Dairy: Food of the Gods or Neolithic Agent of Disease? | Chris Kresser
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Dairy: Food of the Gods or Neolithic Agent of Disease?

by Chris Kresser

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One of the most contentious issues in the Paleo nutrition community is whether dairy products are health-promoting or disease-causing.

On one end of the spectrum you have Loren Cordain and his group, who claim that dairy is not fit for human consumption for two reasons: 1) because it’s a neolithic food and not part of our evolutionary heritage, and 2) because of proposed physiological mechanisms by which dairy causes harm when consumed. On the other end of the spectrum you’ve got folks like Kurt Harris, Stephan Guyenet, Chris Masterjohn and the Weston A. Price Foundation who have pointed out the many health benefits of dairy and are generally in favor of its consumption.

My answer to the question of whether dairy is healthy are harmful is, in short: it depends. But before we get into the factors I think the answer depends on, I want to briefly address why I don’t take the evidence against dairy very seriously at this point.

Paleo re-enactment isn’t the goal

I agree with Dr. Kurt Harris on this one.

We can look to the Paleo era to determine what was evolutionarily normal for humans, but it doesn’t follow that anything that falls outside of that norm is automatically harmful.

The argument that we shouldn’t eat dairy now because we didn’t eat it 2 million years ago – without supporting clinical evidence – is not convincing.

There’s also the inconvenient (for the anti-dairy set) matter of people like the Masai and Loetschental Swiss that Weston A. Price studied, who were free of modern, degenerative disease despite receiving a large percentage of calories from dairy products.

Human evidence is more convincing than proposed mechanisms

Cordain’s group has published and reviewed several papers proposing various physiological mechanisms by which dairy causes harm. One recent example is a paper by Melnik called Milk Signalling in the Pathogenesis of Type 2 Diabetes. The theory presented is that milk consumption beyond the weaning period may overstimulate pancreatic beta-cells and promote beta-cell apoptosis. Since proliferation and apoptosis of beta-cells are hallmarks of type 2 diabetes (T2DM), it follows that milk consumption must contribute to T2DM.

Or does it?

If that theory were true, we might expect to see increased rates of T2DM in people consuming dairy products. But in fact we see just the opposite.

This study looked at serum levels of trans-palmitoleic acid, a fatty acid found in milk, cheese, yogurt and butter, and correlated them with risk factors for diabetes. Here’s what they found:

At baseline, higher circulating levels of trans-palmitoleic acid were associated with healthier levels of blood cholesterol, inflammatory markers, insulin levels, and insulin sensitivity, after adjustment for other risk factors. During follow-up, individuals with higher circulating levels of trans-palmitoleic acid had a much lower risk of developing diabetes, with about a 60% lower risk among participants in the highest quintile (fifth) of trans-palmitoleic acid levels, compared to individuals in the lowest quintile.

Translation: people with the highest trans-palmitoleate levels had 1/3 the risk of developing diabetes over the three years volunteers were followed. Not only that, after adjusting for confounding factors trans-palmitoleate levels were associated with smaller waist circumfrence, lower triglycerides, higher HDL and lower C-reactive protein.

Since trans-palmitoleic acid is a fatty acid found in the – you guessed it – fat of milk, the study also supports the idea that full-fat, whole dairy products are beneficial. This directly contradicts the low-fat hysteria we’ve been brainwashed with for so many years. But I digress.

Stephan Guyenet blogged about this study and re-wrote the authors’ conclusion in more straightforward terms:

Our findings support eating as much butter as possible****. Don’t waste your money on low-fat cream, either (half-n-half). We’re sorry that public health authorities have spent 30 years telling you to eat low-fat dairy when most studies are actually more consistent with the idea that dairy fat reduces the risk obesity and chronic disease.

Since this was an observational study, it doesn’t prove that dairy fat reduces the risk of T2DM. But it does suggest that the converse isn’t true.

Another study found that people with the highest levels of milk fat biomarkers, suggesting they consumed the most dairy fat, were actually at lower risk of heart attack; for women, the risk was reduced by 26 percent, while for men risk was 9 percent lower.

Another study showed that people who ate the most full-fat dairy had a 69% lower risk of cardiovascular death than those who ate the least.

Finally, this literature review of 10 studies found that milk drinking is associated with a small but significant reduction in heart disease and stroke risk.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. Which is this: evidence of what happens when people actually consume dairy products is a lot more convincing to me than proposed mechanisms of how dairy may effect humans.

The problem with isolating certain effects of a nutrient or food, and then making predictions based on those effects, is that we might miss some other quality about that food that negates the proposed effect.

That’s a mouthful, so let me explain.

T. Colin Campbell is (in)famous for his research linking casein, a protein in dairy products, with cancer. He then made the huge and unsupportable leap to concluding that all animal proteins cause cancer and should be avoided. Most of you know the rest of that story.

However, what Campbell neglected to notice, or mention, is that whey, another protein found in dairy, has anti-cancer effects that completely cancel out the cancer-promoting effects of casein. Oops! This is why it’s so important to study whole foods, not just nutrients.

