The Maneka Gandhi column: To protect your heart, watch out for the dairy danger - Firstpost
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The Maneka Gandhi column: To protect your heart, watch out for the dairy danger

By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

There are some words that we have grown up with. We accept them without even asking what they mean. Do you know what "pasteurized" and "homogenized" mean when it comes to milk? You need to know the processes that take place before food reaches your mouth, especially milk of which you will consume thousands of litres during your lifetime.

One of the first things you should do is ask for labeling on milk. That way you can make a choice of what you are drinking. We know the brand names of the milk – Amul, Parag etc. but without understanding what goes into them.

Pasteurization is intended to make milk safer and government agencies claim it doesn't reduce nutritional value. Homogenization isn't meant for safety, but for consistency and taste.

Pasteurization is the process of heating milk up and then quickly cooling it down to eliminate certain bacteria. Milk is heated to at least 161.6 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds, which is known as High Temperature Short Time pasteurization or flash pasteurization. This method will keep milk fresh for 2-3 weeks. Then there's Ultra-Heat Treatment (UHT), whereby milk is heated to 280 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of two seconds. This processing results in a shelf life that can extend up to nine months. Milk treated with pasteurization or HTST is labelled as "pasteurized," while milk treated with UHT is labelled as "ultra-pasteurized."

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Pasteurization does not kill all micro-organisms in milk, but is intended to kill some bacteria and make some enzymes inactive. In the process, the Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research has shown that pasteurisation destroys vitamin A, around 38 percent of vitamin B complex, and about 50 percent of vitamin C in milk.

Homogenization is a process that gives milk its rich, white colour and smooth texture. Milk that has not been homogenized contains a layer of cream that rises to the top of a glass. Invented in 1932, homogenization is a mechanical process in which milk is passed through pipes and fine filters at a pressure of 2500 psi and a speed of 600 feet per second. The fat portion of the milk is broken up into very small globules. Like mist in a fog, small fat particles remain suspended evenly throughout the milk and do not rise to the top of the milk. Without homogenization, fat molecules in milk will rise to the top and form a layer of cream.

It's advantageous for large-scale dairy farms to homogenize milk because the process allows them to mix milk from different herds. By preventing cream from rising to the top, homogenization also leads to a longer shelf life of milk allowing large companies to ship greater distances. The basic aim of homogenization is to make the milk last longer – upto 11 days- on shop shelves. While this benefits companies, does it help the consumer?

Heart disease is the single largest killer in the world, followed by diabetes and cancer. Is homogenized milk a contributor?

Dr Kurt Oster, who died in 1988, was the chairman of the Department of Medicine and Chief, Section of Cardiology at Park City Hospital, Bridgeport, Connecticut for 39 years. He was a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology, American College of Physicians, American College of Nutrition, and of the American College of Clinical Pharmacology, among others. The author of more than 40 articles in reputable scientific journals, he is credited for the discovery of the role of the enzyme bovine milk xanthine oxidase in inflammation, and its effect on creating lesions in arteries, nerves and heart muscle. Dr. Oster is also credited for first making the link between cardiovascular disease and other chronic degenerative diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, gout and psoriasis, suggesting that the disease pathway is the same, only in different locations. He demonstrated that folic acid therapy allows the healing of non-healing ulcers.
After suffering a heart attack at the age of 46 Dr Oster researched for over 20 years into clogged arteries.

According to Oster and his associates, Dr Donald Ross of Fairfield University and Dr John Zikakis of the University of Delaware, the principal culprit appears to be the homogenization of milk. Their work suggests that xanthine oxidase, or XO, ingested with homogenized milk and milk products, penetrates and damages arterial walls, triggering the classic symptoms leading to heart disease.

Xanthine oxidase is an enzyme naturally found in our livers where it is involved in the breakdown of compounds into uric acid, a waste product. The fat in milk also contains Xanthine Oxidase. When milk is not homogenised, both the fat and the xanthine oxidase are digested into smaller molecules, which are either used or excreted from the body.

However, when milk is homogenised some of the foreign xanthine oxidase passes intact through the wall of the intestine and into the blood circulation. There it creates havoc by attacking the plasmologen tissue, a vital component of the cells of the heart and artery wall tissue and parts of the heart muscle. This causes lesions in the artery walls. The body, in its efforts to protect and repair them, responds by "patching" the damage with calcified plaque. The result is scar tissue with a build-up of cholesterol and other fatty deposits. Arteries lose their elasticity as additional calcium is deposited. We call these arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis. High blood pressure is one symptom of the loss in arterial elasticity. Angina results from diminished blood flow through branches of the coronary artery, and the combination of adrenalin released during stress, caffeine and nicotine may constrict a diseased coronary artery depriving the heart of oxygen triggering a heart attack.

Some of Dr Oster’s evidence is summarised as follows:
The heart disease death rate skyrocketed after homogenised milk became commonplace in the United States.
Active Xanthine Oxidase has been found in the plaques and lesions lining artery walls.
The presence of human antibodies to cow’s milk xanthine oxidase have been identified in the human circulation.

Female sex hormones inhibit xanthine oxidase. Therefore, atherosclerosis is rare in women prior to menopause.

Male sex hormones chemically enhance xanthine oxidase activity. Atherosclerosis and heart attacks are more common in men.

The heart disease death rates are proportional to the volume of homogenised milk consumed in each country.

Remember it is not just milk, but everything else made from homogenised milk like yogurt, ice cream and cheeses.

To give one statistic : Finns consume about 272 kg of milk per year; 90 percent is homogenised, meaning 245 kg of homogenised milk per Finn per year.

Swedes drink as much milk, but only 2 percent of it is homogenised (only 4.9 kg per year). The death rate from heart attack in Finland is more than three times the Swedish level (about 245/100,000 compared with only 75/100,000).

Homogenisation is only one of many processes food is now subjected to, entirely for commercial purposes. Consumers have to contend with foods being irradiated, genetically engineered, homogenised and processed using any method that will benefit the company producing it. If you still opt to drink packaged milk, find out whether it is homogenized.

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