Notes from Catherine Rowett, former Green Party MEP for East of England and deputy coordinator of the Eastern Region Green Party*(UK). Biographical reflections on life as an MEP. Longer reflections and discussions on issues relating to policy, the good life, justice, equality, anti-austerity economics and the future of the planet. This is also a forum for exchanging ideas on how to tread lightly on the planet and avoid supporting exploitation and corrupt practices. Here we go...

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Homogenised milk

All that stuff about milk and calcium in the earlier posts was really leading up to a discussion of homogenised milk.

The reason for wondering about that was a letter in the Spring issue (229) of the Soil Association magazine called Living Earth. Sally and Keith Hall from Carmarthenshire had written to say "We became concerned about homogenisation after reading an article in Living Earth 219 and have since avoided homogenised milk. This has proved difficult, as suppliers do not state on their bottles that their milk is homogenised..."

This struck a chord with me because I too understood that homogenised milk had been shown to be bad for the health, because the process of homogenisation involves breaking the fat down into very small particles, which then pass directly through the gut into the blood stream and are to blame for filling the arteries with fatty deposits (whereas the cream from normal whole milk that has not been homogenised does not seep through the gut).

But besides the fat getting into the bloodstream instead of being digested properly and absorbed as nutrients the body can use, there's another problem with homogenised milk. Here's an explanation of what happens from a New Zealand website :
According to Dr Oster, with Dr Donald Ross of Fairfield University and Dr John Zikakis of the University of Delaware, homogenising allows the enzyme xanthine oxidase (XO) to pass intact into the blood stream. There it attacks the plasmologen tissue of the artery walls and parts of the heart muscle. This causes lesions that the body tries to heal by laying down a protective layer of cholesterol. The end result is scar tissue and calcified plaques with a build-up of cholesterol and other fatty deposits. We call these arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis. According to these experts, dietary cholesterol is not the main cause of heart attacks; it is homogenised milk.
The problem is that the enzyme is one which is designed to break down various kinds of food product, particularly prurines found in meat. If it gets into the blood stream it starts breaking down the artery walls as if they were meat in the stomach. Here's what they say:

Xanthine oxidase has a very specific function in our bodies. It breaks down purine compounds into uric acid, which is a waste product. The liver of several animals, including humans, contains Xanthine oxidase specifically for this purpose.

However, as Dr Oster said, "When foreign XO, such as that from cow's milk, enters the bloodstream it causes havoc by attacking specific targets within the artery walls." The "specific target" which Dr Oster refers to, as mentioned earlier, is the plasmologen tissue making up the artery cell walls. Plasmologen is vital as it holds together the cell membranes within the artery walls. Any damage from foreign Xanthine oxidase causes lesions to the artery walls. The body, in its efforts to protect and repair them, immediately responds by "patching" the damage with calcified plaque. In the later stages of arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis, arteries lose their elasticity as additional calcium is deposited. Calcification of the arteries can contribute to high blood pressure which is actually not a disease by itself, merely a symptom. It has been found in some samples that plasmologen was missing in artery wall lesions and plaques. The mystery was solved when researchers found XO in the plaques. The two substances cannot co-exist.
So it seems that they've got fairly good evidence that deaths from heart disease and damaged arteries goes up exactly in line with whether the milk we drink is homogenised. So why are we getting so much homogenised milk now? Because (a) the supermarkets prefer it because it has a longer shelf life, and (b) people seem to like it because they've become used to not seeing the cream on the top of the bottle. But what you don't see may be worse than what you do see. In fact, there seems to be good reason to think there's absolutely nothing wrong with a good bit of natural raw milk with the cream on, but once it's been interfered with it is deadly.

What are they doing allowing the organic suppliers to use homogenisation, then? This is what the Soil Association said in reply to the letter from Sally and Keith Hall:

"Concern about homogenisation began in the 1970s with the theory that the process forced fat globules through the stomach lining into the bloodstream where they released xanthine oxidase (XO) thought to be linked to heart disease. However, new studies have found that XO appears at high levels in colostrum (the antibody-rich first milk produced immediately before and after giving birth) and is actually part of its immune boosting armoury. Whilst homogenisation is not believed to be harmful..."

Now this is a non-sequitur. In fact, the Editor of Living Earth seems to concede that homogenisation results in fat passing undigested into the blood stream, and also to the presence of XO in the bloodstream as a direct effect of homogenised milk.

BUT, says she, that's okay because for a day or two when we are newborn babies nature produces a very wonderful stuff called Colostrum for us, and that has this XO stuff in it, whereby we get our mothers' antibodies.

Hooray for XO, we are supposed to say?

But this is completely bizarre surely. Because we are not drinking colostrum, we are drinking cows milk. And we are not getting healthy from it, we are getting ill. And the reason we are getting ill is because the fat is leaking onto our artieries.

So just because for two days after birth we thrive on something that feeds XO into the bloodstream, it does not follow that this is good for us at age 2 or 12 or 22 or 32 or 62. Especially if, as we know, the rates of death from heart disease in Finland (where they drink homogenised milk) are three times as high as in Sweden where they drink unspoilt milk.

So here's another reason to have the milk delivered by the milkman, because thankfully, the milkman still brings the proper stuff with the cream at the top (not if it's semi-skimmed of course because to get semi-skimmed they have to remove the cream and then put it back in artificially). But the normal silver top bottles still come all creamy on top, so you have to upend them before you open them, and sometimes even scoop it out with a spoon before the milk will pour at all.

There are some interesting myths about fat and heart disease dispelled here.


SE11 Lurker said...

Are you saying that semi-skimmed (or skimmed) bottled milk is homogenised or not?

Catherine Rowett said...

To be honest I haven't been able to find a satisfactory answer to this question. When I was reading on it before it seemed to me that they were saying they take out all the cream and then put some back, and that cream is put back in homogenise form. But I can't find anyone who clearly states this.
All I know is that I've never seen a bottle of semi-skimmed milk with the fat separated out. Has anyone else ever seen any cream on a semi-skimmed pinta?
Does anyone know the answer?