Milk is bad for me? No whey!
When I was in my late teens, I drank more milk than you could shake a cow at and I was covered in Acne
I was guzzling down full fat gold top jersey milk, which is basically the equivalent of drinking double cream, its that kind of 1950’s old school nutritional wisdom. ‘Drink your milk laddy, that’ll make your bones and muscles strong!’. Laughable really. To add insult to injury I also used to drink two giant glasses of whey protein powder, mixed with, you guessed it… milk.
Why? Well, I didn’t know any better. Plus I wanted muscles, big ones, and the marketing campaigns of ‘insert favourite protein powder brand’ had promised me those muscles via pictures of humongous hulk like men. ‘If i could only be 10% as muscly as the guy on the label it would be perfect! How foolish I was, not only to believe such drivel but I mean, the muscle monster on the tub was clearly taking more than a protein shake. I just didn’t know it at the time. It was the era of Arnold and Sylvester, the Terminator, Rambo, Commando, Rocky Balboa. ‘My’ idols, ‘our’ idols were loaded to the gills with steroids and we were all clueless in our 80’s and 90’s fog of aspiration to have He-Man like muscles. A few pig heart transplants later I think we all figured out it wasn’t just lifting really heavy weights that built that body. Protein powder alone does not make you into the incredible hulk, even if you do go to the gym ten times a day.
Decades later, our body and health ideals have definitely evolved but one thing I was lucky to realise early is that drinking milk after infancy, and drinking the milk of another species was just odd. Cows milk causes all kinds of crazy reactions in our human body. When I was 20 I remember I always used to have huge zits on my my face, red, painful acne. It was so depressing, I remember standing in front of my bathroom mirror every morning wishing I didn’t have spots on my face, and imagining how much happier, how much more confident I could be. This is one example of many unusual things that happen to peoples healthy when they consume milk, and the crazy thing is most of the time people don’t question why their skin is awful, or why their stomach is always irritated, or why they constantly have an over production of mucus in their throat and nose.
So heres the rub, Whey protein, which is made from left over milk and dairy products is a relatively young thing as far as its introduction to the human diet is concerned. The way it is produced is through milk fermentation, extraction then concentration. Not only are we the only species that drinks the milk of another animal, we are the only species that continues to drink milk after infancy. Nowhere in our human history did our ancestors come across such a concentration of this specific kind of protein, meaning your human body and digestive system has not had time to adapt naturally to effectively digest and absorb whey protein.
Now this is the science bit, the ‘Microbiome’ is a symbiotic bacteria that live in our guts and boost our health in many ways the microbiome, who also never would have come across this concentration of whey protein naturally, making it novel for them as well.
Let’s discuss a few of the most concerning drawbacks of milk and / or whey protein consumption.
Whey poses a danger to the microbiome
Most people, including myself prior to 2008 when I stopped taking whey protein in favour of taking plant protein complain that “whey protein does not sit well with their gut”. As well as giving me awful skin, It used to drastically affect my digestion and my poo was rarely solid. There has been a lot of controversy around this, given the explosion in fitness and the subsequent popularity of whey protein supplements. I always wonder, how is it possible that people still take whey protein when everyone I know always complains about how uncomfortable it makes their stomach. Anyway, a study published in 2018 suggests that long-term milk-based protein supplementation may have a negative impact on gut microbiota, which would make total sense. A double blind, randomised controlled study found that people who supplemented with whey protein isolate or beef hydro-isolate had increased abundance of the Bacteroidetes phylum (a harmful gut bacteria) and the presence of these nasty little suckers seriously decreased the presence of good bacteria such as Roseburia, Blautia, and Bifidobacterium.
So, if you’ve been taking whey protein and been overly gassy, with loose stools, and or stomach discomfort, this is likely to be the very reason.
A disturbed microbiome, or when your gut health is in less than optimal condition can in turn, can cause a plethora of health problems, including poor digestion and nutrient absorption, gut irritation, inflammation, diarrhoea, gasses, cramps and pains. No fun whatsoever!
