In Defense of (Raw) Milk
There is plenty of clinical and nutritional evidence that milk, this hailed “natural” drink, is the source of numerous immunological, gastrointestinal and perhaps neurological disorders. While it is important to acknowledge these facts, it is equally necessary to remember that the milk we are talking about is a highly processed industrial product that only remotely resembles the natural variety.
Depending on the pasteurization method, raw milk can be heated at 161 F up to 212 F for a few seconds (HTST, HHST protocols). The milk (or other liquid) is forced through narrow pipes or between metal plates, which are heated externally by hot water. Most pasteurization methods kill 99.99% of the microorganisms present in the milk, but not their spores. These products still require refrigeration, although they have significantly extended shelf life. On the contrary, ultra pasteurized products ( heated at 2750 F for 2 seconds) are basically sterilized and packaged (hermetically sealed) under aseptic conditions, which is why they can last for up to 6-9 months.
Unlike the health problems that commercial milk is causing, raw milk coming from pastured animals used to be widely accepted as an excellent natural therapy by medical doctors for a variety of diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, heart disease and even cancer. The “milk diet” prescribed by doctors in the beginning of 20th century involved drinking exclusively up to 4 quarts of certified medicinal raw milk.
Naturopathic doctor Ron Schmidt in his incredible book “The Untold Story of Milk” presents extensive medical reports, according to which patients responded splendidly in raw milk from exclusively pastured cows, but it had to be raw and untreated; milk became unsuitable for human use if it was pasteurized. “Certified raw milk” was endorsed by numerous physicians and supported by legislators and the public and the American Association of Medical Milk Commissions to protect and regulate the careful production and distribution of certified raw milk.
The certified milk movement was considered a critical component of raising the standards of the entire dairy industry. Unfortunately this never happened and low production standards are the industrial norm now, which perpetuates the need for pasteurization. Although until the late 1920s both certified milk and pasteurized milk co-existed, from the 1930s onwards, commercial dairy interests, corrupted public health officials and prominent individuals of the medical community managed to enforce pasteurization to all milks, regardless of the production standards. At the same time, raw milk was demonized as an agent of infectious diseases and a danger for public health. In reality it was the low production standards, inflammatory feed (grain products) and the unsanitary and inhumane conditions that dairy cattle were living at that caused the contamination of milk with pathogens and imposed the necessity of pasteurization in the first place.
Unlike the medicinal properties of naturally produced raw milk, modern pasteurized milk is highly allergenic and inflammatory in its nature. Frank Oski, MD, ex-director of Paediatrics in John Hopkins University and Physician-in-chief in Johns Hopkins Children’s Center insists that commercial milk is responsible for most of the gastrointestinal problems in infants and children and causes, among others, chronic low-level intestinal bleeding, leaky gut, tooth decay and tension fatigue syndrome, while increasing the risk for developing diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
From a nutritional point of view, pasteurized milk is also very different from raw milk as well. Almost all the beneficial bacteria present in the milk are killed, which creates the perfect medium for opportunistic pathogens to thrive. All raw milks contain beneficial bacteria. We know that because human breast milk also contains a variety of bacterial strains, which surprisingly respond to mother’s diet and even mode of delivery! Perhaps the unnatural grain-based diet of dairy cattle affects the quality of milk in a profound, yet currently unsuspected manner.
Raw milk is very rich in enzymes, which are highly functional heat-sensitive proteins. raw milk also contains natural antimicrobial compounds, such as lactoferrin, which is now being investigated as novel antimicrobial agent in neonatal departments. All these important substances are partially or entirely destroyed during pasteurization. The same is true for water – (B complex, C) and fat – soluble (D, A) vitamins. This renders the milk particularly hard to digest, partially due to the presence of large, indigestible, heat-resistant proteins, such as casein, which dominate pasteurized milk in the absence of the myriad other balancing compounds. Dr Yvonne Anderson and her colleagues from Sweden further report that even the pasteurization of mother’s own milk reduces fat absorption and growth in preterm infants.
