Gerda Endemann, our Senior Director of Science and Research, has a BS in Nutrition from UC Berkeley, a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry from MIT and a passion for cherry picking in our wellness shop. She spends a lot of time interpreting research – both established and emerging. And our wellness routines thank her for that. (Sincerely, too. Send us your own questions to Gerda: Editorial[email protected].)
Dear Goop, what do you know about raw milk? Is it safe and does it really prevent allergies, asthma and ear infections? – Aid M.
Hello Aiden. There’s a battle between the 3 percent of Americans who consume raw – unpasteurized – milk and regulators who say raw milk is risky. Whether or not it can be legally sold in stores or on local farms depends on state law. Regulators are concerned about serious illnesses caused by harmful bacteria in unpasteurized milk, while fans claim benefits for child asthma, allergies, and respiratory health. Progress has been made on both fronts: producing raw milk safely and harnessing its benefits.
Children who live on farms have been reported to have lower rates of asthma and allergies than children who do not. It’s not clear why this is the case, but drinking raw milk is one factor that has been linked to health benefits. A meta-analysis found that children who drink raw milk – regardless of whether they live on farms or not – have fewer asthma and allergies than children who drink pasteurized milk. Drinking raw milk has also been correlated with lower rates of respiratory and ear infections in children. Children who drink raw milk likely come from health-conscious families. Are these benefits due to the raw milk or are the children healthier for some other, coincidental reason? We look forward to controlled research that can answer this question.
If raw milk is good for the immune system, then what is responsible for raw milk? During pasteurization, microbes are destroyed by heat treatment, so that raw and pasteurized milk differ greatly in terms of bacterial content. But they also differ in a number of ways. Most pasteurized milk is also homogenized: fat droplets are physically broken up so they don’t peel off and rise to the top. These treatments can also destroy proteins in milk that can be beneficial for gut structure and immunity, including antibodies, lactoferrin, and TGF-β.
Pasteurization was a major public health advancement when it was introduced in the early 20th century. Due to bacterial contamination from poor hygiene and unhealthy cows, it was necessary to prevent bacteria from multiplying in unrefrigerated milk. So there seems to be a solution: the growth of harmful bacteria can be prevented by using good hygiene to prevent contamination with fecal bacteria and by keeping the milk cold. Probably due to better hygiene and refrigeration, diseases reported to the CDC and attributable to raw milk have fallen sharply since 2005, even though more and more people have been drinking them. However, even with strict regulations and tests, problems can arise. For example, in New Zealand, where raw milk can be bought on registered farms, around 10 percent of campylobacteriosis cases (which causes diarrhea, cramps, fever and pain) have been linked to raw milk.
Scientists at UC Davis recently reported that no pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria were found in hundreds of raw milk samples. What they found were bacteria mainly in the Pseudomonadaceae family, which are not known to be useful probiotics. And unfortunately they found E. coli resistant to antibiotics. These scientists fear that the proliferation of bacteria that contain antibiotic resistance genes could lead to these genes being passed on to other bacteria in our bodies. This could happen if raw milk is left at room temperature to make clabber, a fermented milk similar to yogurt.
If choosing the type of cow’s milk to drink is too difficult, or if you are lactose intolerant, rest assured that milk is not essential for healthy bones. Vegetables and beans are good sources of calcium and other bone-building micronutrients. Weight training is the best way to achieve good bone density and avoid fractures.
As someone who is lactose intolerant, here are some of my favorite dairy alternatives as sources of probiotics, protein, and calcium. (Goop’s raison d’etre provides information and products of the highest quality. I like knowing that all of our dietary supplements are cleanly made and thoroughly tested for purity and effectiveness.)
In The Mother Load, calcium contains an excellent range of vitamins and minerals. I recommend this daily supplement package to all women of childbearing age.
Seed’s probiotic is made up of 24 strains of beneficial bacteria to support gut, skin and cardiovascular health. And around the bacteria is an outer capsule of quality prebiotic food – Indian pomegranate – so they can thrive. Prebiotics + probiotics = synbiotics.
Four Sigmatic produces a vegan organic protein powder from a perfect mix of pea, hemp, chia and pumpkin seeds. And it contains fair amounts of adaptogens and mushrooms. I love that this product doesn’t contain stevia. It’s unflavored and very lightly sweetened with organic coconut sugar and monk fruits, and it works wonderfully in smoothies.
goop Wellness THE MOTHER LOAD goop, $ 90 / $ 75 with subscription
Seed DAILY SYNBIOTIC goop, $ 60
Four Sigmatic SUPERFOOD PROTEIN PACKETS goop, $ 40
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor should it be used as a substitute for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article contains the advice of doctors or medical professionals, the views expressed are the views of the expert quoted and do not necessarily reflect the views of goop.