So let me finish this section by saying that I believe the weight of the evidence on dairy consumption suggests that it is not only not harmful, but quite beneficial.

When dairy may not be beneficial

However, as in most things, there are exceptions. Many of you reading this are probably sensitive to dairy and don’t tolerate it well. I certainly have patients that this is true for, and it’s not at all uncommon.

What’s the deal? Why does it seem to benefit some, but cause problems for others? In my opinion the answer boils down to the health of the gut. If someone has compromised intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut”, it’s more likely that their immune system will respond to potentially allergenic components in milk such as alpha- and beta-casein, casomorphin and butyrophillin.

This is especially true for people who are gluten intolerant, because it has been shown that milk proteins commonly cross-react with gluten. Put another way, if you react to gluten, it’s more likely that you’ll also react to milk.

Along these same lines, people with small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) – which is one of the major causes of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – may be more likely to react to milk because the bacteria in their small intestine aggressively ferments lactose, the sugar in milk, causing gas, bloating and other G.I. symptoms.

Not all milk is created equal

Something that irritates me is that raw and pasteurized dairy is often discussed as if it’s the same thing. It’s not. Raw dairy is a whole food, and pasteurized dairy is a processed food.

While it’s true that some people (described above) react to the proteins in milk, most who are sensitive are reacting to the sugar in milk: lactose. The enzyme lactase must be present to hydrolyze lactose into its constituent compounds, glucose and galactose. Somewhere between 1% – 95% of people don’t produce lactase on their own, depending on race and ethnicity.

In a sign of nature’s wisdom, raw milk contains lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose. Pasteurization, however, kills lactase. So if you don’t produce your own lactase, you’ll have a hard time digesting pasteurized milk. But that doesn’t mean you can’t tolerate raw milk. I can’t tolerate pasteurized dairy myself, but I don’t seem to have any problems with raw dairy.

So the answer to the question I posed in the title of this article isn’t so simple, and it depends on several factors:

  • The status of your gut barrier
  • Whether or not you have SIBO or IBS
  • Whether or not you’re gluten intolerant
  • Whether you’re eating raw or pasteurized dairy

If you’re not sure where you stand with dairy, the best approach is to remove it for 30 days and then reintroduce and see what happens. Elimination/reintroduction is still the gold-standard for determining sensitivity to a particular food.

But if you tolerate it well, I haven’t seen any evidence in the literature that convinces me you shouldn’t be eating liberal amounts of full-fat dairy.


Join the conversation

  1. A 2014 study suggests that the primary problem with milk is the galactose which is derived, together with glucose, from the breakdown of lactose in milk.

    “Milk intake and the risk of mortality and fractures in women and men”;
    BMJ 2014 Oct 28

    Objective: To examine whether high milk consumption is associated with mortality and fractures in women and men.

    Results: During a mean follow-up of 20.1 years, 15,541 of the 61,433 women in the study died and 17,252 had a fracture, of whom 4259 had a hip fracture. In women the adjusted mortality hazard ratio for three or more glasses of milk a day compared with less than one glass a day was 1.93, with approximately similar estimates for cardiovascular mortality and somewhat lower for cancer mortality (1.44, 1.23 to 1.69). For women who consumed three or more glasses of milk a day the hazard ratio for any fracture was 1.16 and for hip fracture was 1.60. For every glass of milk, the adjusted hazard ratio of all cause mortality was 1.15 in women.

    The study of men also showed increased mortality from milk consumption but the study period was only 10 years compared to 20 years for the study of women and the increase in mortality from milk was much lower.

    Possible mechanism: A high intake of milk might have undesirable effects, because milk is the main dietary source of D-galactose. Experimental evidence in several animal species indicates that chronic exposure to D-galactose is deleterious to health and the addition of D-galactose by injections or in the diet is an established animal model of aging. Even a low dose of D-galactose induces changes that resemble natural aging in animals, including shortened life span caused by oxidative stress damage, chronic inflammation, neurodegeneration, decreased immune response, and gene transcriptional changes.

    Raw milk cheese must be aged for at least 60 days, and during that time the galactose is completely destroyed. Raw milk cheese therefor appears to be the only source of galactose free dairy products.

    I found the study to be very convincing.

  2. Interesting article. Personally, I noticed though, that since I started eating cheese, my sweat has started to smell really bad. And not just with the strong cheese types. It’s regular cheese, raw organic cheese is impossible to find. How do you explain this?

    • For many years I have been getting raw milk cheese from pastured animals from Hilltop Meadow Farms in Pine Grove, Pa. I believe the owner of the farm, L. Lamar Oberholtzer, is part of an Amish community in the area. I generally buy 15 pounds of cheese about every six months. Usually I get cheddar, garlic cheddar, colby, havarti, gouda and montheray jack cheeses. Other cheeses are available. The price of the cheese is $6.50 a pound and the cost of shipping from Pennsylvania to Alabama is about $14,00. The cheese comes in chunks of about one pound each. I order by phone, 570-345-3305. An invoice is sent with the cheese based on the weights of the chunks of cheese which varies somewhat.. I send a check after I get the invoice that is enclosed with the cheese. All of the cheese is good. I suggest you try their cheese as I doubt you would have the problems that you have had with commercial cheeses.

