National Milk Day: Recent studies have soured the health benefits of adults consuming milk. What should we make of them?

While there is no doubt that for children, and breastfeeding infants especially, milk is crucial, the science gets murkier when dealing with adults.

Myupchar November 26, 2019 07:00:33 IST
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National Milk Day: Recent studies have soured the health benefits of adults consuming milk. What should we make of them?

Today, 26 November, is National Milk Day. It is the birthday of Verghese Kurien, the father of the white revolution in India, and the founder of Amul.

Each year on this day, the major milk associations of the country commemorate Kurien for helping make India the largest exporter of milk in the world; under his stewardship, the economy transformed from a milk-starved one to a diverse producer of milk and its byproducts.

National Milk Day Recent studies have soured the health benefits of adults consuming milk What should we make of them

Representational image. Image source: Getty Images.

(Such is the power of the dairy lobby today that it was one of the influencers in the recent government decision to reject the conditions of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, the Asia-Pacific trade deal.)

Indians love their milk: while dairy products like cheese and butter are popular globally, many Indians still consume glasses of milk in the morning or at night before going to bed.

Why?

Amit Dalmia, a 28-year-old product manager in a New Delhi headquartered start-up, said he drinks a glass of milk four to five times a week. “I have been trained to believe from a young age that milk is an essential part of my diet. I haven't done much research to question this claim,” he said.

Another Delhiite, Parul Rohatgi, 28, said she can’t go to bed until she’s had a glass of milk, preferably with turmeric in it.

Of course, some detest milk, too. Like 20-year-old student Mansi Gupta, who says she “can’t remember what plain milk even tastes like any more”.

Personal preferences aside, a spot survey showed that there is a kind of faith in the benefits of milk and the integral role it plays in a balanced diet. It is considered a good source of calcium, protein, multiple vitamins and minerals. But can this faith stand the test of science? 

Read on to know:

Who needs milk?

While there is no doubt that for children, and breastfeeding infants especially, milk is crucial, the science gets murkier when dealing with adults. Here is what some well-designed studies have to say about the benefits and ills of milk:

1. Prevents fractures? The jury is still out on whether milk is, in fact, good for bone health. 

A 2011 meta-analysis to examine the link between dairy consumption and hip fractures came up with nought. Multiple studies in the meta-analysis (some of them covering as many as 200,000 women) found no link between milk consumption and the prevention of fractures.

A similar study, conducted in 2014, covering 100,000 men and women found no relation between them as well. 

A 2007 meta-analysis covering 200,000 people that specifically examined calcium intake found no correlation with fractures either.

2. What about overall health? It can be argued that the above-mentioned studies are narrow in their scope and don’t consider the variety of micronutrients that milk provides. Indeed, milk is loaded with protein, vitamins A, B1, B2, B12, and D, as well as potassium and magnesium, and of course calcium.

Adults, on average, need 1,000 mg of calcium a day and a cup of milk can provide 350 mg of that. Milk is also recommended for adolescents to promote bone strength. An adolescent diet deficient in calcium can lead to bone weakness in the future that is hard to recover from, the BBC reported recently.

3. Any special cases? Medical practitioners agree, however, that milk is crucial for pregnant and post-menopausal women. Pregnant women have higher nutritional requirements, and milk makes up for some nutrients that would otherwise fall short. Post-menopausal women require milk after their bodies stop producing female sex hormones, which also protect health. 

4. And for vegetarians? The argument against the nutritional benefits of milk consumption is based on the premise that modern diets adequately provide the necessary nutrients to the body. This logic does not apply in the case of pregnant women, post-menopausal women, and as it turns out, many vegetarians.

Ultimately, the question of the importance of milk hinges on individual diets. About 30% of India's population are vegetarians (estimates vary): they may require that extra drink of milk to deliver the nutrients that are otherwise absent from their diet.

“There is no denying that milk is a good source of calcium and various proteins,” said Dr Vandana Prasad in a phone interview. "Animal-based protein is superior to plant-based protein, and milk delivers more essential amino acids. Since milk may be the only source of animal-based protein in a vegetarian diet, one can assume with some assurance that milk in moderation has its uses and benefits," she added.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. For more information, please read our article on Milk: Benefits and Side-Effects.

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