Got Milk? Maybe Not?

By Leslie Ortega, BS in Biology, Biopharmaceutical Concentration

“Can I have an iced latte with almond milk, please?”  This phrase is a more common occurrence as we stand behind the line of a Starbucks or simply notice the newly stocked aisle at Whole Foods labeled “plant-based milk alternatives”. Today, more and more Americans are consuming dairy-free milk options, as the abundance of selections range from soy milk, oat milk, or the king: almond milk.  Data shows 41% of US homes now consume plant-based alternatives, with almond milk bringing in 1.3 billion dollars of annual sales as of 2019. Can this be attributed to an ever growing abundance of hippie millennials? Or is there an underlying reason for this noticeable shift? 

The dreaded word no one wants to hear: cancer. 598,038 lives are claimed each year, making it the second leading cause of death in the United States. Of these, breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer in women globally. According to a study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology in 2020, dairy consumption is related to an increased risk of breast cancer in women. Now, how much milk are we talking about? Results show that dairy intake ranging from 1/4 cup daily was attributed with a relative higher risk of breast cancer of 30 percent compared to women who abstained from drinking milk in the study. Also revealing, by consuming up to one cup per day, the linked relative risk increases up to 50%, and in the 2-3 cup range, the risk continues on the uphill to 70-80%

We all know hormones are our body’s chemical regulators. Or, for some, the reason we are allowed to act however we please during moments of the month. With over 50 hormones in the human body, we may not know which does what exactly. A deeper look into these associations can be attributed to the levels of sex hormones, due to the fact that cows lactate when nursing their young- as humans do. A study done in Japan looked at the exposure of such increased hormone levels of estrogen in commercial milk from pregnant cows. The study looked at 7 men, 6 children, and 5 women.  The results concluded that after the consumption of cow milk, estrone and progesterone concentrations drastically heightened, whereas serum luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone and testosterone significantly decreased in men. Now serum luteinizing hormone is responsible for testosterone production in the testicles, as well as sperm production.  

Breast cancer, similarly,  is a hormone-responsive cancer, meaning that the consumption of dairy is also linked with increased blood hormone levels, insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), responsible for growth stimulation and thus believed to encourage particular cancers. Taking a look at a single serving on milk: 20% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of saturated fats, also known as the “unhealthy fats”, and as much as 24 mg of cholesterol, predominant in an American diet where Americans suffer from heart disease as the leading cause of death. 

Whether you are 1 of the 30 millions Americans that suffer from lactose intolerance, lacking the enzyme lactase to break down the “milk sugar”,  or simply like the taste of a macadamia milk cappuccino, it is important to continuously educate ourselves so that we may educate others. In hope, to tackle some of the most leading causes of deaths and provide prevention with diet, knowledge, and love.

Peer-edited by Kyle Lee

Picture credit: Pixabay

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