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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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October 26 2010

How Grok Got Milk

By Mark Sisson
107 Comments

Dairy, as I’ve discussed, is a somewhat hazy matter in the Primal Blueprint. With adequate reasons from solid thinkers both for and against, I’ve relegated dairy to the provisional, the peripheral, the speculative even as I choose to modestly indulge in it. As with most Primal gray areas, some forms appear less controversial than others. Raw, fermented, full fat dairy offers much more health benefit with fewer reservations than processed, low fat renderings. (Isn’t that always the case?) From a Primal perspective, however, dairy still remains somewhat of an enigma. Hardly one of the original, universal foods in human evolution, milk entered the scene at a surprisingly late date – only some 9,000 years ago with the advent of animal domestication. Researchers have long traced the “progression” of Grok‘s dairy intake from the Middle East into Europe, where milk actually became an unusually significant dietary staple. New research into the dairy “drift” now offers more details than ever surrounding this relatively isolated, albeit dramatic, evolutionary event.

Dairy herding, experts believe, took off some 9,000 years ago in present day Iran as a natural extension of the unfolding Agricultural Revolution. The first dairy farmers apparently used goats’ milk before they took on the hefty job of domesticating the rather large wild cattle in the region. (Probably not a bad idea.) Recently, however, archeologists have stumbled upon discoveries that illustrate a fuller and unexpected picture of these first farmers. Excavations around Anatolia (part of modern day Turkey) suggest that these early farmers truly settled more long-term than previously thought. For nearly 2,000 years, this population stayed put rather than migrated further into new territory. (Talk about home bodies.) Not even the coastal areas around Anatolia reveal any evidence of the farmers’ relocation during this period. The spread of dairy herding was apparently a slower and more selective process than previously thought.

Researchers have also been surprised by another new discovery based on Neolithic bones from Turkey. Despite the long-time establishment of dairy herding, the recovered bones of this Mesopotamian farm population didn’t indicate lactose tolerance. (Yes, do the double take.) Apparently, they didn’t like the milk itself but used it to make fermented, no-lactose products like yogurt, kefir and cheese. Their consumption pattern differs dramatically from that of Europeans after dairy herding spread throughout Northern regions.

The question of when and how dairy consumption (as well as lactose tolerance) later developed in Europe has been less than clear, but recent research is overturning old assumptions. Experts have known that farmers from the Middle East region eventually moved northward. As a result of their immigration/influence, herding caught on throughout much of Europe and added a novel and key component to the Northern European diet. Prevailing thought has centered on the notion of peaceful collaboration between the new herding settlers and existing hunter-gatherer inhabitants. The Stone Age hunter-gatherers, many experts agreed, must have learned dairy farming from the immigrant groups.

Newer interpretations, however, illustrate a less collaborative, more contentious series of events. Although the early farmers made their way in fits and starts through Southeastern Europe, their spread eventually (between 7000 and 5500 BC) took on a surprisingly swift, more massive and definitive nature. The movement seemed to have turned on an evolutionary dime. This time frame, significantly, coincided with the advent of true milk consumption– initially in the region of modern-day Austria and Hungary and then gradually throughout Northern Europe. The new farming population and its migration was – in this time period, in this new land – shaped by the milk mutation often called lactase persistence, the genetic “mistake” in which early life lactase production never shuts off.

In the Northern reaches of Europe, the new ability to drink milk introduced a whole new food supply that could sustain humans throughout the long hard winters and through the unpredictable famines. It also offered an additional key source of vitamin D. The colder temperatures in the Northern regions allowed for better storage conditions, a circumstance that likely encouraged consumption. Those who had the mutation won out in the immigrant farmer group because they and their children had a better chance of survival.

Previous theory suggested the gradual interbreeding of the immigrant group with existing hunter-gatherers. Not so, say researchers now. In addition to the grisly discovery of a Neolithic Age mass grave (the remains in which indicate violent beating and bludgeoning), bones from the period reveal two distinct genetic lines, one lactose tolerant (the farmer immigrants) and the other not (existing hunter-gatherers that had come to Europe some 46,000 years prior). Archeological remains confirm that modern day Northern Europeans are descended from that immigrant farming group. With evidence of a wholly different culture, religion and language, the settlers apparently resisted rather than absorbed the original population, and their genetic line as well as agricultural practices, eventually won out. Today, the genetic pattern lingers. Lactose tolerance levels increase in a northwesterly progression across Northern and Western Europe and into the Northwest tip of Africa, where lactose tolerance hits a peak 80%.

Fascinating stuff, eh? So, do the tales of dietary-based segregation and mass graves change my stance on dairy? No. The truth is, I just love the history. Evolutionary drama floats my boat, and I know a few of you out there dig it, too. As for the PB, these recent insights simply offer more confirmation that dairy tolerance follows some vast genetic patterns but ultimately comes down to very personal factors.

Although many populations throughout the world have eaten small amounts of fermented dairy for millennia, the hub of overall dairy consumption – both fermented and nonfermented – was, generally speaking, Europe – and mostly Northern Europe at that. Yes, if your ancestors hail from these regions, you have a greater probability of being lactose tolerant, but 80% is still 80%. That residual 20% is nothing to shake a stick at. (And speaks nothing of casein tolerance.) That means plenty of people as thoroughly Norwegian as can be, for example, will find themselves making frequent restroom trips after a double scoop ice cream cone (not the only reason to skip the ice cream, of course). As for the vast majority of the world’s population, pockets of 0% lactose tolerance certainly exist, but there are plenty of exceptions to the “rule.” It’s yet another reason to gravitate toward fermented dairy (as well as raw and grass-fed whenever possible). Finally, it’s also compelling reason to formally examine your dairy tolerance with an experimental period of abstinence or – on the flip-side – a cautious sample of pastured cream or aged cheese if you’re really inclined.

