Posts Tagged ‘evidence’

I am intrigued by the health claims that are made about ‘raw’ milk. Claims including –

  • It contains probiotic bacteria
  • It cures asthma
  • It cures allergies
  • It lactose intolerance

But what is the truth in these claims and is there any scientific evidence to back up these claims. Over the last few months of reading and blogging about ‘raw’ milk, I (with my scientific and critical thinking) have wondered whether there are research studies that back up or refute these claims, and perhaps controversially would a study comprehensively ‘proving’ or ‘disproving’ this claims close the debate over ‘raw’ milk. I acknowledge that the debate / controversy is a lot more complex, but perhaps scientific evidence, improved risk communication and a changed communication strategy (moving away from the deficit (‘you know nothing so we have to tell you everything’) way of communicating) may solve this debate /controversy.

But back to the health claims made by ‘raw’ milk advocates (the pro-‘raw’ milk side) and a critical examination and analysis of research study results concerning these claims. Below I have quoted from the Hot Topics page of the Real Raw Milk Facts website (accessed 18th August 2014), a website run by veterinarians, food safety academics and ‘raw’ milk consumers with support from a legal firm that represents victims of food-borne illness.

On probiotics and bacteria in ‘raw’ milk –  “In consumer surveys, raw milk drinkers often cite “good bacteria” or “probiotics” as the most important reason for choosing to drink raw milk. The international definition of probiotics is “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host. While raw milk is widely promoted by producers as a probiotic, there are no studies showing that it meets the definition of a probiotic. In fact, raw milk produced using good hygiene should have hardly any bacteria in it at all. Milk from a healthy animal (or human) is sterile when it leaves the mammary gland. As the milk moves through the skin/teat canal, it may pick up small numbers of bacteria from the skin (not enough to be a probiotic). Once the milk is outside the animal, any other bacteria or viruses that get into the milk would have to come from the environment (faeces, flies, dust, equipment). Bacteria from the environment, especially feces and flies, are not likely to be probiotic, and may even be pathogenic.”

On lactose intolerance and ‘raw’ milk – “A number of consumers have also said that they choose raw milk because they believe it relieves or eliminates lactose intolerance. To study this claim, Stanford University scientists conducted a study to compare lactose intolerance symptoms in people given raw milk with those given pasteurized milk (the study was “blinded” so the participants did not know which one they were drinking). The authors concluded “Claims that raw milk is well-tolerated by lactose intolerant individuals, as examined in this study, are unsupported and misleading for individuals with true lactose malabsorption.” A 2010 study conducted by Stanford University researchers (http://www.marlerclark.com/pdfs/RawMilkPoster14Oct10-1.pdf) explored the effect of raw milk on lactose intolerance symptoms. They concluded, “These results, collected under standardized and controlled conditions, do not support the widespread anecdotal claims by proponents that raw milk has benefits over pasteurized milk regarding the symptoms of lactose intolerance.”

Asthma and other allergic conditions – “Among the various health claims about raw milk, asthma and other allergic conditions are the only diseases that have been studied by scientists. Researchers in Europe suggested that raw milk consumption by children at an early age may have a protective effect against asthma and eczema (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17456213). However, it is not clear if the protection against allergic conditions was due to raw milk consumption, living in a farm environment, or both. The authors still warn that the risk of pathogens in raw milk outweigh its benefits as a food source to prevent allergies. Before trying raw milk in a child with allergies or other conditions, parents should proceed with caution and talk to their pediatrician or health care provider about the possible risks of serious bacterial infection such as E. coli O157:H7.

I think the above information presents a convincing argument. But what about the testimonial or anecdotal ‘evidence’ presented by ‘raw’ milk advocates in support of their claims about the health benefits of ‘raw’ milk? Can this even be considered ‘evidence?’ But that said, the experience of individuals can’t be wholly discounted. Or maybe there is even psychological or psychosomatic elements at play in individuals claiming to be ‘cured’ or free of the symptoms of allergies, asthma or lactose intolerance. Do they ‘believe’ they have been cured?

Real Raw Milk Facts also discusses testimonials and anecdotes – “Testimonials and anecdotal information can still be helpful in generating “hypotheses” about possible benefits. But until the research is conducted, testimonials are theoretical.” The following is recommended – ‘It is a good idea to be skeptical if something sounds too good to be true (remember, raw milk is still simply milk from an animal).”

Perhaps everyone involved in the debate needs a little skepticism? Perhaps more research is required to produce substantial evidence that ‘raw’ milk does not cure or reduce these ailments or harbour probiotic bacteria.

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