Who doesn’t love sitting down in front of the TV, armed with a large glass of cold milk and a stack of Oreos stolen from the kitchen cabinet? In that simple act of self-indulgence at age eight (or twenty…) little did you know that you were putting yourself at risk of developmen of type 1 diabetes, a devastating disease that renders the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas completely useless. The disease would be require you to take insulin shots in order to regulate blood glucose levels, levels that spiral out of control with every meal.
Recent studies have shown a relationship between the consumption of milk, specifically the milk protein beta-casein, and the subsequent development of the disease, something that no one wants. In a 2004 study by J. Rosenbaur, researchers found that the early introduction of cow’s milk into an infant’s diet increased the risk of type 1 diabetes and that a lower intake of cow’s milk throughout childhood further decreased risk for the disease.
The protein that is potentially responsible for the connection between milk and diabetes is called beta-lactoglobulin, and is found in cow's milk but not human breast milk. It is similar in structure to the human protein glycodelin, and an infant's immature immune system may destroy the glycodelin in an effort to destroy the look-alike "foreign" protein beta-lactoglobulin, Marcia F. Goldfarb, author of a 2008 report on the issue, wrote.
According to Goldfarb, glycodelin controls the production of the body's T-cells, which help protect against infection. If glycodelin is destroyed, there could be an overproduction of T cells.
Type 1 diabetes is thought to be caused when T-cells destroy the insulin-secreting beta cells in the pancreas--this suggests a correlation between milk and Type 1 diabetes.
This conclusion is vitally important to our society, a society in which a child is served a glass of milk with almost every meal so that he will grow up having “strong bones.”
Another study, (called Bovine beta-casein antibodies in breast- and bottle-fed infants: their relevance in Type 1 diabetes, in case you’re interested), found that there were high levels of casein antibodies in children who already had type 1 diabetes compared to those who didn’t, and these antibodies only developed after milk-consumption in early infancy.
This further supports the hypothesis of the existence of a relationship between the consumption of the beta-casein found in milk and the development of the disease.
Realistically, how would one ever know that such a staple item could be so harmful?
Our food is dominated by the powerful interests of the meat and dairy industries, industries that cannot stand to lose profits. If people looked at the literature today that suggested the harmful effects of drinking milk, then imagine the backlash they would soon face.
The problem is only exacerbated by the extensive “Got Milk?” campaign that consistently features glamorous movie stars with milk mustaches.
Sure, it looks silly and the ads are made in good fun, but it’s not much fun when they are simply perpetuating our society’s obsession with a beverage that can truly devastate a child’s life.
Kristen Barnett is a student in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Missing Link: Wellness appears on Tuesdays.