You may recall the 2005 milk ads featuring men who have become victims of their PMS-stricken spouses.
The ads showed men clamoring to get every last carton of milk in the grocery store and rushing back home so their spouses would stop being so irritable and irrational. Ads from the “Everything I Do Is Wrong” campaign included men carrying armfuls of milk cartons and text saying “I apologize for letting you misinterpret what I was saying” and “I apologize for not reading between the right lines.”
Though the ads were intended to be humorous, they sparked a controversy when people began to criticize them for being sexist, (although this isn’t the first time the dairy industry has gotten in hot water because of their advertising strategies).
Criticism came from many, including Elizabeth Flock at The Washington Post who wrote that the campaign’s taglines “play on the ancient stereotype that a woman, for several days each month, becomes a wholly irrational and crazed being hopelessly overtaken by PMS,” and that “The campaign ignores the physical symptoms women have to endure and focuses on the ‘abuse’ men have to put up with.”
Sexism aside, the claim that drinking milk can reduce the symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome is only partially true.
At the bottom of the Dairy Industry’s campaign website (now defunct) read “Milk helps reduce a majority of women’s symptoms after 3 months of taking 1,200 mg Calcium/day.”
The Dairy Industry was referring to two studies (from 1998 and 2005) which found that an increase in calcium intake could help relieve the symptoms of PMS over time.
- The 1998 study found that after taking 1,200 mg calcium supplements daily over the course of 3 months, 48% of women in the study experienced a reduction of PMS symptoms. That sounds great until finding out that of the women taking placebo, 30% of them experienced a reduction of PMS symptoms as well.
- The 2005 study used a slightly different model than the 1998 study. It expanded the calcium sources to include dietary sources (such as dairy products) and included vitamin D as well. The study concluded that calcium and vitamin D could reduce the symptoms of PMS.
But consumers should take these findings with a grain of salt.
Although the study wasn’t funded by the dairy industry, the study was funded by a grant from GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, a British pharmaceutical giant and manufacturer of Tums and Os-Cal calcium supplements, who, like the dairy industry, have a vested financial interest in results that could earn them a profit.
But even if the two study’s findings are in fact true, there are still some major problems with the dairy industry’s claim that milk can reduce PMS symptoms.
First, the 2005 study mentions that although calcium from dietary sources (such as milk) could alleviate PMS symptoms over time, there is an increased risk of PMS from drinking whole milk as opposed to skim or reduced-fat milk. This is because a high body mass index (BMI) is also associated with an increased risk of PMS, so ingesting foods that are low in fat are better for preventing PMS symptoms from occurring. Unfortunately, there are studies showing that reduced fat and skim milk may actually increase the risk of diabetes. It’s a quandary.
Second, the “Everything I Do Is Wrong” campaign made no mention of alternatives to dairy-sourced calcium and vitamin D or even dietary supplements, which were the primary beneficial components of each study. But this is to be expected since the dairy industry has no interest in helping competing industries succeed.
There are, however, many non-dairy alternatives that can meet the recommendations from the studies referenced in the ads.
Here are a few non-dairy sources that offer at least the same amount of calcium as an 8 oz cup of dairy milk (approx. 300 mg):
- 500 mg calcium supplement
- 1 serving vegan yogurt
- 1 cup cooked spinach or collard greens
- 1 cup dried figs
- 1/2 cup tofu
- 1 cup Ripple brand split-pea milk
As for vitamin D, well, it’s added to milk after they take it out of the cow.
Your best source of vitamin D is the sun, and very few foods naturally contain very much of it. Vitamin D naturally occurs in milk only in trace amounts, not nearly enough to meet daily needs, so dairies fortify the milk they produce with vitamin D just like orange juice and non-dairy milk companies often do.