Milk and Calcium

By the time I was sixteen I was already six-foot four, and still growing. Every single day everywhere I went people gawked and asked if I was a basketball player (I was until an accident trying out for the ninth-grade team). I couldn't hide or blend in anywhere, and people strangely assume that because you're tall you also possess other traits they desire, such as a lack of fear. My clothes never fit right, and often came from the XXL store and resembled church bells billowing around my torso. Now that I'm healthy again, and more secure with who I am being my size is fun, but more especially because Banana Republic now makes clothes that fit me.

One question to arise in a conversation about my height is often why. There are two reasons: One, that being this tall is not actually healthy. Anyone over six-foot-four (I'm now six-foot-seven) is usually that height because their thyroid function didn't mature in the timely manner it should have. Thyroid in an adult causes maturation and a change from quantitative growth into differentiated growth. A study once done on tadpoles administered thyroid very early in their lifespan, and the tadpoles developed into fully mature frogs but at the size they were currently, producing very mini versions of adult frogs. The opposite happens when thyroid is delayed. Organisms grow larger because they grow for a longer period of time. Additionally, most gay boys start adolescence on the same timeline as girls, between 11 and 13, and grow early as well. Straight boys more often start adolescence later, between 13 and 15, and continue growing until their twenties. I started adolescence between 11 and 12 and grew early. In addition, I had developed a thyroid disorder caused by my diet and excessive exercise in a chlorinated pool (I was a competitive swimmer, and chlorine destroys thyroid production). The combination created a situation in which I continued to grow past my determined height (which was probably 6'4"), when my adult thyroid function should have kicked in earlier and slowed my growth.


Even with delayed thyroid function I would never have been able to grow to such height without the second reason: calcium. Cultures with traditionally low calcium intake (or factors which block calcium absorption) are all shorter in stature. Asian and American cultures are good dichotomic examples of this growth phenomenon. Most Americans think of people with Asian heritage as being generally shorter in stature. But height has less to do with genes and more to do with the nutritional composition of diets during the growth phase (and sometimes even during gestation). This is why so many people of pure Asian genetic descent who grew up in America are just as tall as other Americans. Milk is the primary driver of the height of Western cultures. All nations with above-average height trends are large consumers of dairy products. I had milk every single morning when growing up, and also as a snack of sorts between meals after school or late at night. Milk also contains generous amounts of tryptophan, which also enables significant growth for developing young animals. Milk's high-quality protein is unbeatable. 

The access to such amounts of calcium, however, becomes a double edged sword for adults from calcium-dependent heritages. Having now grown a body which is dependent on such high levels of calcium the adult requires similar amounts throughout life in order to maintain health. Cultures which don't traditionally consume large quantities of calcium don't develop bodies which are as dependent on it, and are more resilient to the adverse health effects from a low calcium diet than their counterparts which do require high calcium, though this does not mean it's a good idea to avoid calcium while growing. Adequate calcium intake leads to all sorts of health and physiological advantages with people descended from dairy-consuming cultures requiring higher calcium. Cutting out milk or calcium sources can cause serious issues. Milk remains the easiest and most plentiful source of calcium for our dairy based cultures, and yet as a food it can also cause many problems for adults who are no longer growing.

Milk contains huge amounts of calcium, but many dietary foods will block or bind calcium and prevent it from even being absorbed into the body. Foods like this are all whole grain cereals and grains. Phytic acid, in grains and nuts robs your body of calcium and causes calcium deficiency problems such as stunted growth and tooth decay, and in adults problems like insomnia, weight gain, and digestive issues. The reason milk is (or can be) such a superfood is because it is intended by nature to be consumed as food. Fruit is the only other thing in the whole of creation which is meant to be eaten. Everything else does not want to be eaten, and so has defense mechanisms to prevent it's predation. Cows have developed extensive systems for disarming the anti-nutrient qualities of green plants, systems we as primates do not have, and turn those nutrients into milk. We benefit from their evolution by obtaining the nutrients of green plants without suffering from the phytotoxic compounds. Often when experiencing digestive stress with dairy foods a person is quick to identify lactose or the dairy as the culprit, without investigating whether other allergenic compounds are present. Chocolate milk, for example, often contains carrageenan, a highly allergenic additive. Most dairy products which are not simply milk (even cream and half and half) will contain carrageenan or other toxic binders and emulsifiers used as a cheat by the food manufacturer. Unfortunately the consumer has no knowledge of the nature of these or the content of the product, and thusly blames dairy for their discomfort, when it in fact has nothing to do with it.


