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February 16, 2019

Why milk intake is linked to increased height of human beings

In many people’s mind, August is supposed to be a warm month. This year the weather more often than not has been gloomy and overcast. It feels like we are in mid-July or even June. This cold weather is happening when around the world there is much discussion about rising temperatures and what effects it will have on all of us. Global warming is the term used to describe the increase in average temperature of the Earth by between 0.4 and 0.8 °C over the past 100 years. While many will argue about the cause, what is not disputed is that there has been an increase in volumes of various gases including carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, mainly due to burning of fossil fuels and agriculture. One might wonder if we really are part of the global economy given these cold months we are experiencing. We should not make the mistake to think that we are not or that the actions we take locally in growing the economy do not have an effect on our health either short or long term. The truth about August is that the daily temperatures gradually rise from the lows of July, so that by August 31 will, on average, be at least one degree Celsius warmer than August 1. That difference in the temperature illustrates what is worrying scientists and policy makers who think long term about our survival. When it is colder than we are used to we may like the extra warmth but so much of our current economic lives depends on certain temperatures being maintained. Yet the last time there was global warming interesting things happened.

 Our planet earth is millions of years old and it experiences times of cooling when ice sheets and glaciers cover large parts of land. It is not known why these ice ages occur, but it is thought that the atmospheric composition, the changes in position of the earth in relation to the sun and how the ocean currents behave contribute to the earth’s climate. The last such ice age peaked about 21,000 years ago and ended about 12,000 years ago. The end of the last ice age ushered in the agricultural revolution, when many communities gradually changed from being primarily hunter-gatherers to settling and becoming farmers. The technology associated with this new lifestyle took time to spread beginning around present day India and the Middle East spreading east and west and eventually south over a period of more than 10,000 years. The switch from being hunter-gatherers to farmers led to the domestication of various plants; primarily grass varieties such as maize, wheat, rice, sorghum and animals such as the cow, sheep and goat. We may think that 10,000 years is a long time, and it is; what is important to note is that the growth is exponential so that in the last 300 years there has been rapid growth in population and spread of technology at an ever increasing rate. Given this increasing rate of almost everything, it is important to take note and understand what is good for us and what is merely convenient. Take the example of cow, sheep or goat milk, which is the best to take?

 Ask a doctor almost any question and the answer often is ‘it depends’. For one, it depends on which part of the world you live in. Globally, five animal species dominate milk production namely dairy cattle, buffalo, goats, sheep, and camels. Most dairy cow milk is produced in Europe and North America, buffalo milk is found mainly in India, while the major producer of sheep milk is China. Camel milk is common in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Pakistan. The major producers of goat milk are India, Bangladesh and to a much lesser extent France and Greece. But there are other animals that are kept for milk production. In Mongolia, they take horse milk, moose milk is available and popular in Sweden and Russia, while in Tibet they make do with yak milk.

Research shows that donkey milk is exceptionally similar to human milk in terms of protein composition. The point is that the environment and culture determines which milk we drink rather than any nutritional advantage any particular milk may have. Increasing technology and scientific knowledge means that we are able to get higher and higher yields of milk per animal and so around the world there has been an increase in milk production. Increased intake of milk as part of improved nutritional intake has been associated with increased height of subsequent generations. So it may seem like global warming in the long run is associated with increased height. Perhaps its time to stop huddling around feeling cold and get out and farm a cow. Or a goat, or sheep or camel for milk.

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