Ask Dr. Paul Library
Milk is Good, Too Much is Not
DEAR DR.PAUL: My 1 and a half year old son drinks over 42 ounces of milk per day. My doctor says this is not healthy. Why?
DR.PAUL ANSWERS: Your question brings up a lot of important points. Cow's milk is a very good source of protein, calcium and other nutrients that are essential for a child's normal growth and development. Milk is also rich in fat and calories. The fat in the milk is important for nerve and brain development. This is why skim or 2% milk are not recommended for children less than 2 years of age.
What are the consequences drinking too much milk? Infants and toddlers who consume too much milk often have no appetite for meals or snacks. So although they consume enough calories to grow, they will not be getting the benefits of eating a balanced diet. Another important effect of "over-consumption of milk" is related to iron. Iron is another essential nutrient necessary for proper growth and development. Regular homogenized cow's milk does not contain enough iron. As a matter of fact, what little iron is in milk is not very well absorbed by a child's intestine and does not get into the body. So not only is milk a poor source of iron, drinking too much, results in a child eating less of other foods that would normally provide the iron they need. Also, in some cases the cow's milk protein may actually irritate a child's intestine causing low level, long standing, yet almost invisible blood loss in the stools. What does this mean? Since the major storage area of iron is in our red blood cells, if we lose blood, we lose iron. All these factors contribute to iron deficiency anemia, which means that the body cannot make enough red blood cells due to a lack of iron. So these infants and toddlers which have iron deficiency anemia are referred to as "Milk-babies" because their complexion is whiter or paler than normal they due to anemia. Anemia can also cause fatigue, irritability and in severe cases even heart failure. In terms of long term effects, studies have shown that iron deficiency anemia during the first years of life, may cause delays in the psychomotor development of a child.
So the bottom line is that although cow's milk is an important source of calcium and protein, drinking too much is not good and may be harmful. Here are some general tips:
- Cow's milk is not suitable for most of the first year of life. Breastfeeding is best
- Cow's milk does not contain enough iron
- Skim or 2% milk are not recommended for children less than 2 years of age.
- Toddlers and older children should drink no more than 24 ounces of milk per day
On a final note, contrary to public belief, milk has not been shown to increase mucus secretions.