Milk, Calcium & the Bones

In my last blog I talked about the drawbacks of milk consumption. Well, what about the benefits? What about the perks of calcium?  True, milk is a rich source of calcium. However, there is no calcium scarcity in the U.S.  In fact, America nearly tops the list when it comes to per capita calcium intake. Television commercials and ads that tell you otherwise, often with the remedy being three glasses of milk per day, are sponsored by the National Dairy Council. Not exactly a neutral source on the issue.

Bone strength depends on calcium—so the more the better, right? According to Dr. Walter Willett, who chairs the Dept of Nutrition at Harvard, “there is no solid evidence that merely increasing the amount of milk in your diet will protect you from breaking a hip or wrist or crushing a backbone in later years.” This is particularly relevant to those with osteoporosis. While daily calcium recommendations exist (1000-1300 mg/day), it remains unclear what the proper intake is. Interestingly, countries with the highest calcium intake tend to have higher, not lower, hip fracture rates. In a major U.S. study1, women who drank 2+ glasses of milk/day were at least as likely to break a hip or forearm as woman who drank 1 glass/week or less. This was true for men in another major study2. Dr. Willett cautions that all the hype surrounding calcium intake is distracting us from strategies that really work to prevent fractures, such as exercise, certain medications, and (for women) hormone replacement therapy.

Let’s briefly touch on vitamin-D, which is needed for calcium uptake by the body. Most foods don’t naturally contain this vitamin. However, milk and other dairy products are fortified with vitamin-D. Does this underscore the need to consume calcium rich, vitamin-D fortified dairy products? Not exactly. If you live in southern California or other the low latitudes areas (within 40 of equator) and spend reasonable time outdoors (no need to tan!) then you’re getting enough vitamin-D from the sun. For everyone else, a simple multivitamin containing vitamin-D is enough to do the trick. Importantly, these supplements don’t come with the unnecessary saturated fat, galactose, and calories that milk and other dairy products contain.

In summary, milk delivers a lot more than just calcium to the body. And these “other” ingredients are of concern.  Calcium and vitamin-D can be obtained in much healthier ways. In my next blog I’ll highlight a number of foods that are both healthy and rich in calcium to enable you to make some healthy changes!

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                                               Shahir Masri, Sc.D.
                                               Environmental Health Scientist

Studies Cities
  1. Nurses’ Health Study
  2. Health Professionals Follow-up Study


Milk – Does It Do a Body Good?

I won’t speak for the globe, but it seems nearly everyone in America grew up on milk. Milk with cereal, milk with cookies, milk in eggs, and just plain ol’ milk in a glass. Most of us never questioned this norm, and have carried it with us into adulthood. You can probably still replay those ‘Got Milk?” commercials in your memory! However, from a health standpoint there are in fact more reasons NOT to drink milk than to drink it. Don’t take it from me, ask Dr. Walter Willett who chairs the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard Chan School. Let’s look at some key drawbacks he describes. 

The Dark Side of Milk

1) Saturated Fat – A typical glass of whole milk contains 5 grams of saturated fat—similar to eating 4 strips of bacon! Saturated fat is strongly linked to heart disease, which is the number one killer in the U.S. To avoid such fat, you could opt for non-fat milk. But this still leaves you with drawback #2.

2) Extra calories – Just 2 glasses of whole milk a day adds 300 calories to your diet! And unfortunately, those calories don’t substitute for meals. That is, people don’t tend to eat less when they consume high calorie beverages (i.e. juice, soda, milk). It just ends up being added calories. With low- or non-fat milk, you’re still getting a bunch of extra calories. The same, or worse, goes for café lattes I might add! Water is simply the best choice for low calories and weight control.

3) Lactose intolerance – All babies are born with the ability to digest milk. This makes perfect sense evolutionarily speaking. For most, however, this ability is short lived, and by adulthood only about a quarter of the world’s population maintains the ability to fully digest milk. This is because the body stops producing an enzyme called lactase, which breaks down milk sugar (lactose). In the U.S., about half of Hispanic Americans, 75% of African Americans, and over 90% of Asian Americans cannot tolerate much lactose—the consequence being nausea, bloating, cramps, and diarrhea.

4) Prostate Cancer – Diets high in dairy products have been implicated as risk factors for prostate cancer. As of about 15 years ago, nine separate studies had shown the strongest and most consistent dietary cause of prostate cancer to be high milk or dairy product intake. In one study, men who drank two or more glasses of milk per day were almost twice as likely to develop prostate cancer.

5) Ovarian Cancer – When lactose from milk is digested, a simple sugar called galactose is released. Although still inconclusive, numerous studies have shown a link between galactose and ovarian cancer.

Well, what about calcium intake, bone density, and the benefits of milk? In my next blog we’ll address this. You’ll learn why such perks don’t outweigh the negatives.

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                                                                  Dr. Shahir Masri
                                                                  Environmental Health Scientist


The Power of One - Video Clip

Hey everyone! 

I'd like to share this short video below, reminding you of the power each of us have to shape the world around us. Whether it be something as simple as cleaning up a littered road like I did in this video, or volunteering with a local organization, we can each make a difference. So get active and take pride in your ability to 

This video is meant to inspire YOU to make a positive impact to your community and planet. Help prevent toxic pollution and trash from contaminating our environment. It doesn't take much to make a difference. Please share!

Please join this blog to help support my upcoming projects. Click “join this site” at the top right of this page, log into your account, and click “follow publicly.”  Thanks!!

