile child. In fact it is superior to plain water if your child is refusing to eat, which is very typical of a child with a fever. Fevers take away appetites. So if your child stops eating while she is sick, at least she can drink some nutrition. Milk has energy and nutrition, which help fight infection (germs). Take milk, add a banana and a little honey (if your child is older than one year), and maybe some peanut butter for added protein, pour it into a blender, and make a nourishing milk shake for your febrile child. Children with fevers need extra hydration anyway. Even febrile infants need formula or breast milk, not plain water. The milk will not curdle or upset them in any way. If, on the other hand, your child is vomiting, then stick to clear fluids until her stomach settles.

Myth #2: Don’t give children milk when they have a cold because the milk will give them more mucus.

Truth: There is nothing mucus-inducing about milk. Milk will not make your child’s nose run thicker or make his chest more congested. Let your runny-nosed child have his milk! Yet my own mother cringes when I give my children milk when they have colds. Never mind my medical degree; my mom is simply passing on the wisdom of her mother which is that you should not give your child milk with a cold. Then again, my grandmother also believed that your body only digests vitamin C in the morning which is why you have to drink your orange juice at breakfast time. But that’s a myth I’ll tackle in the future.

Myth #3: You can’t overdose a child on milk.

Truth: Actually, while milk is healthy and provides necessary calcium and vitamin D, too much milk can be a bad thing. To get enough calcium from milk, your child’s body needs somewhere between 16 to 24 ounces of milk per day. Of course, if your child eats cheese, yogurt, and other calcium-containing foods, she does not need this much milk. New recommendations for healthy vitamin D requirements have been increased recently to 400 iu (international units) daily which translates into 32 ounces of milk daily.

But we pediatricians know from experience that over 24 ounces of milk daily leads to iron deficiency anemia:  calcium competes with iron absorption. You’re better off giving an over-the-counter vitamin such as Tri-Vi-Sol or letting older children chew a multivitamin that contains 400 iu of vitamin D. In addition to iron-deficiency anemia, drinking all that extra milk is bad for teeth (all milk contains sugar) and can also lead to obesity from excessive calories or can in fact lead to poor weight gain in children who are picky eaters to begin with: the milk fills them up too much for them to have any appetite left for food.

Myth #4: Organic milk is healthier than non-organic milk.

Truth: If you compare organic milk to non-organic milk, the nutrients on the label of the milk carton are the same. “But what about the growth hormones in milk,” you may wonder. First of all, cows may be supplemented with growth hormone, but their milk is not. In addition, let me explain about growth hormone. Some children are actually born without growth hormone, and other kids develop growth hormone deficiency because of kidney failure, or cancer treatment, or other medical problems. These children need supplemental growth hormone. Unfortunately for these kids, the only way that we have to give growth hormone to these kids is by injection (a shot) every day. Do you know why? Growth hormone gets digested in the stomach and is not active if a child eats/drinks it.

So, even if non-organic milk contained growth hormone (which it doesn’t) then your child would have no effects of it anyway because their guts would break it down before it could act on their bodies. Unless you just like the taste better, you do not have to spend twice as much money on organic milk. Just buy regular milk. Put that extra money away in your college funds.

In summary, you can safely continue serving your children milk in sickness and in health, in moderation, at a lower cost than organic, every day. Now, all this talk about milk really puts me in the mood to bake cookies.

Naline Lai and Julie Kardos are pediatricians who blog at 2 Peds in a Pod.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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  • Ron Smith

    Interesting post. However the most common problem I see with milk is the constipation that can be a significant problem in the second and third years of life. Milk is often a major factor.

    I generally don’t recommend nearly as much milk as you do, but not only for that reason. Children tend to consume more milk and as a result less other healthy foods. I want them consuming other foods instead which have just as rich a source of the vitamins and minerals that they need without the excess fat that I see them store up from milk.

    The milk industry has been quite successful in their ‘Got milk?’ campaign. Its almost like you have to have a half-gallon holstered to their hip at all times. We’ve bought into that as a society.

    It is simply not healthy to have a diet skewed so far toward milk.

    Warmest regards,

    Ron Smith, MD
    www (adot) ronsmithmd (adot) com

    • querywoman

      I have not drunk milk since I was a toddler. I probably developed lactose intolerance. I’ll consume milk in any other form, like cheese and yogurt, which I did not taste till I was a teenager.
      My younger brother was a heavy milk drinker as a child and often constipated.
      Our family doctor told my mother not to worry about me refusing milk, that I got the nutrients from other foods. Ditto for eggs, which I utterly despise. I was thrilled when I found out that I was allergic to eggs as an adult.
      Often, when I go the hospital, even though I tell them about my food intolerances, I get a cholesterol free egg, milk, and coffee for breakfast. I don’t drink coffee, either. I just want to throw that meal at the wall.
      Last year, when I had pneumonia, the hospital I used had changed its rules, and I was allowed real choice at first.