      Lactose in milk and cheese breaks down to form lactose and galactose. It appears that the galactose causes all kinds of problems as a recent study found a significant increase in mortality in those consuming more than 3 glasses of milk per day. Raw milk cheese must be aged at least 60 days to be legally sold during which time the galactose is TOTALLY destroyed. The problems that you are having with commercial cheese are probably due to the galactose in the cheese.

  3. A 2015 study from Sweden assessed the effect of fat intake from foods on diabetes risk. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/101/5/1065.long

    The study, which followed 26,000 men and women for 14 years, assessed the association between dairy fat intake and diabetes risk and found that full fat dairy, but not low fat dairy, was associated with a significant reduction in diabetes risk when comparing the highest quintile of dairy fat intake with the lowest. The study also evaluated the various fats contained in milk and determined that intakes of short chain fats with 4-10 carbons, lauric acid and myristic acid (which constitute about 25% of milk fat content) were associated with reduced risk while other fats in milk were not associated with risk. The reduction in risk was “most robust for intake of cream and high fat fermented milk.” Interestingly, meat consumption was associated with increased diabetes risk independently of fat content.

    It is apparent that full fat milk, but not non-fermented milk, reduces risk of diabetes. It also appears that fermented full fat milk is more effective than non-fermented full fat milk in reducing risk of diabetes.

    • I just discovered that I erred in the last paragraph above where I said “It is apparent that full fat milk, but not non-fermented milk——–” wrong!!

      What I meant to say was “It is apparent that full fat milk, but not non-fat milk, reduces risk of diabetes.” The next sentence is correct.

    • I just noticed that I erred in the first sentence of the last paragraph of my post of May 11, 2016 about the inverse association between full fat milk intake and type 2 diabetes.

      I meant to say “It is apparent that full fat milk, but not non-fat milk , reduces risk of diabetes”

  4. For those unconvinced by the argument that pasteurization is an abomination, please consider the following. We know that healing the gut too quickly can lead to bacterial ‘die-off’, i.e. the release of toxins that can produce unpleasant symptoms. After milk is pasteurized, the dead bacteria remain in the milk, so it is highly probable that similar toxins are released with similar effects. This, in my opinion, is why pasteurized milk produces allergies in so many people, including me.

    You can do this test yourself to determine just how ‘clean’ pasteurized milk is compared to raw milk: leave a container of pasteurized milk and a container of raw milk – from a local certified farmer milking grass fed cows – on the counter for several days, or even weeks in the case of raw milk, and smell the results. Thanks to all those dead bacteria, the pasteurized milk will have putrified, the smell will be unbearable and the only place for it will be down the drain!

    The raw milk though will just smell cheesy, for that’s what it has become. The good bacteria will have turned it and separated it into a cream cheese – known as bonny clabber – and whey. Sieve through some muslin and both will keep for weeks in the fridge, the former being delicious mixed with some olive oil and salt while the latter can be added to your morning smoothie for extra protein. Both are rich in health promoting probiotics, good bacteria, vitamins, enzymes and minerals. Missing will be the lactose, as it’s been consumed by the bacteria, making these foods ideal for those following a low carbohydrate diet.

    So, there you have it, one type of milk becomes unfit for human consumption, while the other turns into two different products that are far more nutritious than the original sum of their two parts, because one is a dead food while the other is very much alive – and well!

  5. Pity raw milk has just become even more illegal in Australia, we seem to be recessing into the dark ages. Previously sold as bath milk, thus bypassing illegality as a food, its now been made inedible so you can happily bath in it. While imported frozen berries are causing widespread hepatitis outbreaks raw milk must now contain a battering agent and there are fines for feeding it to a family member. Its crazy. I feel like I’m living in a crazy world. Thanks for the amazing article though! Pity I tolerate and enjoy(ed) raw not processed milk. Pity my little girl with bad eczema tolerated and enjoy(ed) it and not cannot as ‘normal’ dairy seems to be too inflammatory for her.

