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Milk consumption and the prepubertal somatotropic axis

Janet W Rich-Edwards123, Davaasambuu Ganmaa4, Michael N Pollak5, Erika K Nakamoto2, Ken Kleinman2, Uush Tserendolgor6, Walter C Willett347 and A Lindsay Frazier78*

Author Affiliations

1 Connors Center for Women's Health and Gender Biology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, USA

2 Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Boston, USA

3 Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, USA

4 Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, USA

5 Division of Cancer Prevention, Department of Oncology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada

6 Public Health Institute, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

7 Channing Laboratory, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA

8 Department of Pediatric Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA

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Nutrition Journal 2007, 6:28  doi:10.1186/1475-2891-6-28

Published: 27 September 2007



Nutrients, hormones and growth factors in dairy foods may stimulate growth hormone (GH), insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I), and raise the ratio of IGF-I to its binding protein, IGFBP-3. We conducted pilot studies in Mongolia and Massachusetts to test the extent to which milk intake raised somatotropic hormone concentrations in prepubertal children.


In Ulaanbaatar, we compared plasma levels before and after introducing 710 ml daily whole milk for a month among 46 10–11 year old schoolchildren. In a randomized cross-over study in Boston, we compared plasma hormone levels of 28 6–8 year old girls after one week of drinking 710 ml lowfat (2%) milk with their hormone levels after one week of consuming a macronutrient substitute for milk.


After a month of drinking whole milk, Mongolian children had higher mean plasma levels of IGF-I (p < 0.0001), IGF-I/IGFBP-3 (p < 0.0001), and 75th percentile of GH levels (p = 0.005). After a week of drinking lowfat milk, Boston girls had small and non-significant increases in IGF-1, IGF-1/IGFBP-3 and GH.


Milk drinking may cause increases in somatotropic hormone levels of prepubertal girls and boys. The finding that milk intake may raise GH levels is novel, and suggests that nutrients or bioactive factors in milk may stimulate endogenous GH production.