Loren Cordain’s latest newsletter (PDF) is up, and it’s going to make a lot of people unhappy. Why? Because Dr. Cordain is one of those people Bob Dole was talking about who say that milk isn’t good.
The one sentence summation of the newsletter is that betacellulin, a heat-stable hormone found in large concentrations in cow’s milk, attaches to and stimulates the intestinal EGF receptor, possible causing an increase in the incidence of cancer formation and accelerated growth. Money quote from the newsletter:
So what–what if a little betacellulin from cow’s milk gets into your bloodstream–does it matter? You bet it matters. A liter of whole milk (633 kcal) contains 1,930 nano-grams of betacellulin whereas the amount of EGF that your salivary glands secrete is only 35.3 ng per day. The binding affinity of betacellulin to the EGF receptor is greater than that for EGF; consequently betacellulin can displace EGF from the EGF receptor. The amount of betacellulin that you get from drinking even a single cup of milk (457 nanograms) has the capacity to stimulate the EGF receptor 10 times more than what normally would occur during a 24 hour period from EGF in saliva.
Over the past couple of days I’ve received a dozen or so emails and comments asking what I thought about this newsletter. My reaction to it is colored a little by the fact that I don’t drink much milk. Unlike my bride, I don’t drink cream in my coffee, and I don’t eat a whole lot of cheese. So, if I found out that milk was a dangerous food, it wouldn’t change my life much to avoid it entirely. Others may not have the same perspective.
Over the course of the last year or so that Dr. Cordain has been working on this, he and I have corresponded frequently, and he has sent me a slew of papers on betacellulin, EGF, and the EGF receptor–the data is consistent with the information in his newsletter. This idea isn’t published by others; it’s his theory based on his considerable research on the material. And Dr. Cordain, his views on saturated fat notwithstanding, is a very smart guy, so it probably wouldn’t pay totally disregard him.
The idea that milk might not be an ideal has been around for a while. Anthropologist Marvin Harris wrote a number of years back that
This discovery was made fairly recently; it was only in the 1950s that it began to dawn on people that milk was not good for everybody. However, the normal situation was originally regarded as the abnormal one.
The idea also fits with the evolutionary template. In Paleolithic times and before man didn’t drink milk beyond infancy. In fact, after infancy humans developed lactose intolerance, the inability to break down milk sugar. As a consequence, drinking milk would cause GI problems due to this lack of ability to break down and absorb lactose. Since this lactose intolerance is a fairly common finding among adults the world over (there are some societies who have through mutation inactivated the genes responsible for lactose intolerance), it probably served some useful purpose in terms of our survival. Since the EGF receptor, which is normally activated by EGF from saliva, promotes gut healing and maintenance, maybe nature didn’t want its effects interfered with after childhood and used the development of lactose intolerance to achieve its ends.
A reader sent me an article from several years ago from the Townsend Letter on the failure of a couple of pharmaceutical companies to get approval to market their EGF receptor-blocking drugs, the most famous of which was ImClone, the maker of the drug Erbitux. If you recall, ImClone is the company headed by Sam Wachsal, who, when he got advance notice of the FDA denial, sold his stock before the word got out and the price cratered and advised friends, one of whom was Martha Stewart, to do the same. Dr. Wachsal is now doing time–Martha, as everyone knows, has already done hers. This article makes the EGF receptor blocking drugs appear not particularly effective, but since that time, the FDA has approved more trials.
As I wrote earlier, I’m not a milk drinker or a cheese eater, so I don’t really have a dog in this fight. I’ve got enough stuff to work on that really does interest me that I don’t want to spend more time than I already have tracking all this down. If someone else wants to do it, send me whatever you dig up, and I’ll be happy to post it.