    • Alaister Copland,
      I totally agree with your conclusion that fermented raw milk is far healthier than pasteurized milk of any kind. I have concluded that fermented milk is not only far healthier than pasteurized milk, it is far superior to most other foods because of the high content of vitamin K2, mostly MK-9, which provides exceptional health benefits. Accordingly, I now drink only clabbered (spontaneously fermented) raw milk. It is important to understand that vitamin K2 is only produced by lactose fermentation with mesophillic (room temperature) bacteria and that yogurt, which is fermented with thermophilic bacteria, does not contain vitamin K2.
      Consumption of milk can be traced back about 10,500 years during the transition from the paleolithic to neolithic life. Human infants evolved with the ability to produce lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose in mother’s milk, but after weaning the ability to synthesize lactase disappears and large quantities of lactose can no longer be properly digested. Genetic mutations that allow lactase persistence after weaning age and gives adults ability to digest lactose evolved independently in some parts of the world over the last 10,000 years.
      The mutations which enable adults to drink milk are under the strongest selection of any in the human genome which suggests that the ability to digest lactose confers a direct biological advantage in survival/reproduction. Archaeologists and geneticists have been puzzling over the identity of the ingredient in milk that provides the biological advantage that triggered the ability to digest milk beyond early childhood but have yet to come up with a widely accepted theory. It is my hypothesis that the biological advantage in survival/reproduction that resulted in lactase persistence was not provided by milk per se but by the spontaneous fermentation of milk by lactococci bacteria commonly found in milk which produces “long chain” menaquinones (vitamin K2, mainly subtype MK-9).
      Fermented milk has many other advantages over unfermented milk. Lactose content is reduced during fermentation making milk more digestible. Nisin produced by fermentation of lactose acts as a preservative and also as a bacteriocide that inhibit growth of pathogenic bacteria. The opiod BMC7 (the milk devil) present in A1 milk is broken down by fermentation. It is my opinion that clabber tastes better than pasteurized milk.
      Vitamin K is vital for many physiological functions. Deficiency of vitamin K, which is almost universal, increases risk of heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes and neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. For most of the last ten thousand’s years almost all dairy products consumed were fermented. The concentration of vitamin K per calorie in fermented milk is higher than almost all of animal product. The type of vitamin K produced by fermentation, mainly MK-9, is more lipophilic and hence more effective in its function than both vitamin K1 from green vegetables and mk-4 from animal fats. It is concluded that that the biological advantage in survival/reproduction present in milk that resulted in lactase persistence is the vitamin K2 synthesized by fermentation of milk.

      • Hello Jack Cameron,
        I found all of the information in your comment to be absolutely fascinating. In particular, I’ve been wanting to do more research on the A1 A2 debate because I would like to know whether or not to avoid A1 milk. I, like you, much prefer fermented milk over plain milk and I found the following statement you made particularly interesting: “The opiod BMC7 (the milk devil) present in A1 milk is broken down by fermentation.” I was wondering if you (or anyone else) could point me to some sources on this topic indicating that your claim is, in fact, the case. It would truly be great if it were but I need some evidence before I start believing something simply because it is convenient for me.
        Thanks so much ahead of time

        • Sergio

          From my file re BMC7 and fermented dairy:

          BMC-7 degraded during fermentation of cheeses and yogurt:
          Two studies found that beta-casomorphin-7, the A1 peptide in most milk produced in the US that has been implicated in a wide range of human health conditions as described by Keith Woodford in his book Devil in the Milk, is degraded during fermentation of yogurt.

          (1) yogurt: From the study “The validated isotope dilution LC-MS/MS method was used to measure BCM5 and BCM7 in ten commercial and laboratory prepared samples of yoghurt and milk. Neither BCM5 nor BCM7 was detected in commercial yoghurts. However, they were observed in milk and laboratory prepared yoghurts and interestingly their levels decreased during processing. BCM5 decreased from 1.3ng/g in milk to 1.1ng/g in yoghurt made from that milk at 0day storage and <MLQ (undetectable) at 1 and 7days storage. BCM7 decreased from 1.9ng/g in milk to <MLQ in yoghurts immediately after processing. :Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, 2014 PMID: 24176353

          (2) cheese: From the study: "Commercial cheese products were surveyed for beta-casomorphin peptides. —– beta-casomorphins were absent, or concentrations were below the HPLC detection threshold for beta-casomorphin.——-The susceptibility of beta-casomorphins to the proteolytic system of a commercial strain of Lactococcus lactis ssp. cremoris was investigated.—— The concentration of added beta-casomorphins and the degradation products were monitored over 15 wk. —– Enzymatic degradation of beta-casomorphins was influenced by the combination of pH and salt concentrations at cheese ripening temperatures. Therefore, if formed in cheese, beta-casomorphins may be degraded under conditions common for Cheddar cheese." University of Minnesota, St. Paul, U.S. PMID 8675779

          Thus it appears that the peptide BCM-7 in A1 milk is degraded in yogurt and aged cheese during fermentation

          • This is a fantastic news! Thank you, Jack. I didn’t noticed you had already answered Sergio. His question was similar to mine. I have a first hand experience as I am a yogurt manufacturer and I can confirm that consumers’ reaction is not equal to different kinds of yogurt. As you may know no yogurt packaging is showing if it’s made with A1 or A2 milk, or if mixed in what proportion. If BCM-7 is broken down during fermentation of yogurt that means that is no longer threat to human’s health. In this case it doesn’t really matter whether the milk is A1 or A2 as far as yogurt is concerned. In my own observation I have witnessed a number of yogurt consumers experiencing digestive problem while are not lactose intolerant or allergic to gluten. Could this be due to the fact that certain yogurts’ fermentation process is incomplete and BCM-7 maintains a level at which remains harmful?

