The miracle of milk is that it provides all the nutrients that mammals need for optimal health in a highly bioavailable form that also includes beneficial probiotics and immune system support. Humans began routinely drinking milk from animals around the time that herding of animals began many thousands of years ago. Groups that included milk in their diet thrived and spread across much of the old world, quite possibly from the added health benefits from consuming dairy. In these cultures, milk was often revered as a special food that conferred good health. Milk was an important mainstay in the diet of most Europeans and European colonists of the new world.
As large cities grew in industrialized areas, the demand for milk increased. It wasn't long before large factory dairies appeared in many cities to supply this demand. Unfortunately, the cows were crowded in filthy conditions and fed unnatural diets that made them sick. The sick animals and filthy environment resulted in poor quality milk that was heavily contaminated with pathogens that quickly made many people sick from drinking it. In order to sell this filthy milk, the dairy owners turned to pasteurization to kill the pathogens in the milk. This approach was cheaper than trying to clean up their operations. Today, this has become the paradigm for cheap milk for the masses - quantity at the expense of quality.
Got Raw Milk?
Can you imagine pasteurizing and homogenizing a mother's milk before giving it to her child? When pasteurized cow's milk is given to calves, they don't thrive and many die prematurely. Many of the important healthful aspects of milk are destroyed by the heat of pasteurization, including beneficial probiotic bacteria, enzymes that promote bioavailability of nutrients, and other special proteins that stimulate the immune system and suppress harmful microbes. Pasteurization is simply an excuse to sell filthy milk. Now most of the public can only buy dead milk from filthy factory farms. Pasteurized milk won't immediately make you sick unless it becomes contaminated, but it will likely contribute to allergies, asthma, and inflammation, and won't provide the proper nutrition for good health.
Requiring milk to be pasteurized to avoid harmful bacteria is like requiring all vegetables and meat to be cooked before being sold. We as consumers have a right to buy clean and healthy unprocessed foods. Many more people are sickened from eating contaminated vegetables and meat, as well as contaminated pasteurized milk, than from raw milk. Most cases of illness from raw milk have resulted from filthy factory farmed milk being accidentally or intentionally distributed without pasteurization. Ironically, raw milk from clean dairies is very resistant to harmful microbes, whereas pasteurized milk is not. That's why raw milk turns sour at room temperature, but sour raw milk will not make you sick. It's known as clabbered milk and was commonly used before the days of refrigeration. On the other hand, pasteurized milk rapidly goes rancid at room temperature and will make you sick.
The real solution to food borne illness is to provide clean food for sale in the first place. Proper farming techniques can provide clean food, including dairy. Animals should be fed their natural diet for optimal health of the animals and for optimal nutrition in the meat and milk they provide. Most factory farmed feed-lot and dairy animals are fed unnatural diets of grain and soy that make the animals sick and more likely to spread pathogens such as e-coli. To keep them alive, they are given massive amounts of antibiotics, which in turn helps to develop strains of harmful bacteria resistant to antibiotics. The dairy animals are also given hormones to make them produce more milk, but of lesser nutritional quality. These tactics allow the production of cheap, but poor quality milk, to outsell competitors and drive larger profits.
Many health practitioners now advise patients to eliminate dairy from their diet because of the harmful effects of this degraded and sorry substitute for real milk. Too bad most of them don't know about the excellent health benefits of fresh clean raw milk. More and more people are learning about real milk as the word spreads from those who switch to raw milk and find that it is a true panacea for good health, unlike the dead milk most people buy.
Raw Milk and Raw Eggs
The Milk Cure
In the past, raw milk from pasture-fed cows was used to successfully treat many diseases. As recently as the early 1900's, patients were treated by feeding them nothing but raw milk from pastured cows, about 5 to 10 quarts a day, in small amounts about every half hour. Dr. J. R. Crewe, of the Mayo Foundation, forerunner of the Mayo Clinic, in 1929 reported that this treatment was used "chiefly in tuberculosis, diseases of the nervous system, cardiovascular and renal conditions, hypertension, and in patients who are underweight". He also reported that "when sick people are limited to a diet containing an excess of vitamins and all the elements necessary to growth and maintenance, which are available in milk, they recover rapidly without the use of drugs and without bringing to bear all the complicated weapons of modern medicine". Unfortunately, the milk cure is not very profitable and was soon replaced by more profitable therapies, including drugs and surgery. In this day of very expensive medical treatments, maybe we need to strongly reconsider the milk cure as a first resort. Modern medicine should be the last resort.
