The Health Benefits Of Raw Milk

Yesterday evening I appeared on ABC 7pm News commenting about the new state law on raw milk. As of next month, all raw milk producers in Victoria will have to either pasteurise their milk – therefore abandoning raw milk production – or adding a bittering agent to make the milk undrinkable.

Current Victorian law allows the sale of raw milk for bath use only, meaning that all raw milk has to be labelled ‘for cosmetic use’. While some pro-raw milk people have been happy enough with this loophole as it has allowed access to raw milk for consumers – after all, no one is going to fine you if you choose to drink your ‘comsetic’ raw milk – I have been opposing this status quo and campaigning for the recognition of raw milk as a foodstuff in Australia for some time now.

I was very excited when a well-known ABC journalist contacted me two weeks ago to comment on national television about the other side of the coin and clearly state the health benefits of raw milk. The 7.30 program, a national news-based program that looks at topical issues, unfortunately dropped the story at the last minute and cancelled the interview as ‘more pressing stories had come up’.

So I was very pleased when yesterday I got a call from another ABC journalist to answer some questions about the benefits of raw milk, whether I recommend it to my clients and what my opinion was about the government’s announcement that they were going to stop people drinking raw milk.

To my dismay, though not to my surprise as I’m well aware of the media’s manipulative tactics having been a marketing manager in the uk for many years and dealt daily with both national and regional media – my segment on the health benefits of raw milk was removed and only one comment kept about the new legislation.

So I’m going to write here what should have appeared on the news last night.

Why do people drink raw milk?

There are two main reasons why people choose to drink raw milk: health and environmental awareness. Let’s have a look at both.

The Health Benefits of raw milk

From a nutritional point of view, much has been said about raw milk in the blogosphere and while I appreciate people’s good intentions publicising how good raw milk is, some of the claims attributed to it in the name of ‘scientific evidence’ just don’t stand up to a close scrutiny of the scientific literature. This is problematic as raw-milk opponents use these quotes to lump all raw milk benefits under the ‘not scientifically-proven’ banner.

However, there is some scientific evidence that raw milk offers at least three proven benefits.

The first one is a strengthening of one’s immune system. In fact, a large European study that was completed this year found a significantly inverse relationship between raw milk drinking and upper respiratory infections such as colds and middle ear infections in young children (1).

A previous study run by the same academic group, found a protective effect of raw milk against allergic conditions such as asthma and eczema. This study has since been discredited by raw milk opponents as it didn’t specify whether the milk was heated at home prior to drinking or not – therefore confounding results (2).

The immune-boosting effect of raw milk may possibly be linked to its levels of lactoferrin, ‘a protein that inhibits the growth of pathogenic bacteria, encourages the growth of probiotic bacteria, acts as an antioxidant, and helps our intestinal cells make their own lactase, the enzyme that digests lactose’ (3). Raw milk has been shown to have levels of lactoferrin that are nearly 3000 times higher than boiled milk and 8000 times higher than UHT milk (4).

The second benefit of raw milk is that it comes from cows that are fed on pasture, the natural food intended for herbivores. Grass-fed cows have been shown to have higher levels of a beneficial fatty acid called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) (5). Dairy herds that produce raw milk lead healthier lives in open pasture and are not supplemented with grains, which is the norm for cows in large dairy conglomerates.

CLA has been linked in the scientific literature to a host of health benefits including but not exclusive to improved insulin sensitivity, beneficial epigenetic changes involving pPAR-gamma gene (a fat regulation gene), colorectal cancer protection and increased lean body mass.

Raw milk also has higher levels of vitamin C (a heat sensitive vitamin) – though discreditors are quick to point out that milk isn’t a high source of vitamin C anyway – and may offer increased levels of fat soluble vitamins A,D,E and K2 – again, probably due to the higher content of these nutrients in the cows’ diet.

From a clinical evidence point of view, thousands of people worldwide are reporting amazing health benefits when switching to raw milk and particularly fermented products made from raw milk. Asthma, hay fever, sinus infections, gastrointestinal issues and eczema are just a few conditions people – and their doctors – report as completely resolved or greatly improved.

This is certainly the case in my clinical practice where many people, mothers in particular, have reported much improvement in their child’s eczema or recurrent ear infections.

Environmental Benefits Of Raw Milk

Many people who switch to raw milk do so as they are conscious consumers. They are well-read individuals who are highly aware of the Slow Food Movement and want to reconnect to their local producers of food and milk.

Raw milk allows people a direct insight into the production of the milk they drink. They can talk to their local farmer and find out directly how the animals are fed, treated, how the milk is produced and how sick animals are cared for. They are reducing their impact on the environment by reducing food miles and supporting local farming practices that promote land regeneration.

Raw milk drinkers are aware of the unsavoury practices that go on in large dairies and prefer to opt for traditional farming methods that do not apply tail docking, bobby calf slaying and stressful living conditions upon their animals. Dairy cows are subjected to painful, unhealthy milking that leaves them completely exhausted and riddled with mastitis infection, which then has to be treated on an ongoing basis with antibiotics. Antibiotic residue is present in commercial milk at ‘acceptable levels’. Why are these levels considered acceptable?

We are at an all time high of microbiome-imbalance related diseases: obesity, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, allergies, IBS and IBD, depression and mental disorders are all linked to dysbiotic conditions in the gut. Chronic exposure to low dose antibiotic residue such as the one found in commercial milk does have an effect on our gut microbiome, particularly when it comes to switching on genes in our gut microbes that make them antibiotic-resistant.

As you can see, there are many benefits of drinking raw milk.

However, the issue in Australia is that buying bottled raw milk simply isn’t safe. Why? Because the government refuse to acknowledge that it is a food, let alone a wholefood.

The current ruling to make raw milk unpalatable is certainly going to put people off from buying raw milk from health food shops but it is not going to resolve the issue for the ever increasing number of people who are seeking to improve their health through this wonderful food.

I suspect that in the next few months we will see the decline of bottled raw milk in Melbourne and the increase of herd share schemes through Gippsland and other Victorian farmers.

To find out more about the benefits of raw milk you can contact the Weston A Price Foundation