You may not drink the stuff as an adult, but if you’re a baby boomer, especially, you probably were raised with milk being part of your three square meals a day. If you cleaned your plate, you had a fourth glass for dessert, disguised as a shake.
Now a study published in the Dec. 9 journal Neurology says milk does not always live up to its squeaky-clean reputation. Your milk can be contaminated by food the cow ate before she produced it. Cows in Hawaii before the late 1980s ate pineapples containing the pesticide heptachlor epoxide. Before it was banned in 1988, it was commonly used on crops.
Unfortunately, heptachlor epoxide is one of the pesticides linked to Parkinson’s disease, explains the study, titled “Midlife milk consumption and substantia nigra neuron density at death.” Ninety percent of the milk-drinking islanders in the study had heptachlor epoxide residue in their brains, compared with 63 percent of nonmilk drinkers. In addition, the milk fanciers had 40 percent fewer brain cells in the substantia nigra part of the brain than did nonmilk drinkers. This brain-cell loss coincides with Parkinson’s.
The study looked at 449 men who were ages 45 to 68 when they joined the Honolulu Heart Program from 1965 to ’68. After they died, they were autopsied. A few are still alive.
The study is “small but provocative,” noted Dr. Michael Okun, medical director of the National Parkinson Foundation and chairman of neurology at the University of Florida Health in Gainesville. “You have to look at it with other studies linking pesticides and insecticides to Parkinson’s. Collectively, they make sense.”
Leslie Mann is a freelance reporter.
Editors note: This story has been corrected to say that 90 percent of the milk-drinking islanders in the study had heptachlor epoxide residue in their brains. An earlier version incorrectly stated that 90 percent had Parkinson’s disease.