  • ErnieG

    Milk is for baby cows.

    • Tammy

      …and meat is for lions, and vegetables are for rabbits, and fruit is for fruit-bats, and grains are for birds.

      Are there ANY foods, in your logic system, which “are” actually “for humans”?

      • Tiredoc

        Soylent Green?

      • ErnieG

        Yes. You have misinterpreted my caution about milk as anti-milk, and tiredoc misinterpreted it as pro-soy. In sum, look into Paleodiet and Loren Cordain. It is not “eat like a caveman” but rather beginning with the idea that there is something wrong with the modern diet because we have not evolved to thrive in a high simple carb refined food diet heavy in grains. While humans are omnivores with great adaptability to survive, the food sources of humans have changed dramatically. This diet uses food anthropology along with scientific observations to help understand why the western diet is not optimal. Regarding milk, I have no problem asserting that most humans are not well adapted to modern industrial milk. Some can tolerate it, but most cannot, and some don’t feel well on it. This paleo diet is not one diet, but rather a hypothesis about what makes humans thrive. Anecdotes are not science, but I’ve seen enough in my rheum practice with chronic widespread pain and obesity that thereis likely something to it.

        • Tiredoc

          I agree with your assertion that humans without the necessary genetics to digest milk should not eat milk products. In my opinion, the adaptation is not just the lactose issue but also the excessive calcium load.

          I disagree with your implied assertion that humans with the genetic modifications to process milk would benefit from avoiding milk. Due to its genetic need for higher calcium intake, that population should drink milk or eat milk products. If milk is unpalatable, natural aged cheese will easily provide the calcium requirement.

          As for the soy issue, I did not mean to assert that you believed that soy was an appropriate replacement to milk. You made it clear in your posts that you believe as I do that modern contrivances that masquerade as food are unlikely to be good for you.

          The purpose of my assertion was to counter your association of obesity with the modern milk product. I believe that the evidence for this is weak and posited soy formula as a possible contributory or causative factor.

          Of note, when the FDA was presented with evidence from other countries concerning the negative effects of soy based infant formula, it declined to investigate and certified soy formula as safe.

          This is, of course, the same agency that limits the quantity of soy protein allowed in animal feed due to its deleterious hormonal effects in livestock.

          If you must use formula, I believe that the Japanese company Morinaga still makes animal fat/milk protein based infant formula. It shouldn’t be too radioactive.

        • Disqus_37216b4O

          “In sum, look into Paleodiet”

          Ugh, another non-science-based trendy craze. The hula hoop of “diets”.

          Are you aware that not even our “paleo” ancestors ate your trendy “paleo” diet?

          See Disocver Magazine, “Paleomythic: How People Really Lived During the Stone Age” in the April 2013 issue and “Even Our Ancestors Never Really Ate the ‘Paleo Diet’” in the June 2013 issue.

          This romanticism about how lovely it would have been to live in the Stone Age and how healthy our Stone Age ancestors were, and wouldn’t it be nice to un-evolve (devolve?) to be just like them, is loony fact-free neo-primitivism.

          • ErnieG

            I did not say eat like a caveman. It is easy to morph Paleo diet into a romanticism about living in the Stone Age, or about devolving. I have not seen those articles but intend to. As far as trends, I’ll assert that a lot of modern medicine has a lot of loonies…one need only to look at the estrogen replacement disaster, or eminence based medicine. It is also important to recognize there is no one paleo diet, and if you look into what one looks like, it is food, not food-like substances. Nothing trendy unless you consider humans as a trend in the history of the world.

  • Chiked

    “But what about the growth hormones in milk,” you may wonder

    For God’s sake, it is not just the growth hormones….it is the estrogen levels, the progesterone levels, pesticides amongst probably a hundred others that you or your child is exposed to when you eat non-organic milk.

    • Frank Lehman

      I can find many other things to add to your list of wacky things you found on the internet. How about all the predictions that horrible things will happen if you use artificial sweeteners? And don’t forget all the evil from immunizations.

      • Chiked

        Actually the predictions have come true. We just need evidence right (wink)?…It is the same silly reasoning people (doctors included) smoked for decades. So if you want to be part of the test group, knock yourself out on splenda and mercury containing vaccinations. My family and I will be ever grateful for your contribution to science.