      • Hello Jack,

        Could you please send me a link to the research study showing that BCM7 gets broken down during fermentation and perhaps more details about the role of MK9?

        Thank you,

  6. Excellent summary of the milk debate. I am a big fan of whole milk dairy, especially fermented dairy such as cheese and yogurt. Unfortunately, the National School Lunch Program bans whole milk dairy from our kids lunchrooms. Please sign the petition to lift the ban on whole milk dairy products in the NSLP: http://tinyurl.com/kadopwq

  7. there is one undeniable fact: IGF-1 is present in both raw milk and in pasteurized milk in equal quantities. IGF-1 is truly bad news. Any advocate of raw milk cannot escape the fact that however organic, “nutritious”, clean, and pure the milk, it will be rich in IGF-1 hormones. Countless scientific studies published in peer-reviewed journals show that IGF-1 increases the risk of cancer and other illneses in humans.


    • The endogenous synthesis of igf-1 in humans is essential to health. IGF-1 promotes cardiac growth, improves cardiac contractility, cardiac output, stroke volume, and ejection fraction. In humans, IGF-1 improves cardiac function after myocardial infarction by stimulating contractility and promoting tissue remodeling. Furthermore, IGF-1 facilitates glucose metabolism, lowers insulin levels, increases insulin sensitivity, and improves the lipid profile. These data suggest an attractive therapeutic potential of IGF-1. PMID: 10591031

    • It is not true that pasteurized and raw milk contain equal amounts of IGF-1 as pasteurization reduces IGF-1.

      The age associated decline in anabolic hormones such as testosterone and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) is a strong predictor of metabolic syndrome, diabetes and mortality in older men. Perhaps old folks would benefit from the IGF_1 content of raw milk.

    • Cholesterol lowering statin drugs impair synthesis of igf-1 which results in increased risk of type 2 diabetes. In a recent study, statin use at baseline was associated with a significant increase in risk of diabetes mellitus (hazard ration 1.71). It seems plausible that the igf-1 content of milk may be of benefit to the elderly and to those aflicted by statin drugs. (PMID: 23333902).

  8. Hi Chris,

    Can you comment or share your thoughts regarding Organic Raw Milk consumption and Prostate cancer. Everything I have ever heard is that if Prostate cancer runs in your family, do not consume Milk as it is very high in naturally occurring hormones, and IGF-1 , and Casein, etc which all promote cancer. I want to consume it for all the other benefits I hear about, but am concerned due to Cancer risks associated with it.

    Thank you.

    • Hi Andrew, Did Chris respond to your question about IGF-1 in relation to prostate cancer? I had breast cancer some years ago and also got advice to stop consuming dairy products for that reason. Like you, I also would like to be able to have some dairy. If you have received any more info since you posted this comment (in 2014—I know, I’m a little late!), I’d much appreciate hearing from you. I know that if one does eat dairy, it’s better with fat than low or no-fat, because of less IGF-1, if my info is correct. But it must be organic, because synthetic hormones reside in non-organic dairy fat. Thanks and wellness wishes! Laurie

    • Did you not see Chris’s point above regarding whey protein in milk completely nullifying the cancer risks associated with caseine?

  9. Nice write up Chris,
    I’m a big raw whole milk fan but cannot tolerate pasteurized milk. As far as safety, more people get sick from salad bars than raw milk from inspected, clean, dairies and packaged in glass containers. In addition, fermented foods (dairy, veggies, tea, etc…) have helped heal my gut and I tolerate a whole lot more of many foods than I used to. The key is to heal the gut first and figure out sensitivities next IMHO. And it can take quite some time but your blog has been key to my approach and success. Thanks

    • Raw milk has been an incredible addition to my diet, I ate Paleo for a year in order to clear up my skin of acne, but it was only when I included lots of raw dairy from grass fed cows that my skin cleared up completely. I actually just got my own cow so that I have fresh raw milk every single day!

  10. I am 27 and have had high cholesterol for the past several years (ranges between just over 200 and 238). Should I still consume full fat dairy instead of nonfat? The idea that I have to only consume nonfat dairy has been so deeply ingrained, and any doctor I talk to still relies on the old science of eating a low-fat diet, so now I’m confused.

    • In the chrononutrition practice I have been following for the past 5 years, we consume raw-milk (dry) cheese associated with (organic, pasture-fed) butter at breakfast only, mixed with some (organic) bread an optionally 1 or 2 eggs. Many of us checked that it improved the LDL/HDL cholesterol ratio. Butter is good because of its 4-carbon amino-acid that prevents the making of “bad” cholesterol. Morining usage is recommende because this is the best time for some enzymes and/or hormones to use this fat as nutrition instead of storing it. Of course, no sugar at this time!

      • The cause of most heart disease has been determined ( artherosclerosis). It is caused by endothelial dysfunction. This can be addressed with the supplements Cordiart and pomegranate extract. I’d also consider taking Ubiquinol and Nattokinase-Serrapeptase.

