Raw milk---another spectacularly bad idea

I've never understood food fads. Michael Pollan's maxim, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants," has always seemed like reasonable, practical advice. Maybe it's a disease of plenty---we have so much food, we have to find new ways to conceptualize it. Unless you live in an inner city, you can go to any market and find large quantities of foodstuffs, both healthy and unhealthy. Food in this country is cheap and plentiful and, for the most part, safe. Self-"regulated" industrialized production has contributed to problems with bacterial contamination of meats and produce, but food- and water-borne illness is still relatively rare in the US compared to the developing world.

The industrial food production that has led to monsters such as "thousand-cow burgers" needs a lot of work. Mass production and distribution can introduce many different opportunities for contamination. Once a contaminated beef patty reaches the kitchen, opportunities for illness multiply. Even if you cook the burger thoroughly, you can still be sickened by contaminated counters and utensils.

One of the areas of success in food safety is milk. Milk has historically been one of the worst offenders when it comes to food-borne illness. Milk can harbor many disease-causing bacteria, and the same industrial processes that are problematic for meat can affect milk. When pooling milk from hundreds of cows, it only takes one sick cow to contaminate the batch. But even with careful dairy farming processes, milk is often contaminated. Thankfully, pasteurization has largely eliminated milk-related illness, and most milk-related illness seen today is the result of foolish consumption.  When milk is pasteurized, it is briefly heated to a temperature that kills harmful bacteria.  The nutritional value is preserved as nothing else is done to the milk.  As a food, milk has calories in the form of sugars, fats, and proteins, and has vitamins and minerals.  These are not adversely affected by pasteurization.

Still, there is a movement out there promoting "raw" (that is, unpasteurized) milk.  It's promoted by many of the usual suspects, and the list of claims made for raw milk are scientifically absurd.  Some examples include the following:

Raw milk is healthier: Pasteurized milk is accused of causing everything from allergies to heart disease to cancer, but back in the day, these diseases were rare. In fact, clean raw milk from grass-fed cows is chock full of healthy amino acids and beneficial enzymes, and was used as a cure.

The statement doesn't support its title, of course, but even if it did, the problems with raw milk aren't carcinogens and allergies but bacterial diseases.

Raw milk does not make you sick: That is, if it is properly collected from cows fed good, clean grass. Grass-fed milk has natural antibiotic properties that help protect it from pathogenic bacteria. But it's worth noting, if you've been using pasteurized dairy products, you might want to eat small amounts of yogurt or kefir for a week or so, for a dose of probiotics, just to be safe. I did, and it helped.

It would be lovely if any of that were true, but it's not.  Of course, it's not the milk per se that makes you sick but the bacteria in it.  "Grass-fed milk" does not have any magical antibiotic properties, and consuming "pro-biotics" will not protect you from Campylobacter, E. coli, or other common milk-borne pathogens.   

It is also commonly claimed that raw milk contains beneficial enzymes that are destroyed by pasteurization.  Humans make their own enzymes.  We have no use for exogenous ones, and they are rapidly destroyed in the stomach before they can do anything.  
Outbreaks from raw milk consumption are a common feature in the Morbidity and Mortality weekly.  These are completely preventable diseases.  The idea that raw milk provides some significant benefit not provided by pasteurized milk is simple superstition.

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I grew up on raw milk, but it was milk from the cattle that we ourselves milked. Our dairy was Certified Grade A, indicating that it met strict purity standards, and our milk was not mixed with milk from any cattle from other dairies. It was also as fresh as could be, since we never drank any that was more than 12 hours removed from the cow (and which had gone immediately into refrigeration). I'd be very leery of drinking raw milk that is marketed commercially, even though I know the producers are trying to be careful.

Pasteurized is plenty good and much, much safer.

I was hoping that someone would address this, for on one of the other sciblogs there is a conversation that I swear could have been lifted directly from huffpo.

One of the statements beyond the standard "modern=bad" was that raw milk contains lactase, and that pasteurization denatures the enzyme. Thus it seemed to be suggesting that lactose intolerance was a result of modern processing of dairy products rather than lactase persistence. I searched google scholar for an hour trying to find a peer reviewed publication that suggested this, but the only thing I could find was a paper that talked about milk contaminated with bacteria from manure producing the lactase, not that it was part of the glandular milk.

So I ask, is there any reason to suggest that active lactase is present in raw milk?

By prelevent (not verified) on 28 Dec 2009 #permalink

If it were, there would be little lactose. Lactase is added to milk for the lactose-intolerant.

Yeah, that is what I had figured. The content of glucose and galactose in milk is minuscule compared to lactose, and that was another reason that I doubted the validity of the claim that lactase was present.

Thank you for a nice dose of reality.

By prelevent (not verified) on 28 Dec 2009 #permalink

@Zeno #4: Yeah, I drank milk straight from the cow as a kid, too.

Of course, it was the 1970's, so I also: ate candy "cigarettes", finished off my dad's beer, swam in the ocean with no adults or lifeguards present, bicycled and dirtbiked without a helmet, and stood up in the front seat.

How did we ever survive? OTOH, how are our kids going to manage in a world where they grew up wrapped in bubblewrap?

Listeriosis outbreaks like the one we had here last summer make me, for one, really grateful for pasteurised milk.

Oh come on. We all know Louie Pasteur was a shill for BigWine, and that the pasteurization of milk was designed to make it taste bad so people would want to drink more wine.

My biggest issue with industrial milk is homogenization and fortification. I don't need the extra vitamin A&D. But yes please pasteurization is a must.

Vitamin D in milk helps prevent rickets in children. In adults it helps prevent a bunch of other metabolic probs.

Given that kids are the main consumers of milk and often have limited diets, the addition of essential fat soluble vitamins is a good thing.

Oh I understand the reason for fortification I would just like the option of affordable non fortified milk since I already meet all my VitD requirements through other means. We have a cartel marketing board controlling the dairy supply here.
The butter, cheese and other products are fortified as well; it gets redundant.

Well, take heart---studies show that much of the milk labeled "vitamin d" contains little or no vitamin d. : )

"I already meet all my VitD requirements through other means."

Just curious, from where, sunlight exposure? It's hard to get adequate vitamin D through diet w/o supplementation of some kind.

but back in the day, these diseases were rare.

Actually, they weren't. The incidence of heart disease is decreasing and the average age of first incidence of clinically evident heart disease is increasing. Cancer is a harder call, but it's almost certain that a large percentage of the apparent increase in cancer is due to better diagnosis (consider how cancer rates change in developing countries as they obtain better medical care) and simply living longer: age is a major risk factor for cancer. And I consider more people getting cancer because they didn't die of measles, TB, appendicitis, complications of pregnancy, etc an at least partial win.