Raw milk contains lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose. People who suffer from lactose intolerance do not synthesize this enzyme and therefore cannot digest adequately milk and milk products. This happens rarely with raw milk, because of the natural presence of lactase in it. According to Ron Schmidt many people who cannot tolerate raw milk tolerate very well fermented raw milk products, which have significantly lower lactose content. Although the lactose intolerance argument has been used as evidence that milk is an inherently bad drink that not even our genes are adapted to, this is simply not valid.
If this was ever true, breast milk could never be the new-born’s first available food source and the critical factor that promotes immunological and metabolic maturation, among numerous other benefits for the baby. It is important to understand that raw milk is a whole food, which industrial processing transforms in a completely unbalanced, hence unhealthy, commercial product. Proclaiming the malevolence of an isolated milk compound (i.e. casein) when all the other beneficial / regulatory compounds it naturally comes with are destroyed is simply out of context.
Finally, let us consider the environment that commercial milk is produced. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) is where most of the milk is coming from. All vets now know that the diet and way the cow lives heavily influence the quality of the produced milk, which is also true for all animals and all the products they kindly provide to us.
Packed in tiny spaces, chronically sick cows that rarely see the light of the day, injected with genetically modified growth hormones (rBGH), fed inflammatory genetically modified grains and injected antibiotics to keep the extensive inflammation (mastitis) under control, are producing the milk that the vast majority of the people drink. Is it really a surprise that this milk contains pathogens, pus, blood, antibiotics and hormones? It is only a natural consequence of the way these animals are tortured on a daily basis.
These documented differences between raw milk, coming from pastured cows and the commercial, pasteurized milk coming from cows in CAFOs show that these two products are misleadingly similar in their name only. High quality raw milk is a whole, perfect, balanced and nutritious food with extensive medicinal properties, which are entirely absent in the industrial milk.
About the Author
Eleni Roumeliotou has trained as a geneticist, gaining a Master degree in Human Molecular Genetics by Imperial College London, UK. She left the academic research environment to focus on her true passion, which is evidence-based natural health and alternative medicine. She is currently working as a freelance writer.
- Ron Schmid, ND. 2005. The Untold Story of Milk. 2nd edition. New Trends Publishing.
- Daniel Imhof. 2010. The CAFO Reader: The tragedy of industrial animal factories. 1st edition. University of California Press.
- Frank A. Oski, M.D. 1996. Don’t drink your milk! Frightening medical facts about the world’s most overrated nutrient. TEACH Services, Inc.
- International Dairy Foods Association. 2013. Milk Pasteurization: Definition and Methods. http://www.idfa.org/news–views/media-kits/milk/pasteurization-/
- Collado MC, Isolauri E, Laitinen K, Salminen S. 2010. Effect of mother’s weight on infant’s microbiota acquisition, composition, and activity during early infancy: a prospective follow-up study initiated in early pregnancy. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 92(5):1023-30.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20844065
- De Vliegher S, Fox LK, Piepers S, McDougall S, Barkema HW. 2012. Invited review: Mastitis in dairy heifers: nature of the disease, potential impact, prevention, and control. J Dairy Sci. 95(3):1025-40. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22365187
- Macdonald LE, Brett J, Kelton D, Majowicz SE, Snedeker K, Sargeant JM. 2011. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of pasteurization on milk vitamins, and evidence for raw milk consumption and other health-related outcomes. J Food Prot. 74(11):1814-32.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22054181
- Van Gysel M, Cossey V, Fieuws S, Schuermans A. 2012. Impact of pasteurization on the antibacterial properties of human milk. Eur J Pediatr. 171(8):1231-7.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22581208
- Andersson Y, Sävman K, Bläckberg L, Hernell O. 2007. Pasteurization of mother’s own milk reduces fat absorption and growth in preterm infants. Acta Paediatr. 96(10):1445-9.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17714541
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