  11. How about sheeps milk and sheep yoghurt? It is supposed to be more easily digestible than cows milk for those with dairy intolerance.

    • I find we (me and my little girl) can tolerate fermented sheep/goat milk (yoghurt or kefir) or raw cows milk. Also long matured cheese like cheddar, manchego and parmesan. As the article states, it all depends. What I read a long time ago on sheep/goat is that they are closer in actual physical size to us. So the particles in the milk are closer to what we are used to digesting. Fat particles in cows milk are huge which is why they homogenise it (this literally cuts up the fat particles into smaller pieces so they distribute through the milk. But, they now coat everything else making it harder to digest and also are not so easily recognised by our bodies). Some people are fine with just unhomogenised milk for these reasons. There are so many levels on which milk can be messed with, I really freaked out once when I saw an ingredients list on a skinny milk and it had vegetable oil added to it as they had taken so much fat out they then had to blend something back in! Not to mention the undeclared ingredients they can add.

  12. Thank you so much for sharing both sides of the debate, I have a daughter that 16 months – vaginslbirth, breast fed for three months, started making the Weston price liver formula (very short lived; the whole house stunk like liver EVERYDAY and made me sick), organic powder baby formula for ten months, goat milk (she liked it) but then got raw milk for two months (our raw milk source shut down), currently on almond milk (but understand its a no no for babies and not good for thyroid), so now I am leaning towards goat milk (less lactose) or organic milk for my daughter that LOVES her “milk”. Comments and suggestions welcomed

    • Have you tried any fermented milk products like kefir. I buy an organic goat kefir for my little one and she loves it. She is 2 and has been having fermented dairy since one. Full of probiotics and easy to digest. It does not flair up her eczema which is aggravated by some dairy/gluten. I used to buy a raw cows milk kefir but now raw milk in Australia has to contain bittering agents and comes with a hefty fine if you feed it to a family member. A little boy tragically died, but its not actually been proven it was the raw milk he was drinking, which in fact came back with a clean test result for the bacteria that killed the little boy. Crazy.

  13. I am glad that you have “debunked” the myth that dairy is bad for you- I have had several friends mention the paleo diet and cutting out dairy has been one of my main criticisms. But what is your basis for recommending raw milk (other than it containing lactase?). I would argue that pasteurisation of milk has changed food technology for the BETTER in reducing the incidence of food poisoning. If you were to consume milk straight from the cow, it would be less of an issue as there would be less of an opportunity for bacteria to multiply. But with current packaging, storage and transportation methods, the risk is just too great. Why not choose enzyme-treated milk, or milk alternatives, if you are lactose intolerant?

  14. Chris, this very nice information. I have two questions/comments: a. Do you think probiotics from fermented dairy heal the gut? Likewise, does good gut flora allow dairy tolerance? In other words, how often are dairy intolerant folks suffering from SIBO from bacteria and NOT dairy per se? (b) I think that genetic adaptation to things like dairy happens much more rapidly, maybe like several hundred years or like 20 generations. That is, once agriculture began, and cultures diversified, and geography was set for people where they lived, and essential became static (respectively) selection and adaptation became more and not less intense. That is, it’s like breeding a dog or selecting for a grain, changes can occur in a fewer generations. That is why I think Southern Europeans, like myself, are very intolerant to carbs, but do well with high fat dairy, etc. as herding people in rocky places are. The selection pressure was more intense because the environment was much more static, because of agriculture…like a mini bottleneck…thoughts?

  15. Hello Chris

    I have been diagnosed with crohn s disease in September 2012.
    I know myself that my problems were initially triggered by gluten (sprouted bread)

    This flare has been pretty severe as
    I became intolerant to almost every single food in a one-month time (severe pain in tummy)
    I started raw goat milk in october 2012 and it became one of the main sources of energy during one month, as
    I had almost no pain when drinking it.
    I could not have raw cow s milk while
    I could drink it before the flare ( in
    I can not have pateurised milk at all since 2000.

    You mentioned that people with gluten intolerance are usually intolerant to milk.

    Is it unusual that
    i can tolerate raw goat milk while
    I can not handle gluten ?

    Do you think raw goat milk , even if it does not trigger direct pain in my tummy , may be bad for me ?
    i have a pretty complex autoimmune disorder (mandible jaw resorption, spondylitis, posterior scleritis – eyes – , crowns )

    The problem is
    I can not do any food allergy testing as
    I just started a drug called
    Remicade, only thing that relieved me.

    Thank you

  16. T Colin Campbell’s work in “The China Study” (the case against animal protein) is fairly convincing though. It seems logical that humans wouldn’t have evolved eating cow’s milk. If anything else, that seems like a reason to avoid it.

  17. Hi Chris,

    What about pasturized kefir? I’m concerned about acne- I eat whole milk albeit pasturized kefir. Is this a safer option?

  18. I’ve switched to a paleo type diet about a week ago, following your recommendations in this blog (and Jaminet’s work). It makes sense and I’m feeling great so far. As an acupuncturist, I’m wondering if you see so much animal fat & dairy causing dampness for your patients and/or exacerbating it in those who are already damp? I’m guessing most of this actually comes from sugars and inflammatory effects of industrial oils…but I’m curious as to what your observations have been. Thanks!

