Dairy and Breast Cancer

by Natalie on June 27, 2012

“Humans have been drinking milk for thousands of years, what could possibly be wrong with it”?

The main concern with milk consumption today has to do with the way we get it. Dairy production is much different than it was for our ancestors.

Today’s dairy cows are milked for a very long period of time, about 300 days. For much of that time they are pregnant, when their estrogen levels are very high. Their natural estrogens get released into the milk we drink. Analysis of modern milk has found very high levels of estrogens. Studies have shown that milk from traditional herding societies, where the cows are only milked for half of the year, have much lower levels of estrogens.

Dairy consumption accounts for more than 50% of estrogens we consume. Estrogens of this type, so called “natural estrogens”, are way more potent than any form of synthetic estrogens, such as those in pesticides and chemicals.

Increased levels of estrogens is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. This is why excess dairy intake is of concern. Milk drinking has also been shown to increase levels of IGF-1, a growth factor that has been linked to breast cancer.

Even though these concerns exists, you should know that researchers have not been able to find a direct link between breast cancer and dairy intake. Studies have produced very contradictory results.

I would still be cautious with dairy intake. The fact that our modern milk supply is known to have high levels of estrogens is a big red flag to me. I don’t think you need to avoid dairy but I think you should keep intake low.

As with all other animal products it is best to choose organic dairy whenever possible. This won’t decrease the amount of natural estrogens in the milk but it will ensure the cow wasn’t treated with any additional synthetic hormones or antibiotics. It also helps promote good animal welfare.

Hormones like to hang out with fat. Some research suggests that low-fat dairy products (skim, 1%) have lower levels of hormones. Choosing these products over full fat dairy may help reduce your exposure to hormones.

Worried you won’t be able to get enough calcium without lots of dairy? Don’t be. Calcium is found in a lot of other healthy foods. Here are some non-dairy foods high in calcium. Be sure to consume them regularly!

  • Greens: especially broccoli, kale, bok choy, and collards. *hint – spinach and chard are high in calcium but it’s not absorbed well due to the presence of something called oxalates. The calcium from kale, broccoli, bok choy and collards is absorbed very well!
  • Okra
  • Calcium fortified plant milks
  • Tahini (sesame seed paste, used often in hummus)
  • Almonds/almond butter
  • Beans

I love to hear your thoughts! Has your view of dairy changed at all after reading this? Do you consume dairy regularly? Leave your thoughts in the comments box below.

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Tracy June 27, 2012 at 9:59 pm

OMG – seriously? I have given up meat and pop since my diagnosis and now MILK? I love my cereal, I love my chocolate milk, I love skim milk. Will I stop drinking milk? I don’t know. I am so tired of giving up this and that because one or two reports. I am so sick of trying to love on a diet of kale, broccoli and crociferous veggies – – I mean seriously. I am sticking to my milk and cereal – even if it is Lucky Charms! 🙂

Angel Gough June 28, 2012 at 5:26 am

Hello,
STRESS. I believe that dairy – cows, have these hormone shots to keep up with the ever increasing demand in milk by an ever increasing over populated society – but should I worry? After fighting a sudden weight gain – doubling my weight within a few short months, I consulted many doctors and had many tests. The result, they found nothing wrong with me and nothing wrong with my diet and exercise. One doctor suggested the fat was “hidden” in dairy and I should cut it out. As I’m a coffeeholic, I told him, that was like telling me to jump off a bridge – but I did it, for six months, less and less until I was dairy free. Instead of losing this “hidden” fat, I gained more weight! Does dairy have an effect on hormones, well, I don’t really want to stress further in all honesty. I believe it should, if chemicals like msg affect us, and other bad stuff they put into food, surely, it will be found in most products today; but is this knowledge enough to prevent the one litre of milk I consume each day, realising that this is the only dairy I have? Nope. I do all I can to eat healthy, but sometimes, unless it’s going to shorten my life by thirty years, it’s just not worth stressing about, as that stress – is probably going to kill me before cancer. If anyone could help me lose fifty kilograms – that is something I would take more notice of……….

Natalie June 28, 2012 at 9:24 am

Thanks for leaving your thoughts! I was also frustrated to learn this information about dairy and hormones. As I wrote in the article above, I still think it is ok to include small amounts of dairy into your diet. Just be sure to choose organic dairy products when possible, and consider choosing low-fat dairy products as they may have lower levels of hormones. Try not to stress. Remember it’s all about the totality of what you do, not one food or ingredient 🙂

Sheila Shema July 6, 2012 at 1:38 pm

What about substituting diary with almond milk; it’s very tasty or is it still considered diary? And now Greek yoghurt is also a no! I am confused already with chemo fog.

Natalie July 9, 2012 at 8:32 am

Hi Sheila,
Almond milk is not a dairy food, and is definitely something to try. I enjoy almond milk as well as rice milk. Please also keep in mind that I am not advising complete avoidance of dairy. I still think small amounts are fine to include in the diet, it’s just best not to go overboard. Thanks for your comment!

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