The world, the modern world in particular, is a big and complex place. Geography doesn’t tell the whole story. As for the researchers’ map, it illustrates impressive waves of migratory patterns and population-based gradations, but it’s hardly a measure or prediction of individual experience. Nonetheless, our respective ancestors live somewhere in the shadows of that cartographic tale, as sweeping and suggestive it is of the tumult those groups lived through. Evolutionary happenstance makes for an intriguing design – from a safe distance.

Hope you enjoyed. Comments, questions, additional stories and studies of interest you’d like to leave for the community? Thanks for your thoughts today.

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107 thoughts on “How Grok Got Milk”

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  1. How did they test the bones for lactose tolerance? Is there a genetic test for this?

    1. Yep. It is a single-nucleotide variant. The researchers look at the T/C-1310 allele.

  2. I read that article in the english version of Der Spiegel, and am once again thankful for my Germanic background. I’m still avoiding most dairy for weight-loss, but sometimes I add a bit of grass-fed half&half to my espresso. And full fat FAGE with frozen bananas is my primal indulgence.

    When I do drink straight milk now post-challenge, the symptom I noticemost is more phlegm in my throat.

    Fun post, Mark.

  3. I tried Greek yogurt for the first time this week, and noticed I was running to the bathroom not an hour later. Maybe I’m lactose intolerant, and did not realize it?

    1. Greek yogurt has twice the protein, does it also have twice the lactose, which is a carb?

      1. Greek yogurt has lower lactose levels than regular yogurt. (and yogurt in general has lower lactose than unfermented milk.)

        Also, the theory goes that some of the probiotics in yogurt make digestion of lactose easier. (And for unpasteurized milk, the lactose-digesting enzymes right there in the milk can help you out.)

    2. Yogurt bacteria digest the lactose, producing lactic acid instead – hence the sharp taste. A good yogurt contains live bacteria, meaning that they were added after pasteurization of the milk. Unless the carton says “live cultures” in so many words, the product may be a yogurt-flavoured milk dessert. Greek yogurt has a more fat, because extra cream is added to the milk Some people just don’t handle dairy fats well, others are intolerant of dairy proteins. You may be one of them.

  4. Back in the day, pre-primal I used to consume 3-6 8 oz. glasses of milk per day. I LOVED milk. I always had an ENOURMOUS glass with dinner and lunch and poured it on my cereal for breakfast in the morning. It was pasteurized 1/2% or skim milk.

    I also had acne at this time. I suffered with acne for almost 6 years. I read over and over again abou a strong link between dairy and acne.

    I decided to completely stop drinking milk cold turkey. I consumed very little cheese and basically cut out ice cream as well. Over the next few months my acne improved DRAMATICALLY.

    I then went primal in April of this year and within 1-2 months my acne completely evaporated. I once in a while get a teeny tiny whitehead or pimple that goes away within a day or 2. This happens when I eat non primal food.

    Anyone who has a acne and consumes dairy should stop IMMEDIATELY and see what happens over a 30 to 60 day period. There are a lot of factors that go into acne but milk is a HUGE one.

    I enjoy cheese in moderation – sometimes raw and sometimes pasteurized. I still have ice cream once in a great while – I refuse to go the rest of my life without ice cream.

    1. Same thing here. I’ve never been a milk drinker but I love everything else that is dairy. In my early 20’s I started getting mild/med acne, I also developed tinea versicolor (white/pink spots on skin). Both healed when I went raw vegan but then I started noticing other problems which led me to paleo/primal. I find that what works best for me is goat milk dairy products, they never give me any problems and also staying away from coffee, tea and chocolate.

      1. I have also had some problems with acne in the past, and I noticed a reduction when I switched to raw milk, which I now drink from time to time. I also started taking flaxseed oil every day (in addition to fish oil) to get my omega3:6 ration in check and I noticed a significant change with that too. Sometimes acne can be just a manifestation of inflammation in a diet too high in omega 6

        1. Raw milk cures. period. Most people feel like crap after drinking raw milk because its detox effect. trust me. I was lactose intolerant. after a few days of raw milk diet only, the symptoms went away. You have to push through the toxins. humans are not naturally lactose intolerant.

      2. For me it’s eczema. I used to get very little dairy but I had a bit of acne and eczema flared up often on the insides of my elbows and backs of my knees. When I went paleo and cut out the gluten, it disappeared. Then I added in more dairy to make up for the carb calories I wasn’t getting (I need a LOT of calories) and the eczema came back. I’m not sure if it’s a casein or lactose issue, but I’m suspecting lactose since I was still eating plenty of low-lactose hard cheeses when the eczema originally disappeared.

    2. Try Cocunut Bliss, you will love it and no more dairy ice cream

    3. I drink milk at every meal growing up in the 60s. Never had much of an acne problem. Probably had less acne than many other teenagers. I continued to drink into adulthood. Haven’t noticed any issues. Btw, I’ve spent long periods drinking milk substitutes such as almond milk. Didn’t really notice any changes with regards to skin or respiratory-related issues. I am back to dairy again but the lower fat versions as saturated fat raises my cholesterol.

  5. I drink raw goat milk. Get it from a local producer. I also get from him Kefir and Yogurt. I’m going to try my hand at making my own cheese this weekend.
    Goat milk has very little casein. So if there is a problem with that, you pretty much avoid it with goat milk.
    The guy grazes his goats in a field of tall grass. It’s rich and tastes great. It freezes well, so I’m set for the winter!

  6. A few comments relating this article to grains.

    During my gluten research, I came across sources that said often gluten issues can mask as lactose intolerance. Stop the grains, and after a healing period lactose is no longer a problem for some. I believe I am one of those people. My heritage is mostly Belgian, with many ancestors being dairy farmers.

