It requires a lot of effort for a Rwandan old-fashioned young man I remain, to highlight and write some undesirable outcomes from cows despite countless positive outcomes that I haven’t been delighted enough to write about.
If it wasn’t an important subject which endanger the health of the next generations, I wouldn’t be comfortable writing negatively about cows.
Likewise, let me take this opportunity to express my sincere excuses to traditionalists who may find my piece anti-culture.
It is hard to tell when Rwandans started fondness with cows and their products. History however, had shown that cows have been holding a considerable social and economic significance in the Rwandan community.
There is even hundreds of special words in Kinyarwanda that are used specifically for cows and their products such as milk, which is one of the cherished cows’ product.
Contrary to meat, milk is a popular product and has been part of meals for Rwandans of average means for many centuries.
There is many misperceptions about milk and its mystic nutritional power.
One of them is that milk is a balanced diet and therefore can even replace breast milk and be given to humans’ newborns. This is medically and scientifically incorrect. Cows’ milk is made for calves and not human babies.
Mammals’ species differ, so is their milk
Mammals are generally a group of animals which feed their newborns by milk produced by their mammary glands. According to research, there is more than five thousands species of mammals.
Humans and cows are therefore among them, because they feed their newborns with milk.
As completely different species, humans and bovines produce milk of different nature to meet nutritional requirements needed by their neonates.
An example is a seal’s milk which contain extremely high amount of fat (Approximately 50%) so that their offspring can grow quickly and deposit a thick layer of blubber that will protect them during cold weather.
Animals produce milk to meet certain nutritional requirements which will enable their neonates to grow in a certain way according to that specie.
Similarly, as humans and cows are different species, they produce babies of different nature which require different nutrition to grow.
Unquestionably, cows and humans’ milk should differ.
Cows’ milk grow human babies like calves
Cows produce milk to grow calves very rapidly in size. Cows are among the rapidly growing animals and their milk makes calves grow fast to reach above 200 kilograms just in one year.
Humans, however are the slowest growing mammals. It takes 18 years for a human baby to reach the adult size which is on average 70 kilograms.
Of course the only reason of that difference in growth pattern is not milk. Genetics build-ups play an important role too.
Basically, the main component of milk whether of humans or cows is water. 87.5% of both human and cow’s milk is water.
However the concentration of fat, sugars, minerals, proteins and vitamins differentiate the two. Cows’ milk has high concentration of proteins than humans’, which has proven to cause deleterious effects on human babies.
It also contain cows’ hormone which aren’t definitely meant to be consumed by humans.
However, when exploring harmful effects of milk on children less than one year, the main emphasis is a mineral called “IRON”.
Iron is a very important mineral in the body as it plays a crucial role in the process of blood formation. Cow’s milk has decreased iron density and bioavailability.
It has also excess of protein and minerals, notably calcium, and thus interferes in the absorption of iron from other food. Several researches have also shown that cow’s milk is associated with small intestinal bleeding in young children less than one year.
The reduction in iron intake and absorption lead to a condition called “Iron Deficiency anemia”.
In this condition there is a reduction of blood and hence poor delivery of oxygen (As oxygen is transported by blood). This doesn’t allow the newborn’s functions to develop adequately.
Research showed that iron deficiency early in life confers a great risk of underdeveloped brain structures and functions.
It is in this regard that most people say that when you feed your loved baby with cows’ milk, they grow like a calf, growing rapidly in size but low IQ due to poor brain development caused by iron deficiency anemia.
The dilemma in our settings
Countless reasons can prevent mothers to breastfeed their loved one, leaving no other options except to supplement the newborns with artificial milks.
The recommended equivalent if the mother is unable to breastfeed, is infant formula milk. That is processed milk with adjusted concentration to mimic the humans’ breast milk.
Nevertheless, the infant formula milk is relatively expensive and definitely few can afford it.
That’s where it becomes challenging for healthcare professionals who find themselves advising mothers who can’t adequately breastfeed and not affluent enough to afford infant formula.
If you can adequately breastfeed, breastfeed. If you can’t, consult a pediatrician and get advice on a proper way to supplement the nutritional requirements of your baby.