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No proven link between milk, diabetes

TUESDAY, NOV. 20, 2012

DEAR READERS: Previously, I devoted a column to answering your questions and comments about my statements in past columns. I’m doing the same today.

Is drinking milk healthy? In a recent column I talked about the benefits and risks of drinking milk, for both kids and adults. I was talking about cow’s milk, the kind we typically drink.

I said that growing kids need milk. However, some children have an allergy to cow’s milk. Some kids (and adults) also have an enzyme deficiency (lactase deficiency) that can cause diarrhea. The solution is to drink milk in which one particular sugar, lactose, is depleted.

The statement that generated the most mail from you was about a possible link between cow’s milk and Type 1 diabetes. Some epidemiological studies have reported that children who begin drinking cow’s milk at an early age are more likely to develop several autoimmune diseases, including Type 1 diabetes. And one study has shown that children with a particular genetic vulnerability to getting Type 1 diabetes tend to make antibodies that could theoretically lead to diabetes.

However, other epidemiological and immunological studies don’t come to the same conclusions. In my view there is no proven link between kids drinking cow’s milk and Type 1 diabetes.

Another question was raised about drinking milk. A retired physician questioned my statement that drinking too much milk could cause dangerously high blood levels of calcium. What I was talking about was a condition called “milk alkali syndrome.”

Back in the olden days, when I was a medical student, a popular treatment for stomach ulcers was large doses of milk and antacids, which seemed to reduce the symptoms of ulcers. That was before we discovered that most ulcers were caused by a bacterial infection and could be treated with antibiotics.

Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to AskDoctorK.com, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.


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