    My second comment relates to what seems like a flaw in the paleo argument. Let me say up front I am paleo + dairy, completely grain-free. The flaw to me is the argument that humans have not had time to evolve to eat grains, when clearly humans did evolve to eat dairy in a very short time. The paleo grain argument also says agriculture removed natural selection from the equation, so essentially stopped evolution, because from a genetic standpoint, who cares if you have middle-aged grain-related health problems — you’ve already reproduced. But this dairy evidence appears to show agriculture did not stop evolution, in fact it sped evolution in this case.

    1. Don’t forget that we are also mammals and have a certain biological affinity for “dairy” type chemicals in the first place. While cow milk is obviously not human milk, there is still much more of an evolutionary link.

      1. Neil I believe you are likely right. A mutation to continue using lactose past infancy is of course more simple than recreating an entire digestive system, which is probably what it would take to digest grains properly.

        1. I also am not convinced at the natural selection and evolution coming to a halt theory.

          for one thing, who has kids at a young age these days? it does happen but the age people reproduce these days seems to be getting higher due to career goals among other things. by the time most people have kids any symptoms would have arrisen and thereby effect natural selection.

          you can’t tell me that someone with all kinds of health problems (caused by grains) is going to get chosen for a mate over someone who eats grains and is uneffected and appears in good health. not from a biological point of view anyway.

          I can tell you right now, people who can tollerate anything they consume are more attractive. it’s just the way it is.

          i’ve never heard anyone ever comment on how sexy someones food intolerances are! but conversely people are intuitively attracted to people with no intolerances.

          who’s to say that the person with the health problems will actually find a mate and reproduce? is it not likely that they don’t ever reproduce, thereby allowing evolution to favor the ones who are better able to tolerate grains and eventually eliminate everyone else?

          I think it is. I think you can’t stop evolution.

          anyone else have any thoughts on this? or any opposing views or reasons why this could be wrong?

    2. Grains also have toxins to keep from being eaten – milk doesn’t (although if you’re lactose-intolerant I suppose you might think that toxic enough).

    3. Neoteny is a trait where-in Juvenal characteristics are retained into adulthood and beyond, it accounts for the development of our brains and the angle of our heads to our necks. As infants and children our bodies INNATELY have the ability to digest milk since WAY back in the day. However grains were never part of the picture. So our “rapid” evolutionary ability to retain a characteristic of youth is much easier/possible on an evolutionary scale than adding in a completely foreign body to our diet.

  7. “That residual 20% is nothing to shake a stick at.”

    True. My best friend, a blond-haired, blue-eyed descendant of Nordsmen, is lactose intolerant.

    1. My Austrian/German/Norwegian genes LOVE dairy, especially butter and yogurt.

    1. But how do you know cutting dairy had a part to play in your weight loss? I’m not for or against dairy, but I think all variables have to be in treated isolation to come to a conclusion for oneself.

      The same kind of conclusions are often made by vegan people who cut meat, sugar and processed food, start feeling better and attribute it to the fact that they cut meat. They would just have to try to ad meat to their veggie diet and they would see pretty fast that meat isn’t a problem.

      I’m not saying though that cutting dairy didn’t help in your case, just to test it out on its own.

      For myself, for example, going a little overboard on the homemade goat yogurt made me discover that I’m lacking magnesium because some digestive symptoms became worst, but didn’t come back to normal after stopping the yogurt. I also started to experience spasms in my gut, very uncomfortable let me tell you.

      I made 1 and 1 together. Problems with electrolyte balance, especially magnesium, can lead to spasms and yogurt is full of calcium, which is antagonist to magnesium. Surely, when I took care of getting more magnesium, the spasms went away.

      1. I consume a LOT of milk (raw goats) and I cannot, for the love of Grok, lose any weight.
        I’m at normal weight 5’10” 145 american lbs…I’m not gaining weight either.

        But when I don’t have access to raw milk for 2-3 days I am less lethargic, feel thinner and drop about 2-4 lbs.
        The weight loss is because I eat the same amount of foods, but calories from milk has been stopped. After about the 3rd day of still not having milk my food consumption goes up…and weight goes back to the same.

    2. You also cut out bread and refined sugar – so there’s no way to attribute your original 70lb of overweight to dairy. The only way to be sure it was dairy products to blame would be if you now eat bread and refined sugar in greater amounts than before you changed your diet – greater amounts because you have to make up for the calories that you used to get from dairy foods – and are able to maintain your low weight or continue to lose weight.

  8. Since you mentioned Norwegians in particular (I am one): According to Norway’s allergy association NAAF, only 1-2% of Norwegians have lactose intolerance, not 20% as you indicate.

    1. Maybe NAAF is reporting only registered cases, I’d wager that many people are lactose intolerant and do not even know it.
      That is to say that there is other large group who are diagnosed (or think they are) intolerant to lactose, but in fact the culprit is gluten, as someone pointed out already.

  9. “Previous theory suggested the gradual interbreeding of the immigrant group with existing hunter-gatherers. Not so, say researchers now.”

    Actually, even the link you give doesn’t make such a sweeping claim. It says:

    “We conclude that this difference in frequency could not have arisen by genetic drift and is either due to selection or, more likely, replacement of hunter-gatherer populations by sedentary agriculturalists.”

    So they conclude replacement is “more likely” – not such a strong conclusion as you said. In addition, that paper is claiming this _solely_ on the basis of an allele “associated with lactase persistence”. That’s hardly a very full consideration of the genetic evidence.

