In the milk of cows, goats and humans, two hormones called oestrogen and progesterone can be found naturally. “Oestrogen and other fat-soluble hormones are present in higher concentrations in whole milk than in skim. Organic milk, too, has a hormone content that is on par with that of conventionally produced milk”, says Dr Niketa Sonavane, Celebrity Dermatologist in Mumbai and founder of Ambrosia Aesthetics.
Breast Cancer Risk and Dairy Consumption
Many people believe that hormones in dairy products like cow’s milk are dangerous for people’s health. Some researchers believe that oestrogen in cow’s milk may contribute to the development of certain cancers of the breast and ovaries. According to some, the hormones found in milk may cause children to begin puberty earlier than they should.
“Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I fully support anyone who chooses not to eat dairy. It is not necessary for a healthy diet”, explains Dr Niketa. “Dairy products can be avoided for a variety of reasons, including allergies and health concerns. It’s possible that you feel this way because of the harm it causes to animals, for example. Perhaps you’re disturbed by the conditions in which dairy cows are kept”.
Milk has a negligible amount of hormones when compared to what your body already has. 6,000 times more oestrogen is produced by your body every day than a glass of whole milk provides. In comparison, women’s bodies produce 28,000 times as much. People who consume dairy products are exposed to small amounts of oestrogen, but the amount produced by the individual is far greater.
If milk raises oestrogen levels in the body, we might expect it to help with menopause symptoms. Soymilk has the potential to be even more effective at preventing hot flashes than milk from cows.
“There’s no proof that dairy consumption causes puberty to begin earlier. I don’t believe that dairy products are to blame for the fact that children are reaching puberty earlier these days. To begin with, children no longer drink as much milk as they once did. If dairy hormones were to blame for early puberty, we might expect an increase in the average age of puberty, but the opposite is true. Oestrogen levels rise with weight gain, so it’s more likely that childhood obesity is to blame for early puberty.”
Dairy consumption does not appear to increase the risk of breast or ovarian cancer. In some cultures and countries, dairy consumption has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. We can’t be certain that the differences in cancer risk or any other differences between these populations are caused by differences in dairy intake because of these other differences.
Those who consume the most milk do not have a higher risk of breast cancer than those who consume the least milk in the same culture. In fact, several studies have found a small protective effect.
Dairy consumption has been linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer. Men who consume more than four servings of dairy per day are slightly more likely to develop prostate cancer, according to research. If this is the case, a hormonal imbalance is most likely to blame. As far as breast cancer risk and puberty rates are concerned, milk’s hormones aren’t the most likely culprit. Prostate cancer may be linked to a person’s consumption of dairy products.
When It Comes to Dairy, How Much Is Enough?
Dairy products should be limited to no more than three servings per day, especially if you prefer whole milk and other full-fat dairy products such as cheese. Your daily calcium needs can be met with three servings of dairy per day, and your saturated fat intake can be kept within the recommended range.
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