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 A deep dive into Milk from a Chinese Medicine Perspective

The use of raw cow’s milk has been used for centuries as a source of nourishing the undernourished, particularly with Chinese Medicine. It is incredibly rich and strengthening for constitutional weakness and deficiency of wellbeing. In its natural form, cow’s milk’s sweet warming nature provides an organic tonic for building Qi, Blood and Yin.

In contrast, dairy can have a stagnating effect on digestion with a tendency to create mucous in the body. For anyone with a compromised digestive system, they’re often unable to cope with its dairy richness, and most likely will suffer from general mucous type conditions and/or metabolising issues.

Quality dairy is very much the opposite of what you find in a supermarket fridge. Nature’s design was a full fat, nutritious, wholesome product. It’s now become a dichotomy, served in a plastic bottle or ‘long life’ package, pasteurized, homogenized and chemical ladened. Even the strongest of guts is burdened with this end product.

 Homogenising milk means removing the fat globules. It is put through this process because westerners can’t seem to cope with the creamy textural aspect of fresh raw milk. It creates a smooth appearance and otherwise shaking it to disperse the fat maybe creates too much hard work. Notably though, breaking down the fat does in fact aid digestive processing because ultimately, we are not designed to break these globules down. Raw milk can be made more digestible by a quick boil to dismantle the protein chains. Where digestion is immature i.e. children, Ayurvedic cultures will boil freshly drawn (unhomogenised) milk and flavour with a pinch of warm spices. Cardamon, ginger, turmeric or nutmeg are aromatic herbs intended to support better assimilation.

Taking out the nutrient dense fat denatures milk to the point that it is not able to support the absorption and use of Vitamin A and D. These are essential fat-soluble vitamins that work in supporting and maintaining bone mass. Clearly, denaturing milk can’t be a positive for drinking it, right? Homogenizing also enables the enzyme xanthine oxidase to build up fatty deposits in the arteries. You can see it renders the product harmful rather than healthful. It isn’t nourishing to the body due to the removal of this valuable fat and its action of clogging arteries.

Pasturising milk was developed through the germ theory era where milk was of poor quality (e.g. swill milk). It was simpler to kill contaminants in the milk, rather than clean up the hygiene and care of cows. Pasteurising aims to kill bacteria, yeast, mould and viruses via heat to provide a clean product that might otherwise make you sick. Within this process, milk becomes dismantled from its original properties and function creating a concoction quite devoid of nutritional value. Through pasteurising, the potency of vitamins, minerals, proteins, enzymes, fats and sugars has become very dilute and inferior.

Lactose is one of those nutrients greatly affected. Generally, the absorption of this sugar form, is done slowly through the blood stream, thus preserving the high insulin swing. Heat breaks down lactose in the milk into beta-lactose which is a much smaller constituent than lactose itself. It gets absorbed very quickly and spikes blood sugars. There are many issues with this occurring repeatedly in your body. It leaves you open to diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. Lactase is also destroyed in this process. It is an enzyme aimed at breaking down lactose leading to ‘lactose intolerance’ and an inability to digest milk. This has such a disruptive effect upon the digestive system and will manifest as bloating, nausea, upset tummy, etc.

The biggest mythical status about plastic milk is the calcium content. Culturally, we have been led down a marketing pathway that dairy is the main calcium source to support bone health and general wellbeing. However, your family’s calcium needs are met much more easily with seaweed, wheatgrass, sardines, almonds, parsley, chickpeas and more.

There’s a lot of emphasis upon calcium in a diet. It’s required for bone strength, neural signs, heart rate, rhythm, contraction, skeletal muscle contraction and blood clotting. There is a huge requirement for it in certain periods of growth like childhood, pregnancy, and lactation and in age transitions such as menopause and the elderly. Calcium needs to be supported and supportive with health disharmonies, such as heart/vascular disease, bone disorders and nervous system issues.

The absorption of calcium is inhibited chiefly by food products:

  1. Coffee, soft drinks, diuretics
  2. Excess meat protein
  3. Refined sugars – white foods, concentrate sweeteners, anything sweetened
  4. Alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes
  5. Too little and excessive exercise
  6. Excessive salt

Funnily, food also has an advantage in calcium absorption. High content calcium and magnesium foods like chlorophyll rich foods (grains, green leaves), legumes, microalgae (chlorella, spirulina), cereal grasses (wheat, barley grass) & seaweeds. Which, mind you, have significantly higher calcium content than milk does.

As an example  – 100ml of milk contains 128mg

In comparison   – 100g of wakame seaweed = 1400mg of calcium            

                        – ½ cup tofu has 400mg of calcium

In addition, sunshine and moderate exercise will both be significant in maintaining calcium levels. And the use of Chinese Medicinals can further boost and support weakness as a result of calcium deficiency. Kidney tonics are a superior supporter for adrenal function, strengthening bones and muscles and slowing ageing.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, cow’s dairy is inflammatory and mucous producing in majority of humans. Particularly in the form it is now. Mucous conditions can be recognised by how they exist – sticky, thick, thin, warm, cool, congealed or watery in its nature. It manifests in the body as conditions such as:

  • Cough
  • Dizziness
  • Sinus/hayfever
  • Nausea
  • Cysts, lumps, nodules
  • Mood disorders
  • Palpitations
  • Foggy thinking
  • Chest pain/fullness/heaviness
  • Rheumatology disorders
  • Bowel issues – loose, diarrhoea, sticky
  • Poor appetite, fullness, bloating, inadequate digestion
  • Holding weight, fluid
  • Fatigue
  • Emotional disharmony
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Poor immunity/allergies
  • Eye conditions e.g. conjunctivitis

Mucous type foods such as dairy, sweet, processed foods exacerbate damp/phlegm in the body, producing conditions as above. In addition, cold and raw foods, if not supporting your constitution also inhabits mucous.

By emphasising foods that are cooked and warm and are bitter and spicy in flavour creates positive for damp conditions.

 Phlegm is thicker than mucous – more fluid.

Damp can be due to either poor digestive flow or from being smothered by dampness in your environment e.g. damp weather, damp living conditions, damp producing foods. It can also come from illness and overuse of medicinals such as antibiotics. Phlegm is seen as a condensed form of dampness. Dampness forms as a result of long term energy depletion and can also arise quickly from a diet that contains too many cold, raw foods, excessive dairy products or excessive amounts of greasy foods, animal products or alcohol.


Foods to avoid

It is essential that those prone to dampness avoid excessive amounts of food that will contribute to promoting dampness in the body.

 Cow’s dairy: milk, cheese, ice cream, butter and includes foods labeled with milk powder. Yoghurt is the exception to the cow dairy food rule. Sheep and goat products are regarded as less prone to causing dampness promote pro-inflammatory prostaglandins

Pesticides are commonplace within dairy milk. There can be more than 400% more pesticides than an equivalent sample of grain/vegetable. Pesticides are sprayed on plants, feed, livestock that is used for meat consiiptiom, eggs and poultry. This is in addition to hormones for growth stimuatlion and proection against disease.

Written By Dr Nicole Pawley- TCM Acupuncturist