Nutrition • Dec 23, 2013

The Medical Risks and Benefits of Raw Milk

BXP65320hI am a cheese snob—I lavish a rich cheese and a dark red wine at the end of a long day.  