I think the rawness of the milk is a red herring in most of the "I switched to raw milk and I digest it much more easily" anecdotes. There is of course the wishful thinking/confirmation bias part of the exercise since very few people seek out raw milk without some expectation that it will be magic, not to mention the switch to raw milk usually comes as part of an overall move to a fresh, whole food diet. But I also kind of suspect that the slight difference in milk proteins between the type of heirloom cows that can successfully produce on an all-grass diet vs. modern high-volume Holsteins makes a difference for some small number of people.

I too grew up on raw milk from grandparents' farm. I really do think the milk fresh from the cow tastes better. But there are great risks. Haven't consumed milk in many years.

I've drank plenty of fresh from the cow (or goat) milk being from a farming family. However we're talking from a single animal kept in pretty optimal small farm conditions. It honestly does taste better though how much is actual taste difference and how much is the different texture from it not being homogenized I'm not sure. I wouldn't give a small child that milk but I don't worry too much drinking it. Much like I don't worry much about making homemade mayonaisse from raw eggs laid by my chickens. I know there are risks and I'm okay with them for me as an adult because I'm comfortable with the source.

However, I'd never drink raw milk from some random dairy or make mayo from store bought eggs. What bothers me so much about the raw milk fad is that proponents are either ignorant of the risks or outright lying about them to promote it even for children. I would never give a kid raw milk, I don't mind taking a bit of a risk but I wouldn't risk a child's health like that ever.

In a just world, people like this would get very, very sick. Perhaps they should do a little reading in 19th century cookbooks; there's a reason parents rose up and called Gail Borden blessed for developing canned milk. The alternative killed far too many children.

(Slightly off-topic, we're lucky enough to get our milk from a family farm about twelve miles away. Great milk, not homogenized. I had to pry an inch of cream out the the neck of the bottle before I could get milk for my coffee the other morning. Makes damn fine yogurt, too).

For G-d's sake, don't go quoting Pollan on anything! That Luddite would be the first to support raw milk!

Yeah, well, he got one thing right. Even Deepak Chopra probably remembers to brush his teeth, in his only act of sanity every day.

Remember something similar about homogenised milk being bad for you. Once again the theories were promoted by alternative life-stylers, and one in particular was very much into astrology as well.

A couple of people have mentioned that they don't like homogenization. There are dairies that will sell you pasteurized, non-homogenized milk: homogenization is a convenience for many of us, but it's not a health issue. One in the New York area is Ronnybrook, which sells at some of the local farmer's markets (greenmarkets) and to some grocery stores.

I'm with Adela -- it's not the pasteurization, it's the homogenization that irks me. And that's only when I make cheese. Otherwise, yeah, give me the modern stuff, please.

The writer has not researched his topic well. Clinics around the US used a raw milk diet to cure all manner of diseases, including the Mayo Clinic. On the other hand, industrial milk is well known to be a cause of many diseases and conditions. If you believe that we should have the right to eat what we choose see the Wisconsin Alliance for Raw Milk:


Care to share some evidence for that thought-free statement?

"we should have a right to eat what we choose"... certainly we should. just like we should also have a right to point out the stupid risks inherent in eating some stuff that is long known to be a health hazard.

i would allow you to consume cow dung, if you so chose. (isn't there a soft drink in India, being peddled by Hinduist extremists, that... never mind, i just ate.) but i would also not mumble when pointing out to you that eating shit is really, really stupid.

and by the way, i too grew up in dairy farming country; i've seen milch cows in the flesh. if you drink raw milk straight from the udder, you're pretty certainly consuming some measurable parts per million of cow feces. they aren't sanitary animals, and those udders hang close to the muck they tread.

By Nomen Nescio (not verified) on 29 Dec 2009 #permalink

I had to laugh when my sister came to visit (I live in Nebraska) from California and tried to find unpasteurized milk in the stores. I don't even think it's legal here. All the cows in California are "happy" cows, she said. Later I heard on NPR that the California happy cow commercials were filmed overseas (maybe Australia?).

i would never consider taking a drink of raw milk, pooled from an entire herd of cows, from some random farmer i don't know. far too many possible points of bacterial contamination and growth. too many places for improper handling, storage, sanitation.

anyone who has spent significant time on a dairy farm knows what they look for in their milk quality tests. and i prefer my bacteria killed, thanks.

Aww, but I'm so very very fond of camembert (and brie, and feta)! The very soft cheeses don't seem to taste as good here in the states as they do in Europe, although this may have to do with rules on minimum aging time as much as pasteurization processes.

On the other hand, the idea of drinking raw milk squicks me right the heck out. You own your own animal and drink the milk you milked from her raw, that's your prerogative. The moment you start talking about buying it, I start picturing those time lapse slides from high school bio on the exponential growth rate of bacteria.

Yes, I'm aware of the contradiction between being ok with raw cheeses and not being ok with raw milk. I think this is because I see fancy cheeses as an adult indulgence, hopefully eaten with knowledge of what you're doing; whereas milk is primarily fed to children, who have very little agency when it comes to the origin/state of their food.

You guys forgot cholera. Let's all chug an ice cold glass of cholera and scarlet fever with an oreo cookie.

I just checked and the morons at the natural food market up the block are peddling raw milk.

This Halloween they gave out vegan gummy bears. I looked at the ingredients and it turns out they use an industrial tile adhesive in place of bovine gelatin (I traded the kids out for m&ms and chucked the gummies in the trash).

They also sell microbial no-rennet cheese. It seems the microbe used to produce this crap is a necrotizing pathogenic fungi that is on the Geneva convention bio-terror watch list.

Meyers and Isis Bombeck are having pink microscope hissy fits on their respective blogs. How about we send an FTD floral bouquet to anybody still making microscopes for kids at all? Considering what we are are up against, I could give a shit about the color.

They can make their parents look through the pink eyepiece at Escherichia coli swimming around in their cereal.

I am for people making their own food decisions but f*cking parents who have decided the germ theory of disease is a Big Pharma /Big Food/ Big {insert boogey man here} plot to steal their money and make them spotty weedy sickly slaves of patriarchal military industrial techno vaccine toxin ZOG need to be shot in the face with a blunderbus before they poison their kids by chasing the latest celebretized fashionable food pronouncements.

How is hygiene

By Prometheus (not verified) on 29 Dec 2009 #permalink

"They also sell microbial no-rennet cheese. It seems the microbe used to produce this crap is a necrotizing pathogenic fungi that is on the Geneva convention bio-terror watch list."

For what its worth, there exists significant strain to strain variation in pathogenic capability of fungal species (and bacterial, for that matter). In particular, if it was Aspergillus niger, there exist strains used for commercial purposes that the FDA generally regards as safe (GRAS). I mean, you shouldn't just go huffing spores or something, but it's not like they're using wound-exudate as the source :p

Forgot to mention that up into the 1950s, one of the most common ways of contracting TB was through milk.

If the local food coop is seeling raw milk I think you should drop a dime on them and call the USDA and maybe the state or county health department.