Whey consumption causes acne
This might be the most studied side-effect of whey protein so far. Again, a lot of anecdotal evidence exists here. Statistically, male gym goers are more at risk of developing acne vulgaris, especially on the trunk and back. Whey protein might very well be the culprit here. Although the exact mechanisms have yet to be completely established, several studies have found a correlation between whey protein consumption and acne (Melnik, 2011). Others have found that whey protein extract contains growth factors that may be related to acne (Pontes, Filho, Trindade, & Filho, 2013).
Dairy & whey have been associated with cancer
Dairy proteins may even be associated with the “big C” aka cancer. A review was published, which took a look at 28 individual studies concerning the links between acne, dairy, and cancer.
Evidence suggests that proteins derived from dairy may be the source of androgenic and mitogenic progestins, which drive prostate and breast cancer (Danby, 2009).
This study proposes that the very fact that exogenous hormones (not coming from our own body) are usually not found in such large concentrations in nature means we have no defensive mechanism against their effects. The introduction of such hormones and growth factors into the diet can very well be a contributing factor to neoplasia or hyperplasia, in other words, tumours and cancers. Not something you want to mess with when there are such good milk alternatives out there like almond milk, oat milk and instead of why protein you can take rice protein, pea protein, there is even hemp and pumpkin protein. If you’re concerned whether protein from plants can help you build big muscles then check out this post.
Milk products (especially concentrates) can affect your hormones
Milk and milk products have been known to contain hormones for a long time. While this might not present a big issue for someone who consumes up to 1 litre of milk per week, for instance, it might be a problem for someone who consumes upwards of 100g of whey protein isolate (roughly the equivalent of 100 litres of milk). The process which extracts whey protein from the milk also extracts and concentrates small peptides and other hormones. Considering that milk is essentially filtered cow’s blood, it contains many components present in the cow’s blood, including hormones, immunoglobulins and growth factors (Jouan, Pouliot, Gauthier, & Laforest, 2006). Since the human body had no chance to come across this in nature, it did not develop a defence mechanism against the effects of these additional hormones in the diet.
Estrogen was detected in cow milk and cow milk related products in concerning quantities, and some questions have even been raised as to whether this can affect pregnancy tests. Scary stuff.
These health hazards may come as a surprise to many, considering whey protein has truly become a popular staple in everyday diets of many people. My advise is ‘steer’ clear of it (if you get that joke I love you), especially as there are dairy free protein powders available without the health risks and same or better muscle synthesis results. It doesn’t make sense that anyone should have to continue to suffer with Whey.
Plus… We care not only about our health, but about the environment
Crazy health effects aside, whey protein production is also super unfriendly to the environment. The animal (and per extension, dairy) industry is responsible for almost 20% of the worlds carbon footprint, with dairy being one of the most popular food products of this industry. Plus, industrial farming means animals have to suffer without good cause. There was a great article I read by Anastasia Basil where she says;
the principle of equality goes like this: “If a being suffers, there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration.” The principle of equality requires us to account for all suffering equally.
Theres an unusual amount of anti-veganism these days which I don’t understand but I rationally compare it to the unusual response one sometimes receives if you choose not to drink alcohol. I think the sometimes negative ‘peer pressurey’ response is less about said frowning individuals true thoughts on whether or not drinking alcohol is good or bad but that your personal and conscious decision to ‘not’ do the thing they currently do makes them feel bad about their decision to do it.
Anastasia Basil also said something else that highly resonated with me in her article titled ‘The ethical dilemna of teaching kids how the sausage gets made’
Your tummy is interested in pepperoni, the interest of your tummy shall be served. To hell with the suffering of animals that aren’t dogs! Dominos is offering a two-fer on Meat Lovers!
So, in conclusion if we can have all the benefits of protein from plants and other non animal sources, free from industrialised suffering (and yes plant protein can be complete protein) meaning you get the same affects or better, without the negative health effects such as upset stomach, loose stools and having your hormone profile sent completely out of whack, then pass me the plant based protein please!