  19. I think goat’s milk should be part of the discussion. Most breeds are A2, and their milk is has fat globules naturally distributed, so it is not homogenized. Perhaps homogenization is the culprit that causes some people problems who can digest A1 cow’s milk but only if raw–it’s not the pasteurization, but the homogenization that is their problem. Pasteurization and homogenization are very different processes.

  20. Any references for the claim that raw milk contains lactase? http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/Product-SpecificInformation/MilkSafety/ConsumerInformationAboutMilkSafety/ucm247991.htm says that raw milk contains no indigenous lactase and doesn’t have high enough levels of Streptococcus thermophilus or Lactobacillus bulgaricus to cause the levels of lactase secretion that are seen in fermented dairy. On westonaprice.org, all I could find was a document describing a survey of families who purchase raw milk that found that many of them reported fewer problems with raw milk than with pasteurized milk. With that said, I’m all for people experimenting to figure out what works for them — if someone is lactose-intolerant (I’m not), seeing if they do better on raw milk is worth a shot.

    The majority of the pro-raw milk literature that I can find online quickly veers off into arguments about farmers’ rights and pathogens. I haven’t had much luck finding scientific support for claims that vitamins and lactase are destroyed by pasteurization. Stated more succinctly, if I buy milk, why should I get it from Claravale or Organic Pastures instead of from Straus?

  21. You mention that raw milk and pasteurized milk are completely different, but shouldn’t we distinguish between the different methods of pasteurization as well? And in particular the temperature used?

    How do you feel about VAT pasteurized milk as opposed to UHT pasteurized (heating to 145°F vs 275°F)?

    I understand the argument in favor of raw milk for the purposes of drinking it directly. But I’m not sure I understand why raw milk is preferable to VAT pasteurized milk when making butter or cheese or any product that will be used for cooking anyways. Is the benefit only when they’re eaten without further cooking?

    Do you consider milk pasteurized at low temperatures to be more of a “processed” product than raw milk that’s been used for cooking purposes? Is it bad for our health to bake with milk based products (300°F) since we’ll essentially be pasteurizing the milk?

    Wouldn’t cooking have the same effect on enzymes and proteins as low heat pasteurization? What’s the advantage of raw milk products in those cases? Or is there a concern other than the effects of temperature?

    This is what confuses me the most about the raw milk debate :-/ Hoping you can share your thoughts on it.

    • All of Daniel’s questions are my questions as well! If we don’t have access to raw is good quality non-homogenized vat pasteurized milk still good for us? and if not, then how does cooking with milk, butter, cream not alter the product in a way that’s harmful?

  22. Thank you very much, Mr. Kresser, I am looking forward to your article! I am very interested in “how much IGF-1” is really left after fermentation (in absolute numbers) and if this leads to a significant raise in IGF-1 in the human body! This is a topic that really needs to be discussed as so many questions are still open!

  23. I would appreciate if the issue of dairy and IGF-1 would be further discussed. IGF-1 seems to be reduced by fermentation but how are the exact numbers? And is it really proven that it increases cancer risks? Also, a M. D. called Gary Steinman has conducted extensive research on how dairy promotes human twinning via increased IGF-1 levels which then lead to releasing more than one egg during ovulation. I would love to learn about the experts`point of view on this still there are so many conflicitng opinions!

    • I’ve seen a study, which I’ll discuss at some point later, that fermentation reduces IGF-1 fourfold. If you look at most human studies of people consuming dairy, rather than mechanistic studies, the evidence predominantly suggests health benefits.

      • Have you written a follow up article yet on your perspective on this? I have been listening to the food summit which is on right now and am quite annoyed how they are demonizing all dairy and meat. They should have called it the vegetarian summit. I don’t suppose they invited you to speak:)

        • I have exactly the same question! Would be great if Chris could write a follow-up piece on IGF-1! Thanks in advance Chris 😉

  24. Chris. I am a human doc and also a vet. About the raw milk, you must consider the risk of zoonoses carried by raw milk. Many countries, including mine (Brazil) has Brucelosis as a relatively common disease found on cattle. The Brucella bacteria causes mainly miscarriage problems in cattle, but it´s found on milk and can infect humans causing ooforitis and orchitis. Nasty long and multi-antibiotic therapy to kill the buggers, not to mention the reprodutive tract damage.


  25. When I eliminated dairy I also eliminated my cluster migraines. I eat no grains or legumes so my gut is super happy, but if I eat any dairy I get migraines and sinus problems. Is this common?

  26. Thank you for this: “Paleo re-enactment isn’t the goal.”

    When I first read the paleo diet, I kept wondering why we had elevated early humans so much. If transportation and communication can progress, certainly eating can as well.