May I remind everyone that the intended shelf life of milk is ZERO!! It's meant to go from the udder (or breast) directly into the calf (or baby). Milk actually does have self-digesting enzymes in it, to help the baby digest it more easily. Since milk is secreted and ingested right away, those enzymes don't have time to act until inside the baby's GI system. A friend of mine had to pasteurize her own breast milk if she meant to store it (fridge or frozen) because otherwise it would "go bad" and her baby would refuse to drink it. The LaLeche ladies told her the problem was the enzymes inherent in the milk, partially self-digesting it and making it unpalatable. So it makes sense to me that there might be something special about raw milk if drank immediately, but that milk kept for any length of time should be pasteurized. Purely from the enzyme perspective, even if not about the possibility of bacterial contamination.

I think I'll restrain myself less in this blog: oh gawd how I hate milk-woo.

The raw milk lactivists correlates strongly with the anti-vax crowd. They're upper-middle class, educated (in everything but biology!), yearn for a pastoral life while making shopping lists for their next trip ti Ikea, and have a yen for sticking it big business and governmental regulation.

Raw milk is legal where I am. That includes the raw milk sold at Whole Foods. But much of the raw milk we see is illegally imported from Mexico or served at illegal backyard fiestas. ~20% of my Listeria deaths could be linked to raw milk, and pretty much all the Brucella cases had history of raw milk consumption. We also have had a lot of Campylobacter and Salmonella in the mix as well.

Whatever the case, it makes me facepalm. Jeebus, if you don't like homogenized 2%, then get the non-homogenized organic and PASTEURIZED stuff. You can have your skim and your milkfat, too!

By Rogue Epidemiolgist (not verified) on 29 Dec 2009 #permalink

"I eat cheese that is purported to be made from raw milk all the fucking time."

And you can make that choice because you are not a fucking six year old which is the median age of the victims of raw milk borne salmonella, encephalitis and rabies outbreaks.

I like a nice double creme bellatois with a cigar and single malt but I make those choices from an adult capacity to weigh an aesthetic against associated risk.

Lead based paint is brighter and tastes sweeter than it's counterparts. Why not give out red lead painted wind up tin porcupines to a kindergarten for Xmas?

By Prometheus (not verified) on 29 Dec 2009 #permalink

Blog author/responses here are very snooty and derogatory of alternative viewpoints. I'm not on either side, but pro-raw commenter gets blasted for not citing sources while anti-raw commenters are making many unsubstantiated statements and are not similarly criticized. This forum is very tilted.

The author claims "Outbreaks from raw milk consumption are a common feature in the Morbidity and Mortality weekly."
Tell me where the numbers are, and how do these numbers differ between raw vs pasteurized milk?

What is the difference in milk-borne illness between states that allow raw milk sales and those that don't? If a difference can't be substantiated then the anti-raw crowd doesn't have a leg to stand on.

#31 John V

"if it was Aspergillus niger, there exist strains used for commercial purposes that the FDA generally regards as safe (GRAS). I mean, you shouldn't just go huffing spores or something, but it's not like they're using wound-exudate as the source :p"

They use Rhizomucor miehei, eat some on toast:p:p

#38 rickdog
"What is the difference in milk-borne illness between states that allow raw milk sales and those that don't? If a difference can't be substantiated then the anti-raw crowd doesn't have a leg to stand on.
High outbreaks in Pennsylvania, Thanks Mennonites!

There is a producer consumption exemption in all states as well as illicit sales that foil your plan. The tracing however is done quite effectively using unique characteristics of the infection. 66 rabies cases to one cow for instance.

By Prometheus (not verified) on 29 Dec 2009 #permalink

So was I, and it was delicious especially with the cream collecting at the top. The family we used to buy that from had only one cow they used to take a good care of, which took care of some forms of contamination. Of course, since your comment is obviously intended to be ironic, luck on our part does not mean foregoing a readily available safe alternative.

Rickdog, if you don't like to follow links, it's hardly my problem.

I once spoke to a researcher who was working on a virus common in dairy cattle that causes a bovine version of breast cancer at UC Berkeley. She had one of her students pop up the street to buy some raw milk and then cultured it (you know, for fun). In addition to some bacteria (not all pathogenic as I recall) she found whole bovine cells, fully capable of carrying this virus.

Beg pardon for lack of citations and for the following unscientific comment: EWWW! Gack! *heave* I grew up on pasteurized, and while I might at some point eat some raw cheese, it will be from a very reputable dealer with the full understanding that there is risk involved in eating it.

@rickdog #39: The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports are at cdc.gov, and cover many diseases, but you should be able to find the milk-related ones. And since people have known for 100+ years that bad milk can kill, no, we're not going to be super nice to the raw-milk crowd.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 29 Dec 2009 #permalink

Cause we all know how convinced the woomeisters are by citations to peer reviewed studies. Unless a study comes out that in their head supports something they believe in, then it's citation galore. Even quantum mechanics papers to support medical idiocy.

You do admit that you are only against raw milk with bad bacteria and not against raw milk per se. But since raw milk could contain bacteria, only a fool would drink it. I think we all can see where that kind of logic would take us. If I've misinterpreted, please advise.

Regarding the Comment # 28

The California happy cow commercials were not filmed in Australia but the next round of commercials will have some of the production filmed in New Zealand. None of "Happpy California Cows" will be of cows from different countries.

Here is the press release:


By Jason Brown (not verified) on 29 Dec 2009 #permalink

Sophie, it's not that it COULD contain nasty microbes, it frequently DOES so and thereby causes illness and even death. Not a theoretical exercise.

Sorry if this is not the correct place...but I'd like to let you know that I had recently loaded all your podcast programs onto my Zune player and enjoyed listening to each one.

There were about fourteen of them and the last one seems to date back several months. I hope if possible you can continue to produce more at some point.

As a patient who doesn't care for all the nonsense out there, podcasts like yours make me feel not so alone.

Take care.

It seems to me that part of the historic success that many farm families have had drinking raw milk may have come from the bacteriological intimacy between humans and their farm animals. They may have milked the cow using an open pail and stored the results in a root cellar. But as long as their cow was isolated from cows on other farms, new diseases wouldn't spread (much) and both humans and animals would be (generally) adjusted to whatever bacteria were prevalent.

Enough of my ancestors survived life on the farm and such threats as a diphtheria epidemic to produce me. That is not an indication that it would be wise for me to forgo modern advances in science and medicine.


Thanks much. I hope to get them back up and running soon. I'm giving a workshop on podcasting next month and hope to start up again around then. it turns out it takes time to produce those buggers.

#43 Rickdog, if you don't like to follow links, it's hardly my problem.

PalMD, I did follow the links, they were critical of raw milk alone. Without citing studies comparing illnesses from raw dairy with illnesses from pasteurized dairy one cannot make an informed judgment, it's just an us vs them unsubstantiated argument. And your arguments against the pro-raw people such as Mercola are purely ad-hominem, you color them as kooks (which I agree regarding Mercola) but you offer nothing other than personal attacks. Give me links to actual research so I can make an informed judgment when raw and pasteurized are actually compared side-by-side. You say the statement of the pro-raw people are absurd but you give no corroborating evidence. I'm still neutral in this debate and I'm waiting for something substantial from either side, but I haven't seen it.

