- Pregnancy & Childbirth
- Attachment Parenting
- Family Nutrition
- Family Wellness
I've heard there is a link between cow's milk and diabetes. Is this true? Possibly. Studies comparing diabetes with the general population have shown a statistical correlation between young children drinking milk and the later onset of insulin-dependent diabetes. Further studies are needed, but researchers speculate that the early introduction of cow's milk may cause an immune reaction in the body. By some biochemical quirk, the protein in cow's milk (bovine serum albumin) is similar to the natural proteins in the pancreas, the organ that manufactures insulin. Researchers theorize that some people produce antibodies in reaction to cow's milk protein that attach themselves to the insulin- producing cells in the pancreas, eventually destroying them and leading to diabetes. In one statistical study, insulin-dependent children had elevated levels of anti-bovine serum albumin antibodies, but the control children only had a small amount of these antibodies in their blood.
It's prudent to delay the introduction of cow's milk to breastfed infants and children in the following situations:
The possible connection between diabetes and cow's milk can't be all that strong, since over 99 percent of the baby boomers who were raised on cow's milk formulas have not gone on to develop insulin-dependent diabetes. So it looks like we're back to the science of common sense. Cow's milk is meant for baby cows. Human milk is better for human babies.
The studies implicating cow's milk in a child's diet with a higher incidence of later illnesses are preliminary and of concern, but they should not be interpreted to mean that children should not drink cow's milk (with some exceptions). It's entirely possible that cow's milk loses by default; that is, the link between the consumption of cow's milk at an early age and the development of later illnesses may not be directly due to the cow's milk but rather to the absence of breastmilk in the child's diet in the first one or two years.
Is it true that children and adults have more medical problems with the more milk they drink? Possibly. Compared with breastfeeding infants, cow's milk (and formula) fed infants have more middle-ear infections, more upper respiratory tract infections, and more intestinal infections. And there is the possible diabetes/cow's milk connection described above. There are those who would make milk the scapegoat for just about every ailment imaginable – from bedwetting to hyperactivity – but there is no scientific evidence for a cause-and-effect relationship between milk-drinking and any of these other illnesses. In fairness to much-maligned milk, in our opinion, any connection between cow's milk and disease is probably more a result of the absence of breastmilk in the infant's diet than it is a reaction to the presence of cow's milk.