  27. I’m not a big fan of scientific studies >> “Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science.”www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/11/lies-damned-lies-and-medical-science/8269/

    Can we milk be both good and bad? I think so. Consider the following logic:

    Mother’s milk of all different mammals contains similar growth hormones. In humans and in cows, these hormones are identical. Both contain seventy amino acids in the identical sequence. This is the only known example in nature in which one identical hormone is shared by two species. In humans, this hormone is called insulin-like growth factor one (IGF-1). These growth hormones enhance growth and development. This is important for infants for obvious reasons. Adults consuming milk and other dairy products also absorb these growth hormones (IGF-1 survives stomach acidity in both babies and adults because it is buffered with casein and fat molecules). These growth hormones encourage normal cell growth in both infants and adults. Besides stimulating growth of normal cells, they also stimulate growth of cells that have been damaged or mutated. Over time, the number of damaged or mutated cells increases. Therefore, the more milk and dairy one consumes, the more mutated and damaged cells are available to catalyze and grow.

    Non-milk dairy products concentrate the load of growth hormones. It takes twelve pounds of milk to make one pound of ice cream and ten pounds of milk to produce one pound of hard cheese. Eating these foods only increases the delivery of growth hormones. By consuming dairy one’s body will grow – both the good (muscles) and the bad (cancerous cells).

  28. I grew up on a dairy farm, that said I grew up drinking raw milk straight from the bulk tank. Never had a problem with drinking milk as a kid and it was good stuff. It wasn’t until I was 16 and we stopped dairy farming and started buying pasterized milk that I noticed a reaction, of course at the time and I didn’t realize that and assumed it was growing pains. Looking back I now realize how lucky I was to be raised on a farm (we raised all of our own food (pig, chicken, duck, rabbit, cow, huge vegetable garden). I wish now that I’m an adult and looking to start a family of my own, that I still had that kind of access to raw milk (I’m sure I can buy it, but it’s not the same). My boyfriend has his own beef cattle that he raises to feed us and the neighbors and I have a garden, so we are gradually working towards raising a family in the lifestyle that we were both raised, but it isn’t easy, nor cheap, but it’s worth it in the end to have good health.

  29. My main concerns with milk are the possible effects on your immune system, primarily from the BCM7 resulting from A1 milk, and on your endocrine system, from the high levels of hormones in commercial milk.

    The effects from these might not be obvious for a long time, but if your pancreas is being damaged even though all your blood markers look good in the meantime, that obviously isn’t a good tradeoff.

    I clearly have milk sensitivities, and feel better when I don’t drink it. Raw butter seems to be OK, as long as I don’t eat too much of it too often.

  30. Thanks very much for this! I’ve been wondering about this for some time now. This article puts things into very clear perspective . Great job!

    Now if only I could find a good source of raw dairy here. Safeway is starting to sell organic raw cheese in their dairy section, but I’ve been told raw milk is illegal to sell retail here.

  31. Studies demonstrating the beneficial effects of milk (or certain milk components) on raising the body’s glutathione level are too numerous to list here. Whey protein, and more specialized extracts, such as Immunocal, are often touted for their anti-cancer benefits, one of the main reasons apparently being the glutathione boosting power of such components. Health food stores stock a number of different colostrum products, such as that by Symbiotics, which makes “Colostrum Plus,” a delicious powder. Those manufacturers would no doubt take issue with Campbell’s lunacy. Lactoferrin is also a useful component of milk, particularly of colostrum. Numerous adjuvant cancer treatment protocols suggest the use of such substances. I note that the LEF and others are now touting a different extract, bioactive sweet whey extract (BSWE), in the treatment of psoriasis. Holy cow! Pardon me, I hear the milk calling me, it wants me to drink it…. 🙂

  32. Tim: I’m familiar with the A1/A2 issue, but I haven’t looked deeply enough into it to tell you anything you probably haven’t already learned from Woodford’s book.

  33. How do you feel about A1/A2 milk, per the book, The Devil in the Milk by Keith Woodford? A lot of evidence that A1 milk (most of what is in the US) can cause health problems, especially, as you say, when someone has a compromised gut.

  34. In order of reintroduction:

    – Ghee
    – Butter
    – Kefir or yogurt fermented for 24 hours
    – Cream
    – Hard cheese
    – Yogurt (commercial, fermented less than 24 hours)
    – Soft cheese
    – Milk

    All raw when possible. If you have to choose what to use organic pasteurized with, I’d say ghee and yogurt (since you’re heating it and killing the lactase anyways in both cases).

  35. Thank you, Chris.
    Do you recommend fermented milk products, home-made ghee, or raw butter for a reintroduction? I wonder if it’s important to make the ghee out of raw butter or if a grass-fed, organic butter would be fine.

  36. Wish more of these studies about gluten and dairy would have been around when I was growing up. Thank you for writing such a wonderful article with information that can help those that need to be diagnosed and confirmation for those of us that (finally) are.

  37. Nice write. For many people it seems tough for them to lose weight on dairy. but if they tolerate it why not. Or do like the Whole9 peeps do it for 30 days and if you feel better with or without, go that route.

    Thanks for your insight!

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