  • Jess

    It’s nice to see some sanity on the milk issue. Thank you.

  • ErnieG

    Actually, very few humans are adapted to drink cow’s milk. Most humans are lactose intolerant. Furthermore, homogenized pasteurized milk from grain fed cow stored in a refrigerator is different than whole raw milk from pastured cows. The traditional milk drinkers of northern Europe did not store milk. This is not to say that humans can’t ingest “partially rotten” milk products like cheese or yogurt, which confers different benefits. The data that milk is good for you is weak. If you think about the human being as an animal, and think of food as nutrition which human beings adapted to over centuries, you will see that most milk, as sold in stores, is a recent cultural phenomenon, and something that we probably we are not “meant” to drink.

    • querywoman

      Right on! I refused to drink milk at two because my mother was getting ready to deliver a new baby. I would only drink milk from a bottle, but not from a glass.
      When she took my bottle away, I never drank milk again.
      Maybe I developed a lactose intolerance, which is a normal human condition.
      Cheese and yogurt are spoiled cheese, but are more digestible for most people past-toddlerhood.

    • Tiredoc

      Domesticated animals are the stone-age equivalent of refrigerators. Milk producing animals are able to digest material that we cannot and produce food that we can eat from it. Humans that are adapted to climates with only two growing seasons as well as areas with large expanses of minimally arable land (grassland) are capable of digesting lactose into adulthood if they retain milk products in their diet.

      As for the data that milk is good or bad for you, it’s just food. It also, despite homogenization and pasteurization, would be recognizable as food 200 years ago, which is more than I can say for most of the products lining our shelves today.

      Hundreds of millions of people would love to have 3 cups of milk a day even if they were lactose intolerant. They’d take the gas, bloating and diarrhea and say, “might I have some more?”

      The world would be a better place if every mass market book about “good” food, “bad” food or healthy living was required to be published posthumously. If the age of the author at expiration wasn’t at least 1 standard deviation above the mean it should be assigned to the dustbin.

      • ErnieG

        Interesting respone, but I think inadequate

        Bovine cisterns are not refrigerators. The storage of milk in a cold environment for days, and removed for consumption is different than milking a cow daily.

        2) Historically speaking, most humans before the advent of the industrial revolution (which change food availability) did not drink milk on a regular basis as part of their diets. Adaptability is different that healthy. Humans have adapted to the modern Western Diet (in the sense that
        fat obese humans can live long enough to reproduce, then get MI’s at age 45),
        but that is not healthy or optimal

        Two hundred years for pasteurized homogenized milk to be recognized as food is nothing in the history of human beings, much less evolution of the species.

        Whether hundreds of millions of people would give for three glasses of milk does not mean it is good- they probable would also want a snickers bar every day if offered.

        The world may be a better place (or not) if people were not able to write books. Nevertheless I call your attention to perhaps the largest mess modern medicine has made of foot- the low fat foods of the 80’s and 90’s (and the salt is bad thing). Food is a cultural phenomenon, and foods come together as a package. Modern medicine made reductionist correlations between certain fats and disease, that got translated into avoidance of fats in general for optimal health. There is a large difference between a) correlations between certain components and disease b) causations of those
        components and disease c) avoidance of those components in healthy populations
        and d) equating absence of disease as health.
        Perhaps if modern medicine stayed
        out of making food recommendations based on “science”. In the US, we lack a common traditional culture steeped in centuries of pre-industrial food sources. The rapid growth and influx of different populations with different cultures and the need to have food created this modern Western American diet along with the absence of a common cultural language to talk about food. It is not about carbs, proteins, fats that other cultures talk about, but rather what you can have with what, how often, and when. This was based on need, and agricultural realities.
        Rather than make this long,
        I think physicians and modern science, with regard to disease and health, need to realize that food is much more cultural, and a lot more difficult to
        dissect. I think the AHA and medical
        societies need to step out of the business of certifying foods.
        I am confident that in 25yrs, breakfast with cheerios will be found to be a large part of the obesity problem in children.

        • Tammy

          Why is it that my parents’ generation grew up eating cheerios with milk and didn’t get fat?

          Back then, there was shame in being fat. Fat kids were teased. Fat adults were looked down on for lacking self-control. And we had not nearly so many fat people as we do today.

