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The Myth of Cow's Milk as a Natural and Healthy Food
Is maternal milk the most complete food for a newborn? YES, absolutely true.
So, is cow's milk also the most complete food for both children and adults? NO, it's a big misconception! Cow's milk is ideal for calves but not for human infants because it lacks the necessary components required by babies, as illustrated in the table below.
As shown in the table, compared to maternal milk, cow's milk contains fewer sugars, significantly more fats, and, most importantly, triple the amount of proteins.
Cow's milk is produced to nourish calves, which must be able to walk and develop their necessary muscle mass in a matter of hours. The physical growth of a calf requires precisely this nutritional composition. However, human infants need to primarily develop their Central Nervous System (CNS), which relies on sugars. Furthermore, they have different rates of physical growth.
Regarding proteins, the table illustrates a significant quantitative difference. While cow's milk is composed of approximately 80% caseins (a type of protein), maternal milk contains only about 35% of total proteins as caseins.
In conclusion, the idea that cow's milk is equivalent to maternal milk for human consumption is a misconception. Human milk is uniquely suited to the needs of human infants, both in terms of nutritional composition and developmental requirements. Cow's milk, while suitable for calves, lacks essential components for human babies and should not be considered a direct substitute for maternal milk.
Analysis of Milk Proteins in Various Animal Species % in protein content
Caseins coagulate in the acidic environment of the stomach, forming curds that are challenging to break down by the proteolytic enzymes of a newborn. Indeed, nature prescribes a low protein content of approximately 2.7% in human maternal milk, where caseins are nearly absent. In mature maternal milk, caseins increase to 35% of proteins, which collectively decrease to 1%. Conversely, whey proteins exhibit different proportions. In other words, maternal milk is entirely distinct from that of cows, goats, sheep, and donkeys, while it is relatively similar to donkey milk. It is essential to note that maternal milk, especially in first milk (colostrum) and transitional milk, contains immunoglobulins (IgA), which are absent in cow's milk. These immunoglobulins play a vital role in bolstering the still-weak immune system of the newborn, aiding in neutralizing various foreign agents that could enter the body.
When an infant is fed cow's milk instead of maternal milk, their immune defenses are compromised, increasing the risk of infections and allergies.
Milk is a secretion produced by the mammary glands of female mammals, and it is the first nutritional source bestowed upon neonates of any species. It has been established as a specialized food for each species. Therefore, the term "milk" cannot be used interchangeably and indiscriminately unless one seeks to create confusion in people's minds.
The marketing "linguists" have convinced the world that cow's milk is the general representation of milk and is considered the most complete dietary medium available to humans. However, this is far from the truth.
So, knowing that cows produce milk for calves and not for humans, one might wonder, "What can a mother do when she does not have enough milk to feed her baby?" Before we provide a specific answer to this question, it is essential to mention that neonates do not tolerate cow's milk during breastfeeding or during weaning due to the absence of lactase, an enzyme responsible for metabolizing lactose, in their systems. It is worth noting that approximately 50% of people have lactose intolerance and are aware of it. Furthermore, a significant portion of the remaining 50% also suffers from lactose intolerance but is unaware of it.
Babies fed dairy products and various homogenized cow's milk-based products often suffer from allergies, intolerances, digestive issues, skin problems, respiratory issues, anxiety, insomnia, asthma, pharyngitis, tonsillitis, gastroesophageal reflux, and are prone to frequent illnesses due to their weakened immune system. These neonates, instead of being nourished in a manner more aligned with their human nature, are confronted with the administration of pharmaceuticals. In a few years, they may be diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
Title: "Milk Insufficiency, Myths, and Reality"
The insufficient production of breast milk has been observed to be concentrated among women living in industrialized countries and socially "privileged" groups within urban centers. It appears that, with few exceptions, this phenomenon is attributable to a lack of information about breast milk production mechanisms, a lack of confidence in a woman's ability to breastfeed, and insufficient psychological support to address potential difficulties.
In the work titled "L' alimentation infantile, bases physiologiques," we learn that in traditional societies, women living in precarious hygiene conditions, with poor nutrition, often experience illness, engage in exhaustive work, and have the highest rates of low birth weight babies. Yet, they all have sufficient breast milk production. For instance, a study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that in a sample of 3,898 mothers from Nigeria and Zaire, none were incapable of producing milk.
