Don’t have a cow, man?
Not so long ago milk seemed like a no-brainer. Models, movie stars and athletes all posed with that famous dairy moustache and asked, ‘Got Milk?’
Full of protein, calcium and vitamin D (amongst other good stuff) it seemed however you were looking to improve your physique or diet, milk was the way to go. It is designed to build up sturdy cattle after all. When’s the last time you saw a weedy cow?
In recent years however, the fitness community have gone back and forward on the subject of milk more often than on a rowing machine.
Questions have been asked about its effect on our hormones, whether it’s actually healthy to be effectively swiping lunch designed for another animal. And the safety of modern dairy farming methods…
So in this article we’ll attempt to give you a definitive answer on whether the white stuff is the right stuff for you and your testosterone.
The nutritional value of milk should be obvious purely by how reliant the young of nearly every mammal is on it. Including humans.
Most of us will get a developmental headstart thanks to our own mother’s milk. Eventually though, unless you’re eerily close to your incredibly understanding Ma, you’ll need to find a new milk source as an adult.
Lord knows which freaky pioneer first hit on the idea that cow’s milk was the next best thing or just what the hell they were playing at when they did. Most of us have gotten on board with the idea since then, however.
We drink roughly 750 million tonnes a year and go through more if you factor in cheese, butter and yoghurt etc.
On the face of it, it looks a strong choice. Milk contains around 350 fatty acids, such as lauric, myristic and palmitic acid. Add to that a healthy amounts of calcium and phosphorus to strengthen bones. Potassium to regulate blood pressure, as well as vitamins D and B12 improving mood and energy.
Most importantly, it’s rich in both caesin and whey protein. Whey in particular is full of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), like leucine, isoleucine, and valine, which help to both maintain and build more muscle tissue.
Despite whole milk having quite a high fat content of 4%, evidence suggests the skimmed, or fat-free, versions can actually help us lose weight.
A 2007 study from McMasters University is one example of how milk may help physical build. After working out 5 days a week for 12 weeks, a group of amateur weightlifters were given one of three things. Either skimmed fat-free milk, a soy drink or a carbonated option.
At the end of the trial the milk group had better protein synthesis, resulting in higher muscle mass. That also meant twice the weight loss of other groups, clocking in at around 2lbs.
Work published in Obesity Research has also found that dairy on your daily menu, even when not on a specific diet, can be useful.
For their experiment 34 people were put on a diet consisting of either 500 or 1200mg of dairy. The overall calorie intake for each volunteer was different so as not to reduce energy or purposefully cut weight.
All that sounds great, so what exactly is the beef with cows milk and dairy products in general?
As you might expect cow’s milk is full of hormones. These include growth hormone, prolactin, glucocorticoids as well as male and female sex hormones, testosterone and estrogen.
Of these last two though, the balance appears tipped in estrogen’s favour. Meaning when you ingest milk you’re potentially giving your female hormones a leg up. Bad news for your body’s testosterone production, which in turn is lower.
A 2010 research paper highlights this. In a trial, a group of male and female children were each asked to drink 16 ounces of milk. Afterwards, researchers took blood samples every 15 minutes for the next 2 hours.
What they found were levels of the female estrogen and progesterone spiking while T levels fell.
But surely our old pal, the humble, healthy pint of milk can’t have that much of an effect on us?
Well don’t be so sure. A 2001 investigation into milk’s possible role in male reproductive problems reported that the drink was responsible for 70% of all the estrogen men consume.
It also suggests modern farming techniques for keeping livestock lactating for longer, means more estrogen making it to our cartons than ever before.
To from quote that same investigation:
This is often down to new ways of getting cows as productive as possible, as quickly as possible. Some countries use a hormone called bovine somatotrophin (BST) to speed up growth and dairy output. Though it’s been found to have no ill effects for humans, the idea of contamination still makes some uneasy.
Pesticides, veterinary antibiotics, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins are other possible impurities. They may only have an outside chance of making it into our glass or cereal bowl, but the long term effects of these are less certain. Choosing an organic brand may help to cut down some of the risk.