By Dr. Mercola
Rates of allergy and asthma have been on the rise in the industrialized world for the past 50 years. It's now so widespread that up to 50 percent of schoolchildren are sensitive to one or more common allergens.1
There are many contributing factors to the rise of allergic diseases, but it's becoming increasingly clear that dietary factors may play a role – for better or for worse.
One food that's shown a protective role against such diseases is one that is, unfortunately, typically demonized by health agencies and the media: raw milk.
Raw Milk Drinkers Have Lower Rates of Childhood Allergies and Asthma
School-aged children who drank raw milk were 41 percent less likely to develop asthma and about 50 percent less likely to develop hay fever than children who drank store-bought (pasteurized) milk, according to one study that used data from more than 8,000 children.2
While public health agencies are quick to say that there are no nutritional differences between raw and pasteurized milk, this study suggests otherwise. The researchers believed that the beneficial effect may have been due to whey proteins, including bovine serum albumin (BSA) and alpha-lactalbumin, in the raw milk, which were destroyed by the heating process in the pasteurized milk.
While the study didn't find an association between any health outcomes and the bacterial contents of the milk, it did demonstrate noted differences between raw and pasteurized varieties. The researchers explained:
"The results of this large epidemiologic study add to the increasing body of evidence identifying consumption of farm [raw] milk (early in life) to be associated with a reduced risk of childhood asthma and allergies independently of concomitant farm exposures.
The results indicate that the effect is due to the consumption of unheated farm milk. For the first time, associations between objectively measured milk constituents and asthma and atopy could be demonstrated.
...The study allowed validation of parental reports of raw milk consumption against objective measurements of milk heating status and showed very good agreement.
Obviously, parental reports of the raw status of the milk are reliable and not biased by social desirability, as previously speculated.
Under the hygiene hypothesis and given the role of microbial diversity in house dust to explain farm-related reduction of asthma risk, one might assume that a higher microbial load of unboiled farm milk might be responsible for the protective farm milk effect.
Milk is an excellent growth medium, allowing rapid proliferation of microbes. Indeed, the present results showed much higher counts of viable microbes in raw farm milk samples compared with heated farm milk and pasteurized and highly heated shop milk samples, as has been reported by others."
Whey Protein in Raw Milk May Make Some Cases of Asthma Better
According to Mark McAfee, the founder of Organic Pastures Dairy and, more importantly, one of the leaders in the raw milk movement, increasing numbers of doctors are now starting to prescribe raw organic dairy for children with asthma, recurrent ear infections or chronic inflammation, rather than just telling them to quit dairy altogether.
This is because they recognize that in most cases it's not the dairy itself—the problem is pasteurized dairy.
Raw grass-fed milk can even be tolerated by most who are lactose intolerant and contains whey proteins that may actually improve cases of asthma. McAfee explained:
"...[T]wo huge studies were done in Europe – the PARSIFAL study done in 2006, studying 15,000 kids, and the GABRIELA study [referenced above] done in Basel, Switzerland.
Peer reviewed, internationally published, wonderful documentation showing that whey protein in raw milk stabilizes mast cells and actually makes asthma get a lot better, and in some cases, completely gone.
What we have is this polarity, these polar opposites between pasteurized milk, which has lots of dead bacteria… which actually trigger inflammation in your body because your body doesn't recognize these waste products...
Your body then reacts by mast cells breaking open, histamines being released, and things like asthma and inflammation flaring like crazy; mucus being laid down, which causes ear infections. Raw milk does exactly the opposite...
[T]he milk is alive [with beneficial] bacteria and your body recognizes it… [These beneficial bacteria] colonize and become part of your immune system."
Why Drink Your Milk Raw?
There's more to raw milk than its impact on asthma and allergies. High-quality raw milk has a mountain of health benefits that pasteurized milk lacks. For example, raw milk is:
- Loaded with healthy bacteria that are good for your gastrointestinal tract
- Full of more than 60 digestive enzymes, growth factors, and immunoglobulins (antibodies)
- Rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which fights cancer and boosts metabolism
- Rich in beneficial raw fats, amino acids, and proteins in a highly bioavailable form, all 100 percent digestible
- Loaded with vitamins (A, B, C, D, E, and K) in highly bioavailable forms, and a very balanced blend of minerals (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron) whose absorption is enhanced by live lactobacilli
It is not uncommon for people who switch from drinking pasteurized to raw milk to experience improvement or complete resolution of troubling health issues—everything from allergies to digestive problems to eczema. When milk is pasteurized, fats are oxidized, proteins denatured and most enzymes are completely destroyed, resulting in a 'food' that may be more harmful than beneficial to our health.
