not just from the TCM point of view
These days there are a lot of scientific and less scientific studies on milk and other dairy products, many of them contradictory. However, let’s think of common sense. None of the other mammals except us normally consume milk after the end of the lactation period. Enzymes that help to digest breast milk gradually disappear from the body with age. Humans have developed a genetic exception to that rule a few millennia ago.
Lactase persistence gene
A gene called the “lactase persistence gene” which has evolved among people in Europe and Saharan Africa makes some of us able to keep making the enzyme in the digestive system and drinking tons of milk even in adulthood. It seems, however, that the spread of this recessive gene due to migration was obviously slower than the cultural spread of food, such as ice cream or pizza Quattro formaggi. The vast majority of the Asian population, especially Japanese, lack this gene; in other words, they are lactose intolerant. It is a bit of a mystery why milk is so popular in Japan when its consumption can cause many people digestive problems.
One of my Japanese friends leads a long-term dispute with me on this subject. She is the lucky one and milk does not cause her any problems. She argues that a lot of people in Japan consume milk and nothing is happening, although they are supposed to suffer from the symptoms of lactose allergy. There are several scientific theories on this topic but I don’t intend to bore you to sleep. However, there is a very simple one among them: they accustomed to it.
True, if we are regularly exposed to a small amount of any substance, we are likely to get used to it. The question is if this kind of “getting accustomed” is always beneficial or not. In antiquity, Mithridates VI., Ruler of the kingdom of Pontus in northeastern Turkey in fear that he could be poisoned by the enemy made experiments with poisons on slaves and criminals at the beginning of the 1st century BC; he also used small doses of poisons himself to keep his body “accustomed” to them. As time went by he gained extraordinary tolerance. The killers sent by his son could not poison him, and they had to stab him with a lance. (By the way, resistance to poisons is still technically called mithridatism.)
According to scientific reports from the second half of the 19th century, so-called arsenic eaters commonly used doses for normal human fatal. (How long-term use of this substance has shown on their health status and lifespan is no longer detectable.) If you’ve read this far, you are probably wondering where I’m heading to. I’m exaggerating a bit but I’m just trying to point out that if we get used to something, it does not automatically mean that it benefits us in the long run.
Is milk really the best source of calcium?
To understand me correctly, I’m not a milk hater. It may be beneficial to health if we use it wisely. However, the twentieth century has made it almost a panacea. It is rumoured, and I do not know what the truth is, that “milk propaganda” was launched in Japan sometime after the Second World War. The Japanese government has claimed that the defeat is partly caused by “poor” nutrition. Therefore, while “the winners drink milk, we should do it as well”. Post-war Europe was also drowned in milk as a guaranteed calcium source. The question is whether the indigestible or very hardly digestible components of milk do not burden the organism too much and the negatives do not outweigh the possible positive effects. There are more digestible sources of calcium such as poppy or sesame seeds.
Milk from the TCM standpoint:
From the TCM point of view, milk is of a cold nature and sweet taste. It relates to the heart, lung and stomach meridians and stimulates the appetite. People with a tendency to diarrhoea, asthma, coughing with damp mucus and people with a tendency to accumulate internal moisture should strictly avoid it. My friend’s kid suffers from relatively severe asthma, but after the omission of dairy products, his health has greatly improved. It is best to consume milk, preferably fermented in the form of yoghurt or sour milk in combination with vegetables with a spicy taste. For example chilli, pepper, horseradish or radish. It is better to avoid a combination of the so-called “three white“: sugar, milk and white flour. Sweetened milk and bread made from white flour is in my view a really inappropriate combination.
Since milk continues to provoke heated discussion, I am very interested in your personal experience with eating or, conversely, the non-consumption of dairy. I will look forward to your views.
If you are interested in How to make dairy-free yoghurt check out this interesting recipe below.