[cough] goalposts! [cough]

By MonkeyPox (not verified) on 29 Dec 2009 #permalink

Gaythia, Enough of my ancestors survived life on the farm and such threats as a diphtheria epidemic to produce me

To quote the great philosopher xkcd, "That's the mother of all sampling biases."

BTW, Pal, any comments on casaubonsbook's post on raw mail drinking?

I left a comment over at her place.

re: Salmonella

In the landmark Alameda County CA vs Alta Dena in the '80s, it was stated that "health department records show that 3.6 million human cases of salmonellosis were reported between 1971 and 1982 in California, and that almost half of them were attributed to food service establishments, most of the remainder to meat and poultry, and only 103 to certified raw milk."

I'm starting to believe that the anti-raw side is using scare tactics. Any segment of the food supply can be connected to serious illness and death, from lettuce to beef to soup to nuts. I'm sensing a targeted attack here.

I have been a raw milk consumer who is completely satisfied and haven't been sick a day. What are you afraid of? Bacteria? Get a grip.

By Karen McKinnon (not verified) on 29 Dec 2009 #permalink

I've also tried to corroborate the statement that "Humans make their own enzymes. We have no use for exogenous ones, and they are rapidly destroyed in the stomach before they can do anything." and have found nothing. I guess if that's true then a substantial portion of the multi-billion dollar supplement industry that sells digestive and other types of enzymes is a huge scam. I wonder why no one has spilled the beans on that one yet.

amandave: You just proved my point! If something COULD, but DOESN'T have bad bacteria, then it isn't bad for you.

You COULD get in a car accident, yet you drive (or ride with people who do drive). You COULD slip on a bar of soap in the shower, yet you choose to bathe. And so on. Can you see where this style of thinking ends up?

Please tell me what problem you have with people making their own choices about what to consume? Tell me how it's even your business? And, to the point, who gets to decide what's "foolish?"

Sophie, I'm not a scientist, but I can tell your "style of thinking" isn't logical. I COULD get in a car accident, and car accidents are yucky, so I do not drive when I'm drunk, not wearing my glasses, with four flat tires, or in a severe ice storm. I COULD slip on a bar of soap in the shower, so I try to keep the soap in its dish and stay alert.

You COULD choke to death on a gulp of raw milk if the cookie portion of your milk and cookies got stuck in your throat. (Or one could aspirate a gulp of raw milk, get pneumonia, and become very sick.) It would not be because you were drinking raw milk, and no one here would say so.

You do what you want, but I think the evidence shows that pasteurized milk has substantially fewer risks than raw milk. Why do you care if I think you are foolish, as long as I don't stop you from drinking your raw milk? As for making one's own choices about what to consume, we do that all the time, but the vast majority of us obtain our food from growers and suppliers we don't know, and we've got to have some method of quality control, which is why I am not a libertarian, because I believe that a properly staffed and funded FDA improves the quality of all our lives. And that information is good.

DM- that's it. Little Goofball gets no raw milk!

By becca McSnarky (not verified) on 29 Dec 2009 #permalink

" Humans make their own enzymes. We have no use for exogenous ones, and they are rapidly destroyed in the stomach before they can do anything. "

I know we make are own enzymes. But the statement that we have no use for exogenus ones. . . It had at first sounded questionable. . . then onto the research.

My Favorite link was :


or just go to quackwatch.com and search for enzymes and you can get a list of interesting stuff. It actually seems the idea that people using exogenous enzymes is quite misleading, except with lactase. All the *cough* "real" research I could find that promoted exogenous enzymes came from natruopaths, herbalists and my favorite was one from a stated doctor who was actually a chiropractor.

If someone could find some real data collaborating that one gets real dietary function from exogenous enzymes (other then lactase). Please share it. Other then that, it seems woo to me.

By Jason Brown (not verified) on 29 Dec 2009 #permalink

Let's bring some actual peer-reviewed research to this debate: for instance, for an up-to-date review of the science see "Food Safety Hazards Associated with Consumption of Raw Milk," published in the September 2009 issue of the journal _Foodborne Pathogens and Disease_. Abstract here:

From the abstract:
"An increasing number of people are consuming raw unpasteurized milk. Enhanced nutritional qualities, taste, and health benefits have all been advocated as reasons for increased interest in raw milk consumption. However, science-based data to substantiate these claims are limited. People continue to consume raw milk even though numerous epidemiological studies have shown clearly that raw milk can be contaminated by a variety of pathogens, some of which are associated with human illness and disease. Several documented milkborne disease outbreaks occurred from 2000â2008 and were traced back to consumption of raw unpasteurized milk. Numerous people were found to have infections, some were hospitalized, and a few died."

This paper reviews CDC records for the last decade regarding outbreaks of illness related to raw milk consumption for the last decade, while cautioning that these are clearly incomplete due to reporting problems. The authors conclude that "Enhanced nutritional qualities, taste, and health benefits have all been advocated as reasons for raw milk consumption. However, science-based data to substantiate these claims are lacking or do not exist. On the other hand, the evidence for the risks associated with raw milk consumption is clear."

A science-based risk-benefit analysis just doesn't support the consumption of unpasteurized milk products. All the anecdotal "evidence" in the world does nothing to change this.

And there is more where this came from--see, for instance, Lejeune JT and Rajala-Schultz PJ. Unpasteurized milk: a continued public health threat. Clin Infect Dis 2009;48:93-100.; Headrick ML, Korangy S, Bean NH, et al. The epidemiology of raw milk-associated foodborne disease outbreaks reported in the United States, 1973 through 1992. Am J Public Health 1998;88:1219-1221.; Chin J. Raw milk: a continuing vehicle for the transmission of infectious disease agents in the United States. J Infect Dis 1982; 146:440-441.


only 103 to certified raw milk

Perhaps that's because the majority of Californians drink pasteurized milk. The California "happy cows" aren't happy because all their milk is sold raw to human consumers; rather, they're "happy" because of a disingenuous advertising campaign by the California Milk Advisory Board. I buy dairy products that are labeled "organic" (and I suppose it's a leap of faith to assume that they contain no artificial hormones or antibiotics), but they're still pasteurized. Too many cases of brucellosis and listeriosis here, mainly arising from soft cheeses brought in from Mexico by well-meaning relatives, to risk the raw stuff. And why, anyway?

I wonder how many people posting here have lived and worked on a dairy farm (industrial grain or grass-based) in the last three years -- how many have actually milked cows on a real grass-based raw milk farm? Show of hands? Well, I have. Here's my perspective.

I drink raw milk primarily because pasteurized milk -- in either regular or ultra-pasteurized form -- makes me violently ill. I also consume raw butter, cheese, cream, yogurt, etc, etc.

Most cheese nerds agree that raw milk makes the best cheese, while ultra-pasteurized milk tastes burned (to me, at least) and is practically useless for making cheese. I'm not sure why.