    Three maternal gene groups from the Near East are thought to represent people arriving in Neolithic times- J, T1, and U3. They amount to around 20% of the European mitochondrial DNA pool. That’s a fair bit but hardly evidence for replacement. And some LBK pottery finds and so on can only take us so far.

    1. Additionally:

      Dr. De Knijff did a genetic study on slightly more than 200 school kids in the Netherlands.

      They looked for different haplo groups in the DNA. (Y chromosome on male subjects and mitochondrial DNA in female subjects). 80%(!) could be traced back to the inhabitants of Europe about 40.000 years ago.

      Interestingly, most of the Dutch are lactose tolerant.

      Unfortunately I could not find the actual study.
      Dutch news article about it (Google translated):

      http://translate.google.nl/translate?js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&layout=2&eotf=1&sl=nl&tl=en&u=http://www.volkskrant.nl/vk/nl/2672/Wetenschap-Gezondheid/article/detail/912101/2008/10/17/Nederlander-stamt-af-van-steentijd-jager.dhtml&act=url

      1. Mudbeard and Lewis, you’re absolutely right –

        I’m participating in National Geographic’s Genographic Project, and my Y-DNA test showed me to be in haplogroup I, which is 20,000 years old, and entered Europe as haplogroup IJ 40,000 years ago, if memory serves. If these people were “replaced”, I wouldn’t be sitting here typing, I wouldn’t exist:) I’m of German ancestry on both sides of my family, and I seem to be just fine with dairy.

        1. Ryan,

          How do you know it’s casein intolerance and not lactose intolerance?

        2. A fair question, Lynn:) In my case, it was pretty easy to tell – I live on disability for depression, anxiety, and OCD. I haven’t taken pharmaceuticals of any kind for years, so they’re not part of the equation. I had added sharp cheddar cheese to my meals for added fat. Over months I began to suspect my symptoms were worsening, and finally I decided to stop the cheese and see. Within a week my increased irritability, fatigue, and obsessiveness lifted, it was an incredible difference. To my knowledge, lactose doesn’t affect mental state, but casein is known to be very problematic in this way. So why did I add it for fat when I had some idea of this? Well, we all do stupid things sometimes:) Could I still be lactose intolerant as well, and never knew it? Sure. As a matter of fact, another thing that went away was a heavy feeling in my stomach after meals, and some gas during the day that hadn’t been there before. So it’s certainly possible, even though cheddar is a low lactose cheese, and even though it wasn’t a really violent reaction as some people experience. But, as you see, the bigger problem for me would seem to be the casein. ‘Hope that answers your question:)

  10. Wadley and Martins paper of course could never be said to be theory ( as opposed to hypothesis ) but i’d wager it goes some way to explaining much..even though we adore to think we are not biochemical blobs !

  11. Thanks for a fascinating look at this subject, Mark. Dairy is such a polarized issue in the paleo/primal world. It’s nice to see such a thorough and balanced report.

  12. I was also a dairy consumer before going primal. My decision to not pursue primal friendly dairy options could have been out of shear laziness, but in any event I decided not to ditch dairy altogether. I can’t say for sure that the dairy was the cause of my pain, or my weight problem, but it definitely played a role. Today I don’t avoid dairy intentionally, I just do not prefer it. Since going primal 80/20 style I have lost over 50lbs, so no desire to go back to milk and cereal!

    Thanks Mark

    1. The cereal could have played quite an important role in pain and overweight…

  13. To me the most important point was the mention of RAW milk. The properties of pasturized dairy vs raw grass fed dairy are more different than people realize. Most self proclaimed lactose intolerant can drink raw dairy easily. Also, it’s pasturized dairy that causes the mucus, not raw. Mucus is a sign on intolerance after eating any kind of food your body doesn’t really recognize.

    And let me just mention the wonders of RAW cream. Like heaven on earth!

  14. I grew up drinking TONS of whole milk throughout my life (like over a gallon a week) until a couple of years ago, becuase of all the negative hype. I’ve always been thin, just started gaining because I hit the female metabolism shutoff state at 40 (maddening!). Anyway, I had no ill side effects from milk, and nothing has improved since I stopped drinking it. I think I may start drinking it again…

  15. Totally true, Ahmed!

    I eat the Primal way, but I ALWAYS eat a variety of raw organic milk products.

    -Cottage Cheese
    -Cream
    -Raw Milk (post-workout)
    -Cultured Raw Butter (yum!)
    -Raw Yogurt (sometimes strain the whey to make my own “Greek” yogurt)
    -Raw Cheeses

    These milk products give me NO trouble, and I though I was lactose intolerant my entire life…just do not do well with pasteurized milk – ugh!

    Great post, Mark!

    1. Mindi, raw milk post-workout doesn’t do much. It’s mostly casein and a bit of whey and the fat slows down absorption even more. It would be a few hours before your body even breaks it down to amino acids. You could try a good whey isolate or branched chain amino acids.

  16. Love reading the history too – thanks for the post. It’s fascinating that we can study genes to discover who our ancestors really were. For instance, the black Irish – mythological descendants from an Iberian king. Turns out the Irish, especially those from the west coast, are genetically related to people in Northwest Spain and Portugal, descendants of celtic people who migrated there over 4000 years ago. Dairy farmers, I wonder?

    1. My understanding was that the Black Irish are descended from Spanish sailors shipwrecked when the Armada was defeated by the English in 1588. However, the earlier migration makes sense, too.
      When the Vikings invaded Ireland they left behind their Scandinavian genes, including those for the light-colored hair (the “light foreigners”) and I’m betting they brought lactose tolerance, too. The dairy products in Ireland were to die for, whether it was milk, butter, or ice cream; thinking that such wonderfulness would have not been developed in a largely lactose-intolerant population.

