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Is There a Link Between Dairy and Breast Cancer?

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Anyone who pays moderate attention to the news knows there are certain risk factors, like family history, that skyrockets our risk of getting breast cancer and our ability to control it. We also hear about certain “controllable” risk factors; simple changes in our daily lives that could lower our risk of breast cancer or our risk of recurrence. What if one of those changes entailed giving up all dairy products? Did you know that according to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, over 70% of the world’s population is unable to digest the milk sugar, lactose, after infancy?http://bit.ly/beqodRWhat if Mother Nature is trying to tell us dairy is not a food we should eat? Milk’s great for baby cows, but what if it’s not good for man?

There’s a lot of information about the suspected link between milk and breast cancer. The science behind this link ranges from hideous stories of puss-filled cow udders, nutritionally perfect for only one purpose—feeding calves—to studies that say milk is the great savior of brittle bones, weak hearts and cancer cells gone wild. Notice I said the “science behind,” because whenever we read about a “study” or a “suspected link,” we need to see who conducted the study, as well as who paid for it.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a recent study done by nutritionist, Connie Weaver, head of food and nutrition at Purdue University, says “anything less than three glasses of milk a day, and you won’t get all of the nutrients you need.” http://bit.ly/b0lii0 While most of her funding comes from the National Institutes of Health, she is also supported by the National Dairy Council. On the other side of the science surrounding milk, PETA and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine says “cow’s milk is a nutritional nightmare that doesn’t belong in the human diet.” “Gross” and “bizarre” are words they use to describe the human practice of tugging at the udders of slow-moving livestock in order to benefit from the bodily fluids they secrete. Even Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health says of milk, “the benefits are unclear, and there may be some risk.”

Breast milk, whether it comes from humans or other mammals, contains all of the natural growth factors, hormones, infections, antibiotics, additional drugs, chemicals and pesticides in which mammals come in contact. Some studies say milk causes the body to produce mucus, and cancer feeds on mucus, and therefore, by eliminating dairy products, we starve cancer cells. However, according to breastcancer.org, “a dairy-free diet is not a miracle cure.”

As long as we’re talking about studies, there’s been a lot of hoo-ha about T. Colin Campbell, PhD’s book, The China Study, a massive study of the relationship between diet and disease in over 100 Chinese villages. http://bit.ly/btvUqe The Chinese don’t eat dairy, and their breast cancer rates are very low. Breast cancer is considered the “rich woman’s disease” because only rich women, who can afford to eat a western diet high in red meat and dairy, get breast cancer, but is that really a link between dairy and breast cancer? If you look further into the China Study, only three out of the 65 counties studied consumed any noteworthy amount of dairy. In addition, they weren’t eating the hormone and antibiotic-laden cows we find in most Western cows. This could mean drawing any conclusions from the China Study is a narrow and tricky path to walk.

Since the science is still out on the link between dairy and breast cancer, you must decide this issue for yourself. My oncologist says “everything in moderation, including moderation,” so an occasional dish of ice cream or a great cheese won’t kill you. Personally, I gave up dairy and use almond milk as a milk alternative. Yes, I know, I recently wrote that nobody really knows whether almonds are a good or a bad phytoestrogen food. http://bit.ly/bky79s Trying to map out the “whys” behind the “dos” and “don’ts” surrounding breast cancer is like trying to find your way out of a Harry Potter maze. What do you have in your “Goblet of Fire?” Got dairy?