I find that raw milk, as an unadulterated food is far more useful than pasteurized milk. Once pasteurized milk sours, it's worthless for just about anything else, beyond the compost pile or the garbage. Raw milk, OTOH, doesn't sour, but it does turn. Despite that, it can still be used for a number of things such as clabbored milk, which is raw milk that is left at room temperature for two to three days until it starts to ferment and clot (gets lumpy). The end result is something like a thin yogurt. Makes a great smoothie, chilled and with the addition of some fresh berries.

It's been noted already by other posters, but it bears noting again. There's a big difference between milk from an industrial factory and milk from a grass-based farm. I would never drink raw milk from the former -- might as well play Russian roulette with a fully loaded revolver.

BTW, I'm neither a Luddite nor a Hippy. I'm a college educated, atheist, progressive, rationalist, anti-wooist, etc, etc. I just did my own research and found that raw milk can be safe as long as you get it from a known and trusted source.

Finally, if anyone has any information on why I can drink raw milk with no problem, but pasteurized milk makes me sick, I'd really be interested in that information. And no, I did not grow up on a farm, and I began drinking raw milk before I took up farming, so I don't think it has ot do with early exposure to raw milk, cows, etc.


By PlaydoPlato (not verified) on 30 Dec 2009 #permalink

There is no biologically plausible reason I can think of why pasteurization would transform the milk into something that makes you ill---unless there is more lactose in the pateurized version and you are lactose intolerant.

And to the idiot asking for citations that humans make their own enzymes---dude, we also have four limbs and utilize the Krebs cycle. It's called "biology".

Comment 63 was left by the usual Turkish spambot.

It's hard to get adequate vitamin D through diet w/o supplementation of some kind.

Really? Over here, no vitamins are added to milk. I've been drinking 1/2 to 2/3 of a liter of it (pasteurized and homogenized -- can't stand non-homogenized one --; 3.5 % fat, none of that skimmed nonsense!) every day since ever, have never consumed things like cod liver oil, eat lots of butter but no cheese, yoghurt or anything, don't go into the sun much, and have never had symptoms of a lack.

Of course, the reason why I don't go into the sun much may also be why I don't need to â I have very pale skin, complete with red hair and almost no freckles.

They can make their parents look through the pink eyepiece at Escherichia coli swimming around in their cereal.

No, because it's too small to see through such a microscope.

Most cheese nerds agree that raw milk makes the best cheese, while ultra-pasteurized milk tastes burned (to me, at least) and is practically useless for making cheese. I'm not sure why.

Because heating milk too far for too long destroys its taste. Ultrapasteurized milk ranges from the still comestible to the yucky, and so does pasteurized milk that was warmed up too much (on the stove or in the microwave). For that matter, not all pasteurized milk tastes the same â that sold in Austria is better than that in France, and the latter has a longer shelf-life. I can easily imagine that fresh raw milk tastes better still (I've never had an opportunity to try it).

And to the idiot asking for citations that humans make their own enzymes---

I think some people simply use that word without knowing what it means.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 30 Dec 2009 #permalink

Oops, sorry, the former comment 63 by film izle is already gone!

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 30 Dec 2009 #permalink

Yeah, sometimes it takes a while, but i usually get to the turkish spam.

#67 David MarjanoviÄ,

"No, because it's too small to see through such a microscope."

I know. I was using hyperbole as an emphatic device.

Where is "over here"? I know the U.K doesnât âfortifyâ and it is osteoporosis central

The "fortification" "vitamin added" routine in milk, bread and salt in the United States had more to do with the serious problem of rickets, cretinism, goiters, dysmenorrhoea, connective tissue and developmental disorders etc.that we were seeing during the depression.

Hypovitaminosis D is a serious problem in the U.K .in about 60% of the middle aged population.

The reason one of my posts was unfinished is because The Bride hit me with a bar journal when she saw I was being derisive about raw milk consumption. The Bride is under the impression that raw milk saved the life of her sister in infancy.

If this, purely meaningless anecdotal, offering is coincidentally true, then I stand by my objection with even greater resolve. If you disagree it only proves that you have not met my sister-in-law.

Yet again the danger (my sister-in-law) outweighs the benefit (and pretty much everything else).

By Prometheus (not verified) on 30 Dec 2009 #permalink

One trend I have observed as a secondary effect of safeguards like pasteurization is that the burden of safety is put onto that gateway process instead of on the entire production process. In other words, because we feel safe since pasteurization makes the milk "clean" (which makes me wonder why we drink something that starts out so hazardous in the first place), industrial producers have license to cut corners in cleanliness and safety when raising and milking the cows. Rather than consider the importance of the whole endeavor, we focus only on sanitizing the end product, which lulls consumers into a false sense of security when food is so badly contaminated that no interventions can make it safe. Not to mention that the negative impact on the animals and the environment is lamentable.

Another example of this is with frozen entrees (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/15/business/15ingredients.html). The producers place all responsibility of safety onto the consumer, so if the consumer gets sick, they are blamed for not cooking it properly. The way the food is made by the producers makes it impossible to guarantee the food is safe without making it unpalatable - so the consumer is stuck with treading the fine line between edible and safe.

Note that I am not saying that pasteurized milk makes you sick. I am saying that pasteurization is not a silver bullet for making all food safe and healthy, and that we should promote more consumer awareness and choice so individuals can select foods that work for them. This includes availability, transparency, and accurate tracking of production lines.

For the record, I don't drink cow milk (it's gross to me), but I do eat cheese and other cultured products (yay bacteria!). Personally, I've noticed less phlegm buildup when I eat raw milk cheese, so I'm open to the idea that there are some differences that current food technology does not track. I also am descended from lactose-intolerant groups, so I notice differences more easily than fully lactase-endowed people.

" Humans make their own enzymes. We have no use for exogenous ones, and they are rapidly destroyed in the stomach before they can do anything. "

Pal, you might point out that enzymes are proteins, and are rapidly digested by peptidases in the stomach.

"If someone could find some real data collaborating that one gets real dietary function from exogenous enzymes (other then lactase). Please share it. Other then that, it seems woo to me."

Lactase added to milk works by converting lactose to glucose and galactase "in the jug", before the milk is drunk.

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 30 Dec 2009 #permalink

Here in the U.S. most jurisdictions don't allow raw milk to be sold for human consumption.

Everyone gets get around that restriction by selling it as "pet food" (wink, wink)

Because of these restrictions, it is not unusual to see raw milk being sold for 10 times the retail price of pasteurized milk.

That's a powerful financial incentive for the dairyman to keep selling you raw milk even if he suspects it is contaminated.

After all, you have no recourse against him, as he'll just say "I sold it to them as pet food"

Comrade, it depends on the type of cheese. Soft cheeses tend to carry more risk than harder, more aged cheeses. I've mostly had raw cheddar-type cheeses (harder). Also, I read that it is illegal to sell raw milk cheese under a certain age (I want to say 3 months?) in the U.S.