The body and its metabolic rate slows as we age. The first problem this creates in relation to milk consumption has to do with the amino acid tryptophan. In a fast, young metabolism tryptophan is easily converted to Niacin (vitamin B3). Niacin is essential for health, and generally we get enough from foods or synthesized from Tryptophan. But when the metabolic rate slows, much of dietary tryptophan is not converted to Niacin and is instead converted into stress hormones which cause bloating and lethargy. This fine line between the nature of Tryptophan metabolism is why milk can either be a lifesaving food or a death causing one, and why so many people are polarized on their opinion of it. Two people can literally experience polar-different effects from the same food.

Milk cynics may laud this as the fault in milk consumption, but tryptophan is present in many other food sources and causes the same problem regardless of the source. In order to maximize the health benefit of milk (or tryptophan), and it's calcium generous nutritional profile, certain care must be taken when consuming it, to enable the conversion of tryptophan to Niacin and avoiding the pitfalls of milk consumption.

The first of this is metabolic rate. If the metabolism is too slow it will be very difficult to ensure the conversion of tryptophan to Niacin. Taking measure of the body temperature and pulse rate can indicate if your metabolic rate is fast enough to accomplish the conversion. If temperature and pulse are low (less than 98 F, 75 bpm respectively), it is more likely that tryptophan will be converted into stress hormones. If pulse and temp are high, it is more likely to convert to Niacin. The metabolic rate can be easily raised with sugar. Aspirin, coffee, or Taurine can also stimulate the metabolic rate (but should not be used without some source of sugar). Once the pulse is elevated milk can then be consumed. If it's converting to Niacin your pulse and temp will continue to rise shortly after ingestion. Another indicator of whether or not the proper conversion is happening can be identified by the color of your fingertips. If you suffer from metabolic decline and your finger tips/nail beds are pale and white even after milk consumption, it is most likely converting to the stress hormones. If your finger tips/nail beds are pink or red, then it is converting to niacin. Sometimes it can help to add a little bit of gelatin to milk consumption (and Taurine also helps increase the conversion). Gelatin is composed of beneficial amino acids (though not a complete protein in itself). Adding a little to warm milk will skew the ratio of certain amino acids to the range which is even more beneficial and health promoting. The body also needs vitamin B6 in order to actually convert tryptophan into niacin. You might think you could just take B6 to do this, but actually you need vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) in order to also use B6! This convoluted relationship between B vitamins is often why B vitamins are so confusing and sometimes unhelpful. Taking B2 will raise the amounts of B6 your body absorbs, which will in turn help you convert Tryptophan. Only B2 supplementation would be necessary, or can be obtained from helpful natural sources such as brewers/nutritional yeast (natural vitamins being more powerful than synthetic).

Lysine is an amino acid which can also be used to increase the conversion of of tryptophan to niacin. If proper tryptophan metabolism is very difficult to accomplish (such as a stubbornly low metabolic rate), a small supplement of lysine can be taken with every serving of milk. It only needs to be an amount slightly greater than the tryptophan content of the serving. The higher ratio of lysine to tryptophan prevents the formation of most of the serotonin. Large doses are not necessary and probably unhelpful. 