  17. We used to be able to get Raw Milk at our local Whole Foods here in Palm Beach Gardens, FL.
    It was from Golden Fleece dairies, also in FL.
    Then, one day… no more raw milk was being sold.
    They never really said why.
    I can’t find any in our area now.
    We won’t drink homogenized, pasteurized, commercial milk.
    We’ve switched to almond, hemp and coconut milk instead.

    1. Whole Foods stopped stocking raw milk in all states where retail sales are allowed in March 2010, citing high liability costs and inconsistent state regulatory processes. Luckily here in Maine I have a small market just a bit further away than WF that stocks raw milk from three different farms/types of cows.

  18. I have become lactose intolerant in middle age, if I eat ice cream the results are truly impressive … makes it easy to lay off the dairy.

    /still eat cheese though, loves me my cheese

    1. Try drinking some (grass-fed) non-homogenized whole milk that is low temperature – small vat – pasteurized. I was Lactose Intolerant too until I tried this – and raw cheese is great now. No more lactose tablets. It’s amazing. Lost 44 lbs on PB using whole milk in my whey protein drink and having cremefresh every single night on my berries. But, if I have ice cream or non raw or melted cheese, yes trouble. Try finding that milk milk and see if your life doesn’t change. Sometimes called cream top milk.

    1. Grok Jr. got milk from Mrs. Grok.
      Grok himself had to go milk the pet goat =P

      (And take the trash out while he’s at it)

  19. Sheep Milk > Goats Milk > Cow Milk

    I truly believe that almost no one can say that they can’t digest milk when they haven’t tried raw, grass fed, hand milked, glass bottled sheeps milk. The nutrition profile is ridiculous. Almost 15 grams of fat per 8 ounce glass! Cow milk has 8!

    Try it groks! It tastes unbelievable.

    1. Where do you get raw, grass fed, hand milked, glass bottled sheeps milk? Both cow and goat dairy products make my respiratory allergies flair up.

  20. I’m losing weight at a rapid clip *now* that I’m off the dairy.

  21. I love butter and cream. I have a mixed heritageand besides milk most dairy does not give me problems. I have thought of going off dairy for a while to see if this will help with weight loss but have yet to make up my mind. The reason some may find it hard to get their raw dairy now is that the USDA is on the war path again and has it in for raw dairy. They are terrorizing these small farms out of existance. If this happens I will not be eating any dairy as the only dairy I will eat now is grass feed pastured raw dairy.

  22. I eat dairy everyday. Sometimes grass-fed heavy whipping cream in my coffee, most times not from grass-fed sources (Organic Valley). Definitely cheese and a glass of wine most nights of the week and ALWAYS some form of cheese with my eggs in the morning or a salad at lunch. I’ve taken dairy out of my diet before for a rather lengthy period of time and never noticed a difference. I’ll be keeping it in. Good article!

  23. I noticed long ago that I felt best in my last years of high school, in which, in addition to being young and full of energy, I was singing competitively and competing in track (field/jumping events & no more than 300m sprints, so no chronic cardio). To keep my voice in tip-top shape I had to eliminate dairy and, sadly, chocolate and caffeine. To stay in track form and make weight for pole vault, I had to cut out the calorie-laden grains and focus on veg and meat, with fruit right before practice for quick energy. I guess my body figured out what was best for it before I read all the literature!

  24. I recall reading this article that many cultures don’t understand the US consumption of milk. I remember distinctly it saying that besides breastfeeding, milk should not be consumed for health or nutrition beyond that.
    As far as the animals that do produce milk, shouldn’t that be to nurse their young?

    1. In India, a heavy milk-usng country, traditionally if a cow has a calf at her side the calf eats first.

  25. Mark,in Spencer Wells’ book “Pandora’s Seed” he states that Europeans are now 90% lactose tolerant.I would also surmise that lactose tolerance may accompany some adaption to casein.The ancient dairy cows produced,I believe,A2 beta casein,which is what dairy tolerant people grew accustomed.Today,much of the dairy is produced by Holstein and freistan cows which produce more milk but the A1 beta casein,which we have not developed a tolerance.So,if milk used to be your friend but that is no longer the case,try switching to milk produced by Jersey,Guernsey,or Brown Swiss cows.It may take some investigating.
    Thanks for your intellectual curosity Mark,and for providing good discussions.Not all Paleo boards are receptive to open discussions.I am Paleo but maintain an open mind.

    1. I thought I was lactose intolerant until I came across A2 milk, which is now sold in all major outlets in Western Australia.

      I swear by it. I used to get an upset tummy everytime I drank milk but with A2 that’s disappeared. Absolute lifesaver – it might be twice as expensive as regular milk but I don’t care.

      I heard the other milk producers are trying to bully them out of the market. It’s never about what’s best for people isn’t it?

  26. Pasteurization of milk was one of the biggest mistakes in the dairy industry, along with feeding cows corn/grains.

    |True| milk comes from healthy, organic grass-eating cows that get access to sunlight. Studies have shown that corn-eating cows produce milk high in omega-6 to 3 ratio while grass-fed cows showed the opposite, and contained high amounts of CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid).

    Everyone can digest raw, grass-fed milk as it contains the beneficial bacteria and enzymes necessary to digest lactose, the sugar in milk; these enzymes are destroyed by pasteurization, thus leading to intolerance.

    Also many people are afraid of the saturated fats in dairy. You should not be afraid of fats from grass-fed cows as 1)they are very high in omega-3 (boosts metabolism), and
    2)the fats are sent directly to the liver as energy use rather than fat storage
    3)a documentary showed that a morbidly obese man who started consuming dairy from grass-fed cows lost over 100 pounds due to the high metabolism rate acquired from eating high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids from butter (milk fat). He actually consumed just over 2,000 calories just from butter a day. Just from butter. And yes, he did eat meat (grass-fed) and vegetables, etc.