Additionally, the bacteria killed by pasteurization are not removed, so their dead cell fragments remain in the milk to ignite immune reactions in those who ingest them, which is one major cause of milk allergies. Often the 'milk allergy' is not to the milk itself, but to the post-pasteurization cell fragments it contains.
The Truth About Raw Milk Safety Statistics
Government health agencies have been waging a war against raw milk farmers in the US, claiming that this whole food is a threat to public health. But drinking raw milk produced by grass-fed cows from clean, well-run farms is actually far LESS dangerous than drinking pasteurized milk. In fact, not only does raw milk contain good bacteria that are essential for a healthy digestive system, raw milk also offers protection against disease-causing bacteria.
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data3 shows there are about 412 confirmed cases of people getting ill from pasteurized milk each year, while only about 116 illnesses a year are linked to raw milk. And research by Dr. Ted Beals,4 MD, featured in the summer 2011 issue of Wise Traditions, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, shows that you are about 35,000 times more likely to get sick from other foods than you are from raw milk!
The Source of Your Raw Milk Matters
As with any food, where your raw milk comes from makes a major difference in its quality and safety. In concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), large groups of animals are kept in a small space, oftentimes without natural light or access to the outdoors. The conditions are filthy, with animals standing in each other's waste. Needless to say, harmful bacteria naturally thrives in these conditions.
To combat disease (and promote unhealthy growth), the animals are fed antibiotics, the result of which is they become living and breathing 'bioreactors' for the generation of antibiotic resistant bacteria. They may also receive hormones, which increase milk production, and they're fed a diet of grains and soy (most of which is now the genetically engineered variety) rather than grass, which alters their gut flora and makes them even more prone to disease.
As a result, drinking CAFO milk raw would be extremely dangerous. It must be pasteurized for safety. On the other hand, milk from grass-fed cows raised on smaller, clean farms can be safely consumed without being pasteurized, provided the farmer is committed to providing a safe, quality product.
If you're unsure of where to find raw milk, you can locate a raw milk source near you at the Campaign for Real Milk Web site.5 The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund6 (FTCLDF, which helps farmers that have been raided and/or charged with a crime, like Hershberger) also provides a state-by-state review of raw milk laws.7
Getting your raw milk from a local organic farm is one of the best ways to ensure you're getting high-quality milk, but even then, if you're thinking about purchasing milk from a small farmer, it would be very wise to visit the farm in person. Look around and ask questions, such as:
- Does the farmer and his family drink the milk themselves?
- How long has he been producing raw milk?
- Are the cows clean?
- What conditions are the cows raised in?
- Are there any obvious sanitation questions?
Additionally, look for the following general conditions. If a cow is covered in filth and manure, stinks, is wet and cold and doesn't look particularly comfortable, that could be a warning sign that her milk is less than ideal for raw consumption, even if it's from a small, local farm.
Low pathogenic bacteria count (i.e. does the farmer test his milk regularly for pathogens?) The milk comes from cows raised naturally, in accordance with the seasons The cows are not given antibiotics and growth hormones to increase milk production The milk is quickly chilled after milking The cows are mainly grass-fed Cows are well cared for
Support Your Right to Purchase Farm-Fresh Food
Right now, your food freedom is on the chopping block. In North Dakota, a bill threatens to make herdshare illegal. (A herdshare is a private agreement between a farmer and an individual in which the farmer is paid to take care of an animal, cow for example, that belongs to one or more people. You essentially pay a onetime purchase fee to "buy a share" of a farmer's herd, which entitles you to the benefits of owning that cow, such as a certain amount of milk each week.)
In New Mexico, a bill has been introduced that would ban the sale of raw milk, while a proposed regulation in Illinois would similarly restrict access to raw milk. This fight for food freedom isn't just for those who love raw milk – it's for everyone who wants to be able to obtain the food of their choice from the source of their choice. So please, get involved! I urge you to embrace the following action plan to protect your right to choose your own foods:
- Get informed: Visit www.farmtoconsumer.org or click here to sign up for action alerts.
- Join the fight for your rights: The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) is the only organization of its kind. This 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization provides a legal defense for farmers who are being pursued by the government for distributing foods directly to consumers. Your donations, although not tax deductible, will be used to support the litigation, legislative, and lobbying efforts of the FTCLDF. For a summary of FTCLDF's activities in 2012, see this link.
- Support your local farmers: Buy from local farmers, not the industry that is working with the government to take away your freedoms.