        • Tiredoc

          The advent of widespread childhood obesity in the 1980s did not correlate with the introduction of pasteurization in the late 1800s, refrigeration (universal by 1950) or homogenization (1960s). Widespread use of milk as a food source predates the obesity epidemic by a couple of generations. Correlation does not equal causation, but lack of correlation is fairly convincing.

          My vote is on the widespread usage of soy-based infant formula, with its intrinsic phytoestrogen content (the equivalent of a birth control pill a day to an infant).

          The first batch of formula foisted off on our poor in the 1970s was milk and suet based. It didn’t make fat babies, but made fat moms, which made fat babies in later pregnancies.

          In the 1980s soy became the primary ingredient, replacing both milk and suet, even in formula ostensibly milk-based. Then fat babies became fat adolescents, who then had diabetes of pregnancy and gargantuan babies.

          The solution to obesity is simple. Get rid of WIC. Make the poor use food
          stamps to buy formula and formula will go back to being a niche product.

          Speaking to your comment about doctors and nutrition, WIC started because “scientists” attributed poor academic performance in the poor to inferior breast milk. It’s a perpetually harmful program that actually injures
          Its target beneficiaries.

      • Tammy

        We only have the luxury of throwing ourselves into these anti-milk myths because we are so very wealthy. We are rich and spoiled and bored, and create food “controversies” where there never have been any before, and where most citizens of this planet are not rich enough to buy into them.

  • Suzi Q 38

    I hate milk, so I don’t care.

    • querywoman

      Then you will enjoy the posts I just made about milk! Horrors!
      I make yogurt.
      I hate the very sight of milk, but when it turns into smooth, creamy yogurt, I like it.
      Are you of Asian ancestry? You often mention Hawaii.
      Me, I’m of fair Northern European ancestry, but I did not inherit a love of milk.

      • Suzi Q 38

        “Are you of Asian ancestry? You often mention Hawaii.”

        Yes I am, if only 75%. The other 25% is German.

        • querywoman

          I have heavy German and/or English Anglo Saxon ancestry, but I just don’t have the Northern European passion for milk.
          My mother would be one skinny quart of milk regularly. She had to have it, but she didn’t drink that much. Usually the last tad of milk in the skinny carton would spoil

  • http://euonymous.wordpress.com euonymous

    I hear you. Or at least I read you. But as somebody who has dealt with a runny nose all my life that clears up when I stop drinking milk, having half and half with my coffee, lay off cheese and other milk products, I wonder if you have that one right. The price of milk products for me is a runny nose morning, noon and night. I didn’t realize that milk was the problem until my doctor told me that. So, who shall I believe? You or my doctor? ‘Tis a puzzlement.

    • Disqus_37216b4O

      Ask your doctor what the science behind his or her claim is.

  • Tiredoc

    Humans that have the genes to consume milk for nutrition also have the genes to get rid of the extra calcium. These genes are unhelpful in the absence of milk products. There is no reason to presume that withholding milk and milk products would be beneficial to this group in any way.

    American have higher osteoporosis rates than average for their genetics due to the relative lack of weight bearing exercise. In addition, American women get hysterectomies earlier than women in other countries. Also, there is a cost to having 4 seasons, one of which is a dearth of Vitamin D.

  • buzzkillerjsmith

    One time I was driving to work and saw this old car with a bumper sticker that said, I love milk”, the love was a heart you know. I was amused but moved on. Lo and behold, this guy showed up at my clinic, so when he got out I said to him, ” So, you like milk, huh?” He said, “Yeah I do, I really do.”

  • Disqus_37216b4O

    So what is the mucus-inducing compound in milk? Is there any science at all behind your claim, or is it just a “vibe”, like the old wives tales about going out without a sweater will give you pneumonia, or the Korean superstition that sleeping in a room with a fan running will sap your vital humours and possibly even kill you?

    • Penelope

      It is not a “vibe.” If you had read my comment thoroughly, you would know that “we get more stuffed up when we consume dairy.”

      Instead you chose to be insulting and condescending. I really hope that you’re not a physician.

  • Lisa

    My question is then, how come when I drink organic grass fed milk I have zero symptoms, but when I drink regular milk I am on the floor with stomach cramps and vomiting. I have lactose intolerance except when I consume the organic milk. I was skeptical at first and was afraid of a stomach ache when I drank it so I did it on the weekend. But I was fine. I have several antibiotic allergies and part of me wonders if it made its way into the milk since we pump the cows full of antibiotics.

    Also, it is ridiculous to say that the antibiotics do not make its way into the milk. We tell pregnant women not to take certain drugs while breastfeeding because it will be secreted into the milk. Common sense here people.

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