'Cow's milk is for cows': Hopkins doctor argues against Cal's favorite

September 29, 1992|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Staff Writer

It's shaping up to be a bad year for milk, that once sacrosanct source of calcium, protein, vitamins and other essentials for growing children. Much in the way its spokesman, Cal Ripken, is slumping through 1992, milk is getting battered by a growing group of health professionals as a possible contributor to diabetes, anemia and other medical problems among youngsters.

"There really is no nutritional reason anyone should drink milk," said Dr. Frank A. Oski, director of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center. Dr. Oski yesterday at Hopkins gave "a sneak preview" of the anti-milk message he and Dr. Benjamin Spock, author of "Baby and Child Care," would deliver at a press conference today in Boston.

Dr. Oski cited a recent study that found that a protein in cow's milk may trigger the onset of insulin-dependent diabetes. The study, published in July in the New England Journal of Medicine, provides support to a long-held theory that proteins in cow milk trigger the production of antibodies that destroy insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, thus leading to diabetes.

The study is just the latest blow to cow's milk, especially as compared to mother's milk. Earlier this year, the British medical journal, the Lancet, published a study showing that breast-fed babies scored significantly higher on IQ tests. Also this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that babies should be breast-fed and not given whole milk during their first year because of the risk of anemia.

Milk is low in iron, and can cause further iron depletion through intestinal tract bleeding, said Dr. Oski, who about 10 years ago wrote a book, "Don't Drink Your Milk" about milk's ill effects.

"Cow's milk is for cows," Dr. Oski said. "You have to realize, in most places in the world, people don't drink [cow's] milk at all."

Another problem with milk, he said, is that many people, especially blacks, Asians and Southern Europeans, have trouble digesting the milk sugar, lactose. Milk can produce gastrointestinal distress in lactose-intolerant people, he said. 33 Additionally, whole milk is a source of saturated fat, which contributes to cardiovascular disease, he said.

While milk has been held up as the best source of calcium, Dr. Oski said there are better sources: kale, broccoli and other green, leafy vegetables, for example.

While his anti-milk stance may sound like heresy to those who grew up enjoying glass after glass of milk, other pediatricians say recent medical research on the subject is increasingly convincing.

"A glass to a glass and a half a day is all they need," said Dr. Virginia Keane, medical director of the pediatric ambulatory center at the University of Maryland Medical Center. "And over 2 years old, they should just have 2-percent milk. We're just going to have to find alternate sources of calcium for kids."

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