Milk is one of the easiest foods to digest, but many people do have trouble digesting milk. In my experience this is often caused not by an inability to digest milk but deficiencies in the B vitamins or infection with excessive lactic acid bacteria of the gut. Of course it is always a great idea to buy milk with the lactose "removed" in brands such as Lactaid in which the enzyme lactase is added to ore-dismantle the lactose and preventing bacterial fermentation in the gut. You can also make sure to ingest milk slowly, by swishing each gulp around the mouth before swallowing. This does a number of things: it warms the milk, helping enzymes work better (digestive enzymes don't work in cold temperatures), increases the amount of salivary enzymes present in the milk once it's actually swallowed, and most importantly helps include the enzyme lysozyme in the swallowed milk, which is an enzyme that dismantles the outer shell of bacteria, killing them instantly. Swallowing too quickly is a lost opportunity to utilize some of our most effective digestive and immune capabilities.

Supplementing sources of high b-vitamins (like brewer's/nutritional yeast) with milk can help the body create the enzymes which are supposed to break down the fats, carbs, and proteins in milk, if this doesn't have much of an effect and a person suffers from bloating, weight gain, or other digestive stress from milk then a good but not so great tasting alternative is vinegar, which can be added to sour the milk and prevent lactic acid bacteria from being able to grow on the lactose once ingested. I find 1tbsp of vinegar to 1 cup of milk to be more than enough to be effective. Unfortunately it's not as sweet, but it's not entirely unpleasant, especially if you like buttermilk. The acetic acid in vinegar also has a profound health benefit on cholesterol and steroid production, which is another benefit of souring milk.

Milk is also often refrigerated, but cold milk can cause problems for those with slow metabolisms. Enzymes which break down the sugars and proteins in milk only work at certain temperatures. Guess what the optimal temperature is for most of these enzymes? 98.6 F (this is our core body temperature, if you didn't know). If significant amounts of cold foods/liquids are introduced into the digestive system it disables the effectiveness of those enzymes, (an enzyme's effectiveness drops to half for every 18 degree difference fahrenheit (10 degrees celsius) so a drop from 98 to 38 (a typical temperature of refrigerated milk), means that an enzyme's effectiveness is reduced to a mere 20% of what it normally is) and it can take 20 or 30 minutes or more for temperatures internally to return to normal in healthy people. Someone with a compromised metabolism would take even longer to raise internal temperatures. If the protein milk is not digested immediately it would then be broken down by gut bacteria, who metabolize tryptophan into more harmful compounds than what our own body produces. For those with slow metabolic rates, it would be important to warm milk before consuming it. 


Milk can help people lose weight, but it can also cause weight gain. This dual nature is because of the dual nature of tryptophan metabolism first addressed in this article, as well as from bacteria fermenting undigested lactose. If the metabolic rate is good and the liver working well, the extra calcium and conversion of tryptophan to niacin will cause a person to slim down and shed unwanted body fat, and even build lean muscle. But even with fat-free milk, milk can cause weight gain in those whose tryptophan conversion is not functioning correctly and can cause weight gain. If milk is causing this you might try warming milk before consuming, and/or getting the metabolic rate up before consuming, and making sure you are getting enough of the important B vitamins thiamine and riboflavin. If this doesn't work milk may have to be avoided until the metabolic rate and liver are functioning correctly, but in the meantime it would be important and beneficial to get plenty of protein, calcium, and some niacinamide from other sources. Early in my recovery, when milk was problematic, I instead used Casein protein. Casein is the part of milk protein with less tryptophan than whey, and doesn't cause the kind of problems caused by real milk. Restoring your normal metabolic rate is a function of the type of fats on your body and in your diet, and effort should be made to restore the ability to digest milk. Casein protein and a calcium carbonate and niacinamide supplement can be a temporary replacement or adjunct (always avoid supplements with silica and other allergenic/toxic additives) if milk really is a problem, normal metabolism of milk can be restored and would be a reflection of overall health, rather than any problem with milk itself. More on how to cure digestive issues, thyroid disease, lose weight permanently, as well as how and what to eat in a proper human diet to support health and recovery from metabolic illness is available in my book Fuck Portion Control.