Before the days of refrigeration, milk was consumed fresh, shortly after milking, or was cultured for later consumption. Raw milk can be cultured by it's own microbes to create clabbered milk or buttermilk, or with added cultures to make products like yogurt, kefir, and cheeses. Raw cultured dairy offers the same benefits of raw milk and may be a better option for those with blood sugar problems, since the amount of milk sugar is reduced by culturing. Cultured dairy made from pasteurized whole milk may not be as beneficial and "low fat" dairy may even be detrimental to health.
Nutrients in Human Milk
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has compiled nutrient data on human milk, which is shown in the table below, along with the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for children ages 1 to 3 from the US Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board, for comparison. This table shows data for the amount of milk required to achieve 100% of the calcium DRI. It is interesting to note that when the calcium DRI is satisfied, the average human milk is greatly deficient in iron, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, manganese, and vitamins B1 (thiamin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), E (alph-tocopherol), D (cholecalciferol), and K (phylloquinone), with less than 50% of these nutrients compared to the DRI. In contrast, copper and vitamins A and C in human milk are two to five times higher than the DRI when calcium is at 100% of the DRI. If we assume that the average human milk documented by the USDA is sufficient for good health of the child at the quantity necessary to provide 100% of the calcium DRI, then the implication for the deficient nutrients is that either the DRIs are over-estimated for these nutrients, or the bioavailability of these nutrients is much less in foods other than milk (or some combination of these two possibilities). As for copper and vitamins A and C, perhaps the DRIs for these nutrients are too low relative to calcium.
Nutrients in Human Milk
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Comparing Milk from Humans, Cows, and Goats
Milk from all mammals is similar in content, though each mammal produces milk best suited to the needs of their own offspring. However, even within species, the nutrients in milk can vary substantially depending on the diet of the mother. Mammals eating a healthy native diet will produce the healthiest milk. When important native foods are missing from the diet, milk quality will suffer.
Even though milk evolved primarily to boost the survival odds for offspring, it has the complete package of nutrients, probiotics,and enzymes to sustain adults of many species as well. Human use of milk from herded animals over thousands of years is a prime example. Nonetheless, it is interesting to compare the nutrients in human milk versus those in cow's milk. The table below shows nutrient data for human, cow, and goat milk for comparison. Human milk has less protein and more fat and carbohydrate that cow and goat milk, possibly because human babies don't grow as fast as young cows and goats. Human milk is also lower in most minerals, except for iron, copper, manganese, and selenium. It is substantially lower by weight in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. Human milk is substantially higher in vitamin C than cow or goat milk and substantially higher in vitamins A and B3 (niacin) than cow milk. Human milk is much lower in vitamin B12 than cow milk and substantially lower in vitamins B1, B2, B6, and B9.
Nutrients in Human, Cow, and Goat Milk
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Not all humans can properly digest milk, for a variety of reasons. The most common reason is that a large number of people lose the ability to produce the digestive enzyme lactase as adults. Lactase is needed to digest the lactose sugar in milk. Most people who are lactose intolerant can drink raw milk because it has lactase provided by bacteria in the milk. However, this natural lactase is destroyed by pasteurization. Consequently, lactose intolerant individuals will have difficulty digesting pasteurized milk and will suffer unpleasant symptoms such as excessive gas or diarrhea. A few individuals have difficulty digesting the casein protein in milk. This problem may be aggravated by inadequate stomach acidity. The type of casein from the most modern breeds of cow, like the pervasive Holsteins, appears to cause the most problems. The casein from older breeds, like Jerseys and Guernseys, or from goat milk is usually better tolerated by these individuals.
Update 3/21/09 A1 and A2 Milk
The primary reason for casein related health problems may be the form of the casein. The casein in human, goat, and sheep milk is the A2 form of casein that is well tolerated by humans. However, most modern cows also have the A1 form of casein, which is not as well tolerated. Heritage breeds like Jersey and Guernsey have much less of the suspect A1 casein. However, the much more common Holsteins often have as much as 50-70% of the casein as A1, while pure-bred Jerseys have more like 10-30% of the casein as A1. Since Holsteins dominate milk production in many areas, these populations are exposed to greater risk of problems from the A1 form of casein, including auto-immune disease, heart disease , type 1 diabetes, autism, and schizophrenia. For more details read The Devil in the Milk and Beta Casein A1 and A2 in Milk and Human Health.
References and Further Reading
What Is Real Milk?
Raw Milk - History, Health Benefits and Distortions
The Health Benefits of Raw Milk from Grass-Fed Animals
The Health Benefits of Raw Milk
Milk: It Does a Body Good
What's in Raw Milk?
Real Milk Cures Many Diseases
The Raw Milk Revolution
Where to Find Raw Milk