    Raw milk is the way to go.

    1. What is the name of the documentary you mentioned at the end of your post?

  27. This has probably been touched on by smarter folks than me, so if this is redundant, forgive me. But it seems that a hunter would kill a nursing female animal from time to time and maybe end up eating everything, including the udder and its contents. Maybe this was infrequent, or maybe not as nursing mothers and their young may have been easier targets.

    Whether it was frequent enough to create lactose tolerance, I don’t know. But it always comes to mind when the milk debate comes up.

    1. There have been wonderful stories of people with lactose intolerance having success with raw milk because it retains the enzymes needed to digest lactose otherwise destroyed by pasteurization! 😀

    2. Also:

      Most of the people that are a rare blood type (B-, A- and AB-) have 2 extra small ribs at the bottom of the rib cage not fully attached to the rib cage yet.
      I know so because my entire family has them, we are all a rare blood type on both sides of the family and we all produce our own lactose enzyme.
      (Had blood test done).

      My believe is that the extra intake of calcium coming from drinking animals milk for thousands of years (before the ‘true’ agriculture era was recorded) made it possible for some of us to grow additional bones.

      People had pet dogs (oldest recorded 35000 years ago, grave found in Belgium, center of an old village) thousands of years ago before actual farming practices were recorded…now why would we have dogs but not capture the prey, especially when the mother was killed and the little one would stand there in shock. We had prey as pets WAAAAY before agriculture.

  28. This is my first post on this website so let me know if I’m out of line on this one. “Are we not the only mammal on the planet that drinks another mammals milk?” The answer to this question leads me too believe that dairy should be used very sparingly if not at all after you have received the nutrients needed from our mother.

  29. (I accidentally posted this on your other milk post, meant to post this here)

    My wife is purebred Norwegian and absolutely loves milk, she drinks an organic lightly pasteurized un-homogenized glass bottled milk; about half a liter+ a day especially at dinner time.

    I think being un-homogenized is most important besides being organic. Before I married I dated several black women from Haiti and Kenya and all of them boiled their milk before they drank it, both in preparing it with tea and at night mixed with wild honey. They thought it was strange to drink “cold” milk.

    I myself prefer Kefir. My wife and I have been living in Europe since 2006, I don’t really drink “cold” milk but when I lived in the States I couldn’t tolerate the milk there at all, over here dairy is a different story as far as quality and while the lactose doesn’t bother me the least bit I can always feel the insulin spike which is why I usually only drink organic Kefir and warm milk w/ no problems.

    I would like to clear one thing up though, there is a rumor that EU countries have great access to raw milk, that’s not the case it’s just like in the States; you have to goto a certified farmer or the private store the farmer owns. You can definitely get un-homogenized milk though and also cheeses and butters made from raw unpasteurized milk but not actual milk. Every single person I’ve asked about unpasteurized milk here has given me your an idiot look.

    My great grandmother from Okinawa is 104 and her daughter (my grandma) is 81 or 2 and they drink warm milk.

  30. I loved your article, Mark. Most interesting!

    I fall somewhere in the camp of “I dunno”. We have a raw milk share from a farmer that only pastures his beef and dairy cattle. The milk/cream/butter/cheese we get from him is divine. But, like a lot of other people on this board, I had horrible acne from pasteurized milk when I was a teenager and I seem to be sensitive to even raw milk now.

    That said, the milk we get is transformed into kefir and different types of yoghurts. I do make a warm milk drink for my kids that has whole milk with raw butter, cardamom pods, cinnamon, and nutmeg stirred into it and is then warmed in a pot. They drink this “butter tea” on cool evenings or post- hockey.

    Before we got our milk share, I tried our kids on pasteurized, non-homogenized, organic milk. All of them reacted to it (the teenagers got acne and the little one got sniffly). If we don’t have pastured, raw, we just avoid it entirely.

  31. The ‘no other animal consumes milk beyond infancy so neither should we’ argument always comes up. I think there’s another way to look at it – milk is the only substance that is specifically designed and intended to be consumed (except maybe fruits). OK, maybe it’s intended to be consumed by infants, but that’s still consumption. Pretty much anything else DOESN’T want to be consumed, and evolves strategies to avoid it. Would mammals have evolved a way of making their milk simultaneously nourishing to their own young but toxic to any other animal? Anything is possible, I suppose, but it’s surely a lot more tricky than outright toxicity.

  32. What a great post. I love the discussion and added facts, so interesting. I cut back on milk for thirty days but did not notice a decrease in my acne, which has gotten worse in the last two years (have not found a pattern as to why yet). I am attempting some personal studies on myself to see if I can lessen it. For now i am trying a three month period where I stick to the 80/20 Primal lifestyle which does include half and half in my coffee, occasional ice cream, and cheese. I am starting to track in November to see how it goes.

    1. We have tendency to look at things very narrow when give data sets of information on different foods. For instant coffee has a lot of reported benefit with or without the caffeine because of that we have a tendency to exclude it from the health puzzle as a whole. I think perhaps caffeine might just be your personal Kryptonite unless of course you drink “decaf”. I’ll give you some things to think about. Firstly, we know caffeine affects your metabolism, any time that happens there is a possibility that you’ll be more prone to acne. This can certainly explain the reported fact when you decreased your milk intake–if, your caffeine intake stayed the same–then you might have stumbled across a correlation. My wife, when she drinks a lot of milks she has good skin but extra coffee/caffeine equals breakout for her. Same with me, I drink lots of black tea maybe 2-3 cups a day, but coffee for me equals small breakout or weak looking skin but extra milk no breakout. You see? Black tea has caffeine but maybe not so much to disrupt normal cycles, but balance varies from person to person. While the literature doesn’t point to a direct link between caffeine and acne we know because of the effects on the metabolic systems that there is at least a indirect correlation. And so now maybe you can explore this possible link between caffeine and your acne and maybe can be one step closer to a “perfect” solution.