One aspect of foods processed with "friendly" bacteria is that the good bacteria crowd out the bad bacteria, and controlled salinity and acidity conditions tend to select for the good bacteria. I don't make cheese, but I do make kimchi, which is fermented vegetables. The salting process of the vegetables (usually cabbage) favors naturally occurring lactobacillus bacteria. These bacteria produce lactic acid, which makes the environment unfavorable to dangerous bacteria while they themselves multiply. This is what preserves the vegetables and provides the health benefits. I am fairly sure that the cheesemaking process does something similar.

I'm not sure what the beakdown is, PP, but queso fresco has been implicated in several outbreaks.


Because of these restrictions, it is not unusual to see raw milk being sold for 10 times the retail price of pasteurized milk.

In my experience, 10 times is a bit of an exaggeration, but raw milk dairymen do make much more per gallon than do dairymen who sell to bulk processors, and that's a good thing. Raw milk farmers are simply routing around a system designed to separate hard working dairymen from a fair share of the profits.

That's a powerful financial incentive for the dairyman to keep selling you raw milk even if he suspects it is contaminated.

I suppose there might be some sociopath out there somewhere capable of that. Such a person might also be capable of intentionally selling spinach contaminated with E. Coli, but the existence of such an amoral person has no bearing on whether raw milk or spinach can be produced safely.

Besides, intentionally selling a product that you know to be lethal, would result in harsh criminal penalties.

By PlaydoPlato (not verified) on 30 Dec 2009 #permalink


Is cheese made from raw milk less dangerous than raw milk itself?


Also, I read that it is illegal to sell raw milk cheese under a certain age (I want to say 3 months?) in the U.S.

I think MemeGene is right -- it's about 90 days. That's why raw cheese is fairly ubiquitous in the US, but fresh raw cheese isn't. The French, it seems, have somehow managed to avoid the problems, both real and imagined, with raw cheese products, as you can buy fresh raw cheese in France made the very same day. That may have to do with the fact that the French have a more sophisticated food culture with better educated consumers than we do here in the US.


There is no biologically plausible reason I can think of why pasteurization would transform the milk into something that makes you ill---unless there is more lactose in the pateurized version and you are lactose intolerant.

Thanks. I've always assumed that it has something to do with lactose intolerance, but I recall looking into this and, if I'm not mistaken, the info I found said that there was little difference, lactose-wise, between raw and pasteurized milk.

By PlaydoPlato (not verified) on 30 Dec 2009 #permalink

Jason Brown- I think you'd need to look up the active ingredients in BEANO, that's the only one I heard about in biochem class. Mind you, I remain agnostic on the efficacy of such things, but it's something other than lactase to consider.

Mal Adapted- of course enzymes can't survive the stomach. Just like bacteria can't grow there and cause ulcers. Oh. Wait. While I agree it's intuitive that enzymes should be denatured, there are some weird critters living in some acidic environments, and some weird enzymes that are proteinase resistant- I wouldn't assume anything on this one without some data. Do you have citations?

And Pal- BIOLOGY also tells us that lactase persistence is a freakish mutant trait the majority of humans do not have. Assuming that it is normal to be able to digest milk as an adult is both ethnocentric and unsupported by the science. It seems to me exceptionally relevant as to what kind of milk has the most lactose.

For the record, I'm somewhat grossed out by raw milk, although I did once get some lovely raw milk cheddar from the nice Amish folks at the farmers market around here.

"No, because it's too small to see through such a microscope."
Actually, no, but not because a 600x magnification isn't sufficient to see E. coli. Rather, proper visualization of E. coli is greatly aided by staining (e.g. a gram stain) and the slides are plastic and fixed and not made for such use.

I can't find the specific FDA document, but it looks like it's 60 days for raw cheese age.

becca - thank you for pointing out the uncommonness of the lactase persistence gene. I find it amusing on the FDA website that its response to lactose-intolerance is to suggest trying small amounts of dairy and worrying about the malnutrition of people who can't eat dairy. The assumption that eating dairy is a norm is a very Western-centric view.

The fact that pasteurization and cooking does help prevent bacterial infections demonstrates that our stomachs do not destroy everything that comes through with complete certainty. E. coli gets through just fine, so it's perfectly plausible to hypothesize that other species of bacteria and certain enzymes, if present in high enough concentrations, could make it through to the intestinal tract. More research on specific pro-biotics and enzyme supplements and which ones survive the stomach would be great.

(and at the risk of jinxing this, hooray for a series of thoughtful, constructive comments! We need more discussion like this.)

#75 MemeGene


I love cheese. The shop across the street from my office carries 120 varieties.

Lactobacillus raise the pH in cheese as it is aged to kill off scary counterparts.

Also works in kraut, pickles and a dozens of other products preserved though fermentation.

Swiss cheese ages long enough at room temperature for Propionibacter to start eating the lactic acid and making Co2 bubbles.

Introduced cheese molds(Camembert, Brie, Roquefort etc.) are all Penicillium molds.

Most cheeses are brined during aging except the washed rinds which are bathed in a solution containing Brevibacterium (yuck).

Queso fresco depends on added acetic acid to get the pH up to a safe level but it is easy to screw up when you are making it in your garage.

Campylobacter is the culprit in most of the outbreaks PalMD mentioned.

If you really look at the preparation of Raw milk traditional unfermented French cheeses there is a trick to every one of them that involves the introduction of an antibacterial agent. Don't smoke a cigar with Banon de Banon it's soaked in Provence moonshine and the Bella Gardian is always served in olive oil.

I like a mimoulette particularly, despite the fact that it gives the guys that make it dermatitis.

By Prometheus (not verified) on 30 Dec 2009 #permalink

Apparently it's cheaper to transport cows to New Zealand than to film them right in California. Just something else that makes a whole lot of sense. :-p From ABC news http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/state&id=7118034

"The California Milk Advisory says it will continue to use California cows for the parts that talk about California cows.

The other roles, though, will go to New Zealand cows because the scripts call for unhappy cows."

What are you afraid of? Bacteria?

there are, in fact, bacteria that i am very much afraid of. are you under some misconception that because you can't see them with your naked eyes they can't kill you?

By Nomen Nescio (not verified) on 30 Dec 2009 #permalink

I might be mistaken, but I thought that lactose tolerance persistence has arisen separately at last twice, in Northern Europeans and in some groups in Sub-Saharan Africa (mostly in groups of herders). So while it is a freak mutation, it is a useful freak mutation that some groups of humans have held onto for a reason, however irrelevant that might be in the modern world.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 30 Dec 2009 #permalink

Lactase genes also have some awesome epigenetics and can probably be induced.

@71 Memegene,
I think you hit the nail on the head here. I suspect the reason that final processing is promoted over other forms of safety control is that it allows mega farms to be sloppy at the earlier stages - pasteurization costs less than sanitary milking conditions.

Can't remember the sources, but I recall hearing recently that there is evidence using comparative DNA that lactose tolerance mutations have arisen several times, in geographically separated populations. (Unfortunately, I'm one of the left-behinds.)

The interesting part of the story is that testing of traditional milk-eating groups showed that only a certain percentage of the population had the lactose tolerance mutations. This means that a lot of people drinking milk do not digest it fully, or really enjoy the experience if they do!

It's not just allowing mega farms to be sloppy---you must, to be effective, hit the final common pathway.


Thanks for confirming that it is far more profitable (at least several times) in most U.S. markets to sell raw milk directly to the end user instead of the distributor.

Unlike the middlemen the end user has no ability to determine how much bacteria is in that raw milk, so there's no incentive for the dairyman to stop selling raw milk, no matter what they suspect might be in it.


Who cares?

Show me the money!

However, I'd never drink raw milk from some random dairy or make mayo from store bought eggs.

Take heart! You can safely make mayo from store bought eggs now! Real eggnog, too. You have to be willing to spend a little bit more for pasteurized eggs, though, and not all stores carry them. Large supermarkets usually do, at least around here (Twin Cities, Minnesota). They do behave slightly differently when cooking; the whites are thicker. But if you've ever cooked with straight-out-of-the-hen eggs (and it sounds as if you have), you already know how to cope with that. ;-)

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 30 Dec 2009 #permalink

Thank you for the BEANO(Alpha-galactosidase) path (it does seem to have some efficacy). I find this talk about enzymes interesting, since it was nothing I had really thought about before, so I wasn't sure either way. But I am now leaning towards that nutritionally, there is not much difference between raw and pasteurized. Difference(regardless of possible infection) is in taste and how raw milk is more of a swiss army knife when not drunk. Even though I know we make yogurt here from pasteurized milk(using whole milk).

I am still skeptical regarding how grass fed cows seem completely safe.

Also, I am surprised that no one has mentioned that with an increase in small dairy(animal) farms, there is an increase number of vectors between animals and humans for infectious diseases.

# 72 - Regarding Lactase - Thank you for clearing that up,
now I have about an hour of reading on it. *ugh*

# 82 - They are not shipping any cows to New Zealand


Conclusions. Oral [alpha]-galactosidase solution is efficacious, at least in some patients, for the prophylaxis of gastrointestinal intolerance of oligosaccharides.

Key words. Oligosaccharides; [alpha]-galactosidase; legumes; flatulence; intestinal gas; quality of life; community health care. (J Fam Pract 1994; 39:441-445)

By Jason Brown (not verified) on 30 Dec 2009 #permalink

Only good reason to consume unpasteurised milk is the occasional specialty cheese. Otherwise, what the hell's the point?

(Just to clarify that last: I love cheese, and some cheeses (so I'm told by the shopkeeper, anyway) require not to be pasteurised or they taste different. As an occasional treat while in good health, they're a calculated risk for a delicious benefit)

Yeah! I look forward to hearing more podcasts should you choose to continue them. And, yes, itâs understood they do take time.

An aside to you or any other podcaster: As a listener, itâs not all that important whether or not every little thing is technically perfect. Whatâs more important is just being able to listen to someone caring enough about a particular subject to share on it.

Of your discussion here, well, I havenât read it through thoroughly but I can throw in one thing. It must be kept in mind that there is an eating disorder called Orthorexia Nervosa. Thatâs an obsession with right (ortho) or ideal eating. Striving to eat a food in its purest form is one aspect and this latest food fad of going back to drinking raw milk would seem to be a part of that.

This is a story about beef, but it shows exactly the same sorts of breakdowns in the system that concern me about adhering to the idea that "pasteurization makes dangerous raw milk completely safe":


In defense of the "pasteurization makes you sick" people, seeing stuff like this does not strengthen faith in the efficacy nor sanity of our food sanitization techniques. What's even more insidious is that the low price of this product means it will often be fed to children in schools - a captive audience of physically vulnerable people who can't say "no." Note the lack of labeling of the processing chemicals and lack of inclusion in recalls.


Yeah! I look forward to hearing more podcasts should you choose to continue them. And, yes, itâs understood they do take time.

E, here is another good medical podcast. It is by another ScienceBlogMedicine blogger, Dr. Mark Crislip. It has a different, more snarky flavor and is very entertaining: Quackcast.

Other recommended podcasts are The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe (Dr. Steven Novella, also of ScienceBasedMedicine, a couple of his brothers, and other friends), and This Week in Virology with a pair of researchers/professors of Columbia University (again, very entertaining and educational, with the recent addition of This Week in Parasitism). There is more at http://docartemis.com/sciencepodcasters/ .

"This is a story about beef, but it shows exactly the same sorts of breakdowns in the system that concern me about adhering to the idea that "pasteurization makes dangerous raw milk completely safe":"

You'd have a point if milking cows involved tearing their shit-spewing entrails out, and if meat could be effectively and thoroughly pasteurized without cooking it. (You can steam it, but ground beef can have bacteria mixed deep inside and might not be killed.)

Good on you for slamming pseudo-science, but why are vegans getting caught up in some of the jeering here?

A vegan is simply a person who avoids animal products (in my case because I'm horrified by factory farming). We're not represented by PETA any more than you're represented by [insert extremist]. Just because some nut puts adhesive in his gummy bears doesn't make the idea of shunning slaughterhouse products absurd. On issues like cholesterol and diabetes, we actually do have perfectly valid scientific support that has nothing to do with homeopathy or incense. (I'll happily put my tempeh up against porkchops.)

P.S. Just for the record, vegans don't drink milk raw or pasteurized. We usually just buy fortified Silk at any grocery store.

UHT pasteurization wrecks the milk for cheesemaking - certain fats(?) proteins(?) breakdown under the higher temperatures and prevent the milk from properly curdling. You get ricotta instead of mozzeralla which is a real disappointment. There's no safety difference between low-temp and high-temp pasteurization, but a dairy can do in 5 seconds with UHT pasteurization what they could otherwise do in 30 minutes. It's simply a matter of cash; the end product is crap but as long as everyone's doing it, consumers won't have a choice and eventually they won't notice how shitty American milk is.

Again, I'm absolutely not arguing against pasteurization. I don't even like milk, at least until I get to Europe. Their product simply tastes better. In the US, we let the big producers & their lobbyists drive quality standards into the ground and oddly, these are often the same people fighting food testing and other cost-center tests to verify product safety. Sad to see the alties and raw foodies in league with the producers to promote riskier foods, one group for magical thinking, another for profit.


Thank you! I really appreciate the information you provided - especially that last link. Iâve already been finding some good stuff as a result.

That Dr. Mark Crislip is pretty funny! But is also comforting too, like the gentleman here.

I am familiar with âThe skeptics' guide to the universeâ because when I was getting guidance from Microsoft (guy in India) on how to download we used that podcast as an example.

Thanks again and take care.

Hey, just wanted to respond to the article. While it is called, raw milk, the fact that it is not pasteurized is just one of several reasons why unprocessed milk is of better quality than the "milk" produced by the large scale food system. Jersey cows produce A2 beta-casein milk (as opposed to A1 of Holsteins). The milk is bought directly from farmer to consumer, received within a couple days of milking. The milk or cream can be soured. The milk is not separated into milkfat and nonfat milk, and then remixed into various milk products with controlled milkfat percentages. Other additives are not added (Vitamin A from China, Vitamin D from UV-radiated New Zealand lanolin from sheep's wool, carageenan, melamine-laced dry milk, other colorants, microcrystalline cellulose, etc. The milk is not homogenized, the milk of hundreds of cows is not poooled, then pumped into tanker trucks and shipped to a processor. All of the transfer by tanker truck introduces cleaning solvents and other contamination into the milk.

I have been drinking raw milk for several years now with know ill-effects. Like another person who posted here, I am supposedly lactose intolerant. I avoided drinking milk for years after my diagnosis, until a farmer challenged me to try raw milk. I knew some people who had a very clean, well managed, organic farm, and I asked them if I could take home some milk out of their bulk tank. I had no problems consuming that milk.

About a month later, I decided to give pasteurized milk a try again. I purchased a half gallon and put some on a bowl of cereal for breakfast. That night, as I was dozing off to sleep I started having severe stomach cramps, and I jumped out of bed and made to the toilet just in time.

For some reason, pasteurized milk makes me sick but raw milk has never given me any problems.

I did not grow up on a farm, or in the country, but I do have a degree in agronomy. I know that what farmers feed their cattle can make a tremendous difference in their health and life-span. Many farmers push grain, corn silage and industrial by products to cattle to improve milk production. This works, but it usually causes health problems, such as acidosis for the cattle. Few dairy cattle live more than 4 years of age--average lifespan is 39 months.

A healthy dairy cow can easily live to past 10 years of age. Sick, stressed cattle not only leave the herd at a young age, they produce poor quality milk. Yes, there is bacteria in all milk, including mother's milk. However, if mom is healthy their will also be antibodies produced in the milk to ward off infection. This is true of cattle as well.

Unfortunately, their has been almost no research done on raw milk in the past 50 years. That's too bad, as their could be real benefits that we are missing. One study in Europe is posted below on the benefits of drinking raw, farm-milk to asthma.


If humans have been living off the byproducts (milk) of cows, goats, yak, camels, and sheep etc for thousands of years and pasteurization has only been around for 150, (and only commonly in the west for about 90), how on earth did we survive? Moreover, how do so many around the world still survive, let alone thrive?

Your version of 'history' is very ethnocentric and short indeed.

Kristeva Dowling


The short answer to "how did we survive?" is that most of us didn't. Everyone reading this is descended from a long line of people who beat the odds. That doesn't mean their relatives did. My great-grandmother bore thirteen children. Of those, nine died in infancy. Obviously, I am descended from one of the other four.

Yes, many of our ancestors made it without antibiotics, without vaccines, without pasteurization. But they often didn't make it very far: say, age 20 or 25 and then dying in childbirth or of an infection. Not getting tuberculosis isn't noticeable when you're surrounded by other people who didn't get it either.

Physiology perspective: There's enzymes and then there's enzymes.
The vast majority of proteins, on ingestion, are going to get first denatured (unfolded, thus destroying function) by the gastric juice's low pH (note to Prometheus @#81: as I'm sure you know, more acidic = lower pH), and then cut up into chunks by the stomach's protease, pepsin.
Three things: first, a few protein enzymes, like pepsin itself, may not only survive low pH but actually function best under such conditions (they are tricked out with lots of extra hydrogen bonds to hold them more tightly in the functional folded shape). Second, though, even those acid-resistant enzymes are all destroyed in the duodenum, thanks to a whole array of pancreatic and intestinal proteases that work at the much higher intestinal pH. (I'm talking about proteins here, not bacterial cells and their contents, which can be otherwise protected).
But third, all this takes time. On eating a meal, it takes time for the stomach lining to get cranked up and secreting HCl and pepsin, so there is some time for supplemental enzymes like Lactaid and Beano to work on the stomach contents before they (the enzymes) are destroyed. You have to eat the supplements with the meal. The optimal pH for the fungal lactase in Lactaid is 5, so it will function for a while even after HCl starts to lower the pH.

Supplemental enzymes can, then, work for a short while if you eat them directly with the meal you hope they will help you to digest.

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 13 Jan 2010 #permalink

Are any of the following comments overreaching?

(1) Milk extracted from grass-fed animals has more minerals than mile extracted from grain-fed animals. Those extra minerals may help supplement human health when consumed.

(2) If certain enzymes like lactase and alpha-galactosidase are efficacious either via their effect on undigested food while in the stomach or via passing into the duodenum and working there before being denatured, could there be other enzymes that are present in raw milk or raw food which act in a similar manner?

(3) Is it possible that enzymes which are not denatured by cooking or pasteurization break down into constituent parts differently in the stomach than enzymes which have been denatured in the above manner?

Raw food advocates have many diverse claims. Claims that raw food diets cure cancer are obviously overstated. However, the simplest claims are that raw foods promote increased health and well-being. Have there been any studies that show this is false?

Science has a long history of investigation being fueled by anecdotal claims, including many once altie therapies that are now accepted: garlic lowering blood pressure, neti pots alleviating sinusidis symptoms, acupuncture easing pain. I have seen many people debunk raw-food claims about curing cancer, but nothing debunking the claim that raw-food lifestyles are healthier. Measurements of health could include longevity, disease incidence, weight loss, mood.

I've seen the arguments dissecting the whole raw food is evolutionarily appropriate argument, but that's not what I'm addressing. That argument is obviously fallacious, but it reeks of post-hoc rationalization for eating raw. Say, some people stumbled upon the modern raw food diet, and felt that it improved their health. They then reasoned, "Aha! This is the way we were meant to eat... " I've also seen the arguments that we are supposed to eat cooked food because we are evolutionarily adapted to it. That's the same argument turned on its side. I want to know if there's anything to the raw food promotes overall health and well-being argument.

The closest dissection on scienceblogs I can find is this: http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/2008/03/eat_it_raw_itsmagic.php#more, and it does a very poor job at it. Most other debunkings are either the above evolutionary debunking or the same enzyme debunking on this page which has been shown to be incorrect, at least for lactase and alpha-galactosidase.

It seems to me that the modern raw food movement is not what they claim. They claim to be going back to a less-modern way of eating. Blenders, juicers, dehydrators, and mass quantities and enormous varieties of vegetables, fruits, and perhaps dairy or meat are not the way our ancestors ate. It's a diet only sustainable with modern technology and agriculture. But that's not a bad thing. It's progress. And it can very well be a healthier nutrition plan.

Does a raw food based diet and nutritious plan increase energy, mood, overall health and well-being? Almost every raw foodist I know has made this anecdotal claim. It could be self-selection. The ones for whom the diet didn't work went back to cooked food. But as I said, is there any science investigating this claim? I haven't found any, proving or disproving.