                                                                                            Shahir Masri, Sc.D.                                                                                            Environmental Health Scientist


California, Climate, & Wildfire - My Latest Piece in The Hill

Hey friends,

Just had a piece published in The Hill this week; on the link between climate change and wildfire trends. A call to Congress. Click here to read the full article.

"In recent months, California has broken all the wrong records as major wildfire after major wildfire has ripped up and down the coastal state. As fall winds down in California, hot and dry conditions typically give way to cooler temperatures, more moisture, and scattered showers, thus putting an end to the long fire season. However, in recent years, and even decades, that trend has faded." To continue reading, visit The Hill.

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                                                                        Shahir Masri
                                                                        Doctor of Science
                                                                        Environmental Health Science


As Temps Soar in SoCal - Here's a NYT Climate Change Article from 1981

Yesterday, October temps in LA were higher than they've been in over 50 years! Today, temps are even higher, reaching 104 F! As talk of climate change ensures, check out this New York Times article dating back to 1981. 

To pull a quote:

"Roger Revelle, with the University of California in San Diego, said that the use of coal and oil at projected rates would double in 75 years the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, which causes the earth's atmosphere to retain the sun's heat through what is called the 'greenhouse effect.' ''

This is back in 1981 folks! At that time, Exxon was ironically conducting a lot of the groundbreaking research on climate change (a topic for a future blog!). Sadly, Exxon would later lead the campaign to refute climate science and cast climate denial. 

In short, knowledge of climate change is not new. We are now past the point of discussion. Action is needed!

To follow this blog, simply click "Follow" at the top right of this page, log into your account, and click "follow publicly."

Shahir Masri
Doctor of Science
Environmental Health Science


Climate Change Publication - The Hill

Just had a climate change article published in The Hill over the weekend. The article discusses the connection between climate change and the recent hurricane activity we've experienced here in the U.S. As for the title, there is already a new Hurricane (Maria) tearing through the eastern Caribbean as I share this. According to the U.S. National Hurricane Center, it just made landfall on the island of Dominica as a Category 5. Let's hope for the best for our island neighbors.

Hurricanes and the climate – is the worst yet to come?

"A few weeks ago we witnessed the dramatic saga unfold in Houston as Hurricane Harvey slammed the Texas coast. Lives were lost and entire neighborhoods vanished. According to scientists, Harvey dumped more rain than any previously recorded storm in the contiguous U.S. This week the nation braced again as Hurricane Irma swept through Florida. Are these storms just a fluke, or a sign of things to come? As a scientist who studies climate change, this question concerns me."

For the full article, visit The Hill

Don't forget to follow my blog here for future updates and articles on your favorite environment/health topics!

Shahir Masri
Doctor of Science
Environmental Health Science


Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, & the Climate Connection

Recently, the world witnessed tragedy in Houston as Hurricane Harvey battered the Texas coast. Lives were lost, pets vanished, and entire neighborhoods were wiped out. It was just last summer that I visited Houston, staying at my friend’s gorgeous house. Through video last week I saw that house underwater. The very room I stayed in was a lake. My jaw dropped at the site. According to scientists, Harvey broke records, dropping more rain than any storm in contiguous U.S. history. To locals it was a nightmare. But did the storm arise by chance, or was there more to it?

As I watched T.V. coverage of Harvey, I couldn’t help but notice an elephant in the room. Reporters were making no mention of climate change. For years climate scientists have been warning of increased hurricane intensity with climate change. Just a month ago Al Gore was even featured on CNN saying the same thing. Yet here we were after Harvey, and it was quiet. No mention of climate change. As a scientist who follows this issue, I’ll therefore do my duty to report and help fill the gap in media coverage. 

The International Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, is the international authority on assessing the science of climate change. Assembled by the United Nations and World Meteorological Organization, the IPCC has been warning of increased storm severity for years. In its most recent report, it cautions that rain events will become heavier and more frequent in various places. Though hesitant on strong conclusions, the report goes on to express its confidence that severe North Atlantic cyclone activity has increased over the last half century. Other studies less hesitantly implicate human-induced climate change for these trends.

So, why are hurricanes predicted to intensify under a warmer climate? It's actually rather simple. Hurricanes are fueled by heat. That is, they get their energy from the warm ocean surface. As the climate warms and ocean temps follow, a hurricane that would normally be mild, can instead become severe. More extreme ocean temps mean more extreme storms. 

That extreme rain and hurricane events will intensify with climate change has been such a consistent warning by climate scientists that it is all but mind blowing that mainstream T.V. has left it out of discussion.

So where does this leave us? At the moment, one of the largest hurricanes ever recorded is making its way to Florida. With nearly 200 mph sustained winds, Hurricane Irma already ripped through numerous small islands, leaving death and massive damage in its wake. There’s no telling what’s in store for Florida, but most signs point to destruction. According to a European prediction model updated this morning, Irma’s path is following the “worst case scenario” in terms of where it’ll make landfall in Florida. An American model predicted a slight deflection out to sea, which would mean a bit less for Florida, but a dead shot for the Carolina’s as it banks left up north. In short, the U.S. will be slammed, it’s just a matter of where.

Please, share this post. We must trust our climate scientists and listen to mother nature. We must become informed, empowered, and mobilized, and vote for policies that will transition us away from dirty fossil fuels. If policies are not on the table, we must vote for politicians who put them there. To learn one way you can get involved in climate action in your own community, look up your local Citizens’ Climate Lobby chapter!

To follow this blog, simply click "Follow" at the top right of this page, log into your account, and click "follow publicly."

Shahir Masri
Doctor of Science
Environmental Health Science