      1. Interesting, I’ve explored this possible link and for me decaf or not it still results in a breakout. Chocolate and to a lesser degree tea also produce the same results. I figured it must be something like tannins or something I don’t really know but if I stay away from those my skin is clear. I’ve also noticed that when I started consuming fermented goat products my skin improved so much. If I consume any dairy from cow’s milk (organic or not) however, I get terrible acne so I stay away.

    2. You have to cut it out completely. I’ve read it takes at least two weeks to stop having an effect. Try a 30 day challenge, then re-introduce slowly. That should tell you if it’s the milk. It was for me.

  33. When we’re talking primal lifestyle with anyone new, the first two points of contention are the lower grains and dairy. This article does a great job of breaking it down. We’re going to repost… thanks.

  34. Fascinating. I actually tell my clients to drink a small amount of chocolate milk after their workouts – it’s delicious and keeps your metabolism up for a while.

  35. If any of you are scientists or just good paper researchers, take a look at what a German researcher (Melnik, B) is writing. Go to PubMed and poke around. VERY briefly, milk (and even casein and whey in supplements) raises levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factor – (IGF-1), and these together cause the androgen receptor to become sensitive to the anabolic steroids that are in Mom’s milk.
    So when infants (of whatever species) consume milk, their ‘growth throttles’ are being held wide open – it is ‘pedal to the metal’ time in early life so the baby can get strong enough fast enough to survive on its own.
    If you have the genes for acne, milk’s ‘pedal to the metal’ for zits is not a good idea.

    1. Hey cool, I stumbled on the Melnik study you mention from reading the notes in Robb Wolf’s “The Paleo Solution” (p.293). And I thought I’d go look for the MDA take on things.

      My acne (not so bad) and my significant other’s acne (worse) is starting to clear up after cutting out grains/sugars (~6 weeks). But we didn’t realize the effect of dairy on insulin and IGF-1, and it’s role in acne until some reading yesterday and today.

      We’re going to cut out all dairy for a few weeks and see what happens.

      It might be hard to tell what’s happening though – she has a progesterone birth-control implant that seems to really affect her acne. So we don’t know if we’ll actually “see” a full reduction until she has the implant taken out.

      Next steps:

      1) Learn about how progesterone could be affecting her insulin/IGF-1 and in turn acne.

      2) Learn about how a dose of Accutane when she was in her early teens could be affecting her insuling/IGF-1.

      If anyone has any info on the above, please share 🙂

      PS: If you want to find the Melnik study, just google it’s name. “Role of insulin, insulin-like growth factor-1, hyperglycaemic food and milk consumption in the pathogenesis of acne vulgaris”.

    2. I just read the entire, quite complicated and difficult to read medical script.

      They are talking about pasteurized milk.
      Low pasteurization and Ultra-pasteurized, they call it “ultra-heated”.

      Raw dairy of any kind esp. milk is EXTREMELY hard to find in Germany. Just about ALL milk is ultra-pasteurized and homogenized…when you go to the store to buy milk in germany it’s usually with the other drinks in the back of the store in cartons and NOT refrigerated. It lasts up to years, uncooled in this carton.
      I know so because I grew up there.
      Fact is, most germans have been brain washed about milk, government put the fear in them about bacteria and other illnesses that kill coming from raw milk. Only the younger generation NOW and with the invention of the internet do people get some kind of info about all these government lies…and in some very small regions you’ll find that 1 lonely farmer, not advertised anywhere, that sells raw milk.

  36. The neolithic mass grave … the remains of Abel (the hunter) after his altercation with Cain (the farmer)?

    Great info Mark, thanks.

    Twice now I have gone dairy free for about 30 days, and have not noticed a difference in health, just leanness. I’ll thank my norwegian background for that I guess!

  37. I occasionally reinforce the ‘naturalness’ of drinking milk by telling my teen patients that if Mother Nature intended humans to drink milk forever, they would have a closer relationship with their mothers.
    It tends to ‘center’ the discussion somewhat.

  38. I don’t know if the “other animals don’t drink milk” argument is even valid.

    First, other animals do on occasion consume milk, preditors will kill the pregnant and it’s not like they throw the milk sacs aside and eat the rest. Secondly, anyone with a farm and cats will probably have stories of cats sneaking a lick or two from the cows.

    Second, why did we start drinking milk? Because we had domestic cows. Do you know of any other animal that has domestic pets? Its not like a wild ox is going to sit around and let a monkey milk it. If other animals had that ability, they just might start drinking milk too. Some animal/human coorelations don’t really work because there is a vast difference between us in a few areas.

    I have read the pro/anti milk arguments along with the pro/anti raw milk arguments. I have decided (well for now, until I see new info) to drink raw from my one trusted dairy. I have the perk of living in the Bay Area of Cali so raw milk is easy to come by. Not cheap, but its a luxury I rather enjoy.

    Espresso is another one I enjoy.. hopefully the rest of my healthy makes up for that unhealthy 🙂

      1. Ahhh yes, I should know about those little guys. I don’t think they are milking what is made for aphid young though. I haven’t read much into it but I was under the impression it was a symboic (sorry, right word?) relationship created by evolution.

        1. I think the word you’re looking for is symbiosis or symbiotic relationship; that is true the “milk” isn’t for the aphid young, but it does demonstrate that consuming the secretions of another species does occur… and it is a source of nutrients for the ants just as much as milk is for us, the big question though is did the aphids always have the ants to “milk” them and why did the ants start doing this anyway after all they eat all kinds of insects but they don’t eat the aphids, interesting relationship.

