Cow's Milk a Risky Approach to Rickets, Advise Doctors and Dietitians
WASHINGTON—The dairy industry is twisting the findings of a report of sporadic cases of rickets—a disease caused by vitamin D deficiency—to scare people into drinking cow's milk, says the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).
The report, released last week by the federal Centers for Disease Control and discussed in the April issue of Pediatrics, attributed cases of rickets to a decrease in sun exposure (sunlight on the skin creates D naturally) and to an increase in breast-feeding (breast milk can be short on vitamin D). The report also attributed one case of rickets to a milk alternative, which was not fortified with vitamin D. Given the many health problems associated with dairy consumption, PCRM is concerned the public is being misled into thinking that dairy is the best way to prevent rickets.
"Insisting that our children drink cow's milk to get their vitamin D is like encouraging them to play in traffic to get their exercise," says Amy J. Lanou, Ph.D., and PCRM nutrition director.
"Yes, cow's milk is fortified with vitamin D, but it's also jam-packed with saturated fat and problematic proteins," says Dr. Lanou. "And cow's milk is hardly the only food fortified with vitamin D. It's readily available in much healthier foods, such as fortified soy and rice milks." A study conducted last Friday by PCRM shows that most soy and rice milks, such as Silk and Pacific Soy, have 25 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin D, the same as cow's milk.
PCRM doctors and dietitians, who have included such well-respected child health experts as the late Benjamin Spock, M.D., have long maintained that cow's milk is not a health food. In children, dairy consumption is linked with anemia, colic, allergies, constipation, and juvenile-onset diabetes. In adults, it's related to heart disease, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, and possibly breast cancer.
"Milk is the least healthy source of vitamin D," says Neal D. Barnard, M.D., PCRM president. "Rather, we should encourage increased outdoor activity, which would not only help children produce enough vitamin D naturally, but would help strengthen their bones, improve fitness, and reduce obesity. For kids who do not get enough sunlight, any typical multivitamin will do the job."
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.