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Motherhood and apple pie may be next!

"Cow's Milk and Children: A New No-No?" read the headline in the Sept. 30, 1992, New York Times. The report concerned a press conference whose sponsors warned parents about the dangers of cow's milk, claiming it can cause juvenile diabetes, ovarian cancer, cataracts, iron deficiency, and allergies.

No one disputes the fact that ordinary cow's milk is not good for infants. Since 1976, the American Academy of Pediatrics has warned against its use for infant feeding. Its low iron content can result in anemia, and it can make babies colicky. it may even produce colic in breastfed babies whose mothers are drinking it.

But what about the claim relating cow's milk to juvenile diabetes--a serious disease, affecting about 22,000 American children each year? Diabetes is second only to asthma among the severe chronic childhood diseases in this country.

The link is thought to be a substance in one of the proteins in cow's milk that triggers an immune response in children with a particular gene. The immune system then attacks not only this substance in the cow's milk, but also a similar normally occurring protein found on the surface of the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. Diabetes then develops as these pancreatic cells are destroyed.

About 20 percent of children have this gene, but only a small fraction of these gets diabetes. Moreover, the link between this gene and cow's milk is still largely theoretical. "The only evidence we have in human populations is that there is a protective effect of breast-feeding, so all we can recommend is that women breast-feed and prolong breast-feeding," says Dr. Brian Robinson of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada.

As for the use of formula made from cow's milk, Dr. Robinson does not necessarily advise against it. Although there is still little evidence to support the theory, others suggest that mothers play it safe by using a soy-based formula for babies not being breast-fed.

In any case, it is largely in the first few months of life that the undesirable protein substance in cow's milk is absorbed into the infant's bloodstream. As the infant's digestive system matures, it is able to break down this substance in the intestinal tract.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine urges that all dairy products be avoided because of the possible link between cow's milk and the diseases in question. 1n the case of ovarian cancer and cataracts, they put the blame on galactose, a sugar in milk.

As for cataracts, the evidence is very limited, says Dr. Paul Jacques of the USDA's Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. Even if he were convinced that milk caused cataracts, says Jacques, "I'd never advise anyone to stop drinking milk because of calcium's benefit for bone density and general nutrition. While it would be nice to prevent cataracts, they're readily treatable and not life-threatening."

"The evidence relating galactose to ovarian cancer is extremely weak," says Dr. Curtis Mettlin of the Roswell Park Memorial Institute in Buffalo, New York, one of the nation's leading cancer research centers. Ovarian cancer is a deadly disease, with a five-year survival rate of only 40 percent. Americans and Scandinavians are affected by it at a rate three times that of Japanese-- who drink far less milk. The prevailing scientific opinion is that our consumption of all fatty animal foods may be responsible.

So what about milk in our diet? It's loaded with nutrition, and, says Dr. Jacques, "In older people, milk is often what discriminates between an adequate and inadequate diet." Although it is possible to get calcium and the other nutrients in milk and dairy products from other sources, it isn't easy.

In summary, then, the sensible approach would be to avoid feeding cow's milk to newborns but retain it as an important dietary item for older children and adults. Use only skim or 1 percent fat milk. If your child has repeated bouts of diarrhea, bronchitis, eczema, asthma, or runny nose, have him or her tested for milk allergy. For those who experience gas, diarrhea, or cramps from drinking milk or eating dairy products, because of intolerance to lactose, there are lactase pills and lactose-reduced milk.
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Title Annotation:drinking cow's milk may be a disease risk factor
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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