Are there harmful effects on the immune system from dairy products?

A calf grows up to a 2000lb cow and does not drink mother’s milk after approximately seven months from birth. Humans are the only ones that drink milk of other animals. Do humans need to drink cow’s milk at all? The question is under the scanner of researchers and the medical fraternity and the general public would indeed like to know the answer.

Cow’s milk forms the first foreign proteins entering an infant’s body as most formulations for babies are based on dairy products. It is contended that oral exposure to dairy milk and dairy products results in cellular and immune responses that may be the cause behind the increased incidence of immune mediated disorders in countries with high milk consumption. A strong immune system is elemental to the body’s natural capacity to fight disease and in avoiding unnecessary dependence on the antibiotic alternative .

Milk contains different levels of white blood cells depending upon the health and the source - cow, goat, sheep or water buffalo. An eight ounce glass of milk contains at least one to seven drops of these cells. The controversy is whether these cells are simply somatic or pus cells. Another source of concern has been the presence of deposits of bovine growth hormones (administered for increasing milk yield) in cattle milk.

Although bovine growth hormones are naturally present in cattle in normal quantities, elevated levels of this hormone have been linked to different types of cancers in humans. In addition, cattle treated with bovine growth hormones usually get affected with an udder infection known as mastitis. This again is responsible for occurrence of blood cells in milk.

Furthermore, all types of animal milk contain a simple sugar called lactose. The body produces the enzyme lactase to digest lactose. The problem, however, is that production of lactase reduces significantly after weaning. Milk is thus absorbed into the blood without proper digestion. All proteins, including milk protein, are made of blocks of amino acids. These amino acids must first be broken down by the digestive system to avoid excessive immune responses.

Repeated exposure to these undigested amino acids can negatively affect immune system health and result in an overactive immune system. An overactive immune system may start attacking body’s own cells instead of trying to expel harmful bacteria.

Balanced against this evidence is the time tested use of cow’s milk for growth and supply of calcium to meet the body’s needs. Milk is rich in calcium that is necessary for maintaining a healthy bone density. Over centuries it has been its major source and is believed to be good for bones. It has also been known to help in preventing osteoporosis.

The point is that the requisite quantity that the human body actually requires is difficult to arrive at. The best course should be to stick by the ancient maxim – ‘too much of anything is bad’. In individual cases of lactose intolerance herbal antibiotics can be very helpful in treating mild ailments. Herbs for immune system are another option for meeting the challenges posed to immune system due to excessive consumption milk.

Fermented dairy products like yoghurt and other probiotics contain live and active cultures, which can be very helpful in maintaining a balance between harmful and friendly bacteria in the intestinal tract. Probiotics go a long way to boost the immune system, especially of children, to positively respond to antigens, substances that cause allergies.

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