Furthermore, it is essential to consider that being born in as natural an environment as possible can undoubtedly contribute to successful breastfeeding and the infant's development. In a significant but relatively unknown study ("Widstrom, A.M., Ransjo-Arvidson, a.b. Et al., 'Gastric suction in healthy newborn infants"), instead of separating newborns from their mothers immediately after umbilical cord cutting, they were left on the mother's abdomen. After approximately 20 minutes, researchers observed the initiation of a series of movements in all cases. Initially, the baby moves its lips, produces saliva, and begins a slow upward movement towards the mother's breast. Guided by instinct and the scent of unwashed skin, the baby recognizes the path. Despite the heavy head and a few nuzzles on the mother's abdomen, the infant perseveres. When tired, it pauses briefly and then resumes. After about 10 minutes, it reaches its destination. It finds a nipple, turns it, and begins to suckle.
Researchers noted that the newborn performs all these actions independently within the first 20-30 minutes after birth when left in peace with its mother. If the infant breastfeeds within the first 30 minutes of birth, oxytocin is released in the mother's body. This hormone is essential for initiating vigorous uterine contractions, which put an end to postpartum bleeding and pain. Injecting oxytocin via a syringe does not produce the same result because the drug does not cross the blood-brain barrier and reach the brain. Additionally, this first breastfeeding stimulates the production of prolactin, the hormone that promotes milk production. Breastfeeding from the mother's breast also triggers mechanisms that facilitate the uterus's return to its original position, minimizing the risk of future conditions such as myomas and uterine cancer. Breastfeeding is a unique experience, not only biologically but also emotionally, representing mutual love and acceptance between mother and child—an unparalleled energy exchange. Mothers who undergo this experience do not suffer from postpartum depression symptoms because they feel supported by their newborn, creating a truly unique bond.
Finally, the overwhelming majority of individuals suffering from severe eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, or obesity have been shown not to have breastfed as infants or to have breastfed for a very short duration (less than three months). The lack of breast milk in mothers may be due to various pathologies that need to be examined, although they are fortunately quite rare. These include hypothyroidism, retained placenta, Sheehan's syndrome, and others that can be detected before pregnancy, requiring comprehensive preconception screening, as is recommended. We advise expectant mothers to seek information from organizations such as the Lega del Latte in Italy and similar programs worldwide, as well as attend midwifery schools, to prepare for the possibility of insufficient maternal milk production. Here, we provide a list of solutions.
The first solution involves seeking the assistance of a nursemaid, as there are women who produce far more milk than their infants require. These women should express the excess milk to avoid discomfort and complications. It is essential to overcome any hesitation about the baby receiving milk from another woman, as the most "foreign" substance to a child is cow's milk.
The second solution is the concept of a "Milk Bank," which exists in many countries. These banks collect surplus milk from mothers with overproduction, process it technologically to ensure safety and the necessary constituents for premature infants, and typically provide it in maternity hospitals for the needs of preterm infants.
The third solution involves "special milk for infants," which falls into two categories: animal-based and plant-based. The former involves processed cow's milk to make it as similar as possible to maternal milk, reducing casein and lipid content while adding substances such as carnitine and inositol considered essential for the first 3-4 months. Plant-based milk is always prepared to closely mimic maternal milk, with soy proteins (not genetically modified), vegetable polyunsaturated oils, maltodextrins, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. This type of milk does not contain lactose or casein and is useful for babies whose mothers have no milk or those with intolerance to cow's milk proteins and lactose.
Among mammals, as we saw in the second table of this article, goat's milk is the closest to maternal milk. Although this milk is significantly better than cow's milk, it is rarely considered a serious option due to its relative scarcity and cost. Nevertheless, it could be a good solution.
From the moment a child stops breastfeeding and begins to consume solid foods, there is no longer a need for milk. This is a natural occurrence in all mammals worldwide. Adults who claim to drink at least a liter of milk daily under the belief that it significantly benefits their health are perpetuating a colossal myth propagated by the dairy industry. This industry conceals the fact that a single cow is capable of producing approximately 10-15 liters of milk daily when properly nourished. The udders of these cows are massive and often touch the ground, coming into contact with soil teeming with bacteria and fungi. Consequently, many antibiotics and 10-15 antifungal agents are frequently detected in cow's milk.
It is quite fascinating to understand how this myth about milk has evolved. While it is true that in extreme situations where people endure extremely harsh living conditions, finding any sustenance, including milk, can be life-saving, when we have access to abundant natural resources, there is no reason to introduce something into our bodies that will inevitably lead to serious health risks. Proper nutrition is the foundation of good health, and milk is certainly not a part of it!
Gerassimos Tsiolis, PhD in Biochemistry
University of Bologna, Italy