  39. Great post. I’m against dairy. Regardless from the lactose it contains lectins, hormones and protease inhibitors.

    You mention fermented dairy products that contain no lactose. I looked for these products, but never found them.

  40. I didn’t read all the comments (have to hurry up and get outside because I’ve been so lazy the last week) so somebody else might have mentioned what I’m going to talk about already. It’s how I think people first started drinking milk, based on modern evidence. I met a man who told me a story from when he was a kid in Jamaica, where he says there are still wild cows. He was out in nature with his dad and they spotted a lactating wild cow so his dad snuck up behind it where it couldn’t see him and started milking it, squirting the milk into his mouth straight from the udder. Apparently as long as the cow doesn’t see you and you milk it properly it will think you are its calf but if it does catch you sneaking up on it or if you milk it wrong causing it to feel pain it will kick. Anyways my guess is that before cows were ever domesticated this was the method used by inventive primitives for getting a quick drink of milk, maybe with a varying success rate.

  41. How did we end up producing lactase when lactase is present in raw milk…
    ironic.
    Either way, glad we do 🙂

  42. Milk is not, and never has been, a key source of Vitamin D.  You risk perpetuating a common misconception. Vitamin D was added to milk in the mid-1900s to prevent rickets.

    The facts:
    It does not occur in milk naturally; the amounts in milk have been shown to vary from those listed on the carton; and the amount of Vitamin D in milk is too low to prevent the diseases with which epidemiological studies have linked it, like cancer and MS.

    Sunlight and supplements. are necessary for optimal serum levels. 

  43. With scientific testing indicating Casein to be one of the biggest triggers for cancer, it is also one of the biggest products to avoid. Why eat something that causes risk to your health?

    1. I’ve seen this in several vegan books/websites. Problem is, almost all of those books/websites are so totally biased against all animal products that I don’t trust them to have unbiased, truthful imformation–those of the “animal protein will kill you” school.

  44. I love milk, and I usually drink one or two 8 oz glasses of it per day. Whole milk is especially good. I’m sure it’s a complete coincidence, but since I switched to whole milk I’ve stopped getting acne (I used to get a few spots around that time of the month).

  45. I love dairy 🙂 I am like 25% Irish and probably an equal or greater amount English, the rest being small amounts of Dutch, Welsh, Scottish, etc. and also 1/64 Cuban! So, I definitely have a high probability of digesting dairy well, and turns out, I do! I only drink raw, local, grass-fed milk and cream, and I eat Kerrygold with every meal almost. It’s just in my genes to love dairy and my body loves it. I do have acne still but it’s way less severe than it used to be and I attribute it mostly to my lack of activity and lack of sunlight across my chest and back, where it seems to concentrate. If I’m at a gathering or event where there’s dishes with pasteurized cheese or something like that, I kind of just go for it and I’ve yet to have a reaction, so clearly my immune system is pretty resilient since going Primal. I’m lucky to have been breastfed, vaginally-birthed and also not exposed to heavy amounts of house cleaner and hand sanitizer and spent a lot of time outside. That stuff has a huge effect on the immune system regardless of how poor or great the Mom’s nutrition was. I think you should do a post on that kind of thing, how those early environmental factors affect our future health. Super interesting topic.

  46. You actually make it seem really easy together with your presentation but I to find this matter to be really something that I feel I might by no means
    understand. It seems too complex and extremely huge for me.
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  47. My ancestors are 100% Irish, English and Scottish (I live in the UK), and dairy plays a huge part in the British diet along with all of Northern Europe.

    I used to eat tonnes of Dairy, milk in tea and coffee, glasses of milk, yogurt for dessert, cream on cakes, butter on toast, cheese sandwiches etc, I think every single meal I ever ate had dairy in it, which is normal here, and I also had awful acne, and terrible indigestion/heartburn and stomach ulcer issues which I was on medication for.

    When I was skinny 19 year old, I decided I wanted to bulk up and massively upped my dairy intake to complement my work outs, after reading lots about the GOMAD diet, and my acne went crazy, it became really severe, to the extent kids on the street would point and ask their parents ‘whats wrong with his face?’.

    After doing lots of reading online, I finally put two and two together and stopped consuming Dairy all together, and my acne cleared right up. Also, my stomach issues cleared up too, for the first time ever I was off my medication, crazy, why didn’t my doctor tell me to try that before?

    I’m not lactose intolerant, as I never have any ‘bathroom’ trips or vomitting when I consume dairy, and Lactose free milks and yogurts have the same effect on me, likewise I can handle Butter and Cream fine, they don’t affect me, which means my issue is either with the Proteins or the Hormones.

    After some experimenting, I found I could handle pure Whey protein fine, I take powdered whey protein shakes every day and have no problems with them at all, Casein on the other hand, and a weight gainer shake I tried, made me break out in a rash from head to toe which was really scary, confirming my issue is with Casein and/or the general pus/hormone crap that’s in milk.

    It’s pretty serious for Milk products to cause disfiguring acne, stomach ulcers and severe allergic skin reactions, but my doctors seem to think I’m crazy / they just aren’t educated enough on any of these problems if it’s not ‘lactose’ intolerance.

    It’s quite difficult trying to explain this to people and restaurants, so I just tend to tell people I can’t have any dairy, better to be safe than sorry, but then I get some funny looks when I then sprinkle parmasan onto my pasta (hard cheeses again are fine).

  48. I think that dairy may have entered the human diet before the agricultural revolution in the form of partially digested milk (“cheese”) in the stomachs of suckling prey. I think that may be where the idea for cheese came from and that dairy, rather than meat, could potentially have been the motivation for ruminant domestication in some areas.