Sunday, June 1, 2008

Raw Milk: Benefits and Risks

Hereford SteerImage via WikipediaThe opinions expressed below are strictly mine and should in no way reflect on any other ties that I may have.

Recently I attended a really great food safety conference. The second half of the first day was full of presentations and discussions surrounding the production and consumption of raw milk. We heard from a producer, a retailers, a woman that gathered facts from the internet for us and a regulatory agency. The afternoon was so full of information and debate that it really got me thinking. I decided that I just had to come share my thoughts on the whole raw milk movement.

First, the "pros" of raw milk.

Both realmilk.com and raw-milk-facts.com list some pros and cons of drinking raw or "real" milk. They suggest that raw milk is healthier because it has intact enzymes, proteins and good bacteria. These good bacteria can help us digest milk better and the enzymes can help our digestive system and ensure that we use (and waste) less of our own digestive enzymes.

Raw milk means milk that isn't pasteurized. Pasteurization involves using a heat treatment to destroy the harmful bacteria that resides in milk.

Some say that grass fed cows shed a much smaller number of the E.coli 0157:H7 bacteria than grain fed cows. Therefore, if you have a pastured, grass fed cow, your raw milk will be bad bug free. Unfortunately, this line of thinking follows a study that was done by a prestigious university. This study consisted of looking at 3 cows. I'll leave it at that.

Another pro of raw milk is that the milk comes from family owned farms. There is a big push to help sustain family farms because supposedly drugs and hormones are less often used. Also, everyone likes to put money back into their local economy.

Now for the cons of raw milk.

I was told recently (by a man that eats 2 raw eggs a day and feeds his family raw meat and milk) that one really has to weigh the risks when deciding to drink raw milk. He said that he was making the choice for his family to be cancer free and live long happy lives.

Risk. It's a loaded word. Would I risk giving my child cancer when she's 70 because I will be feeding her pasteurized milk and therefore neglecting to give her precious enzymes and proteins? Probably if it would mean saving her from contracting E.coli. E.coli O157:H7 means abdominal cramping, bloody diarrhea and just general cruddiness. "You mean to say that you would risk your daughter getting cancer and dying at the young age of 70 because you want to save her from diarrhea?"

You see, so many people think this "little" diseases that they can catch from raw foods (milk especially) are harmless and will simply result in a case of the runs. Check out the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention's website to learn more out the complications that can arise from this little bugs.

When it comes to raw milk, there are two associated illnesses that I don't believe are worth the risk. The first is E. coli. This illness, along with cramping and diarrhea, can cause Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome. Basically the organs shut down and victims are left to survive on a dialysis machine until their kidneys can be replaced. Unfortunately, the usual victims of this disease are between the ages of 1-5. That means that you, as a mother or father, get to sit there and watch your child hooked up to a blood cleaning machine, hooked up to an IV while they recover from having their kidney removed and replaced (if they can find a replacement) or even die. Death isn't that uncommon.

My second huge concern with raw milk is the risk of Listeria monocytogenes - you know, that one bug that also causes cramping and diarrhea. Oh wait, I forgot one symptom. That's right - spontaneous abortion. I've recently spoken to two different women at two different times that have had friends or family members lose a number of children to Listeria. One woman miscarried 4 times before she was finally tested for Listeria. She tested positive, quit eating non aged raw milk cheese and now has three healthy children. Another woman, after eating a non aged raw milk product, was 5.5 months along in her pregnancy when she lost her twins.

So let's go back and look at the risks associated with milk. The greatest risks associated with pasteurized milk are the possibility that we are increasing our chances and that of our children of developing cancer in our later years because we are supposedly killing off the beneficial parts of the milk. I say supposedly because I am still waiting to see the scientific evidence. Also, even pasteurized milk can contain bacteria if it was not pasteurized properly.

Now let's look at the risks associated with drinking raw milk. Watching your children suffer while they lose their kidney or slowly die. Suffering miscarriage after miscarriage and mourning the loss of your unborn children.

My daughter dying of cancer when she's 70 or dying when she's 5 and hasn't even been able to experience life yet?

Is there really even a choice there?



3 comments:

Andrew said...

Humans weren't designed to continue to drink milk their whole life in the first place and especially not cows milk.

But that's a whole other issue ;)

Mercola Health said...

That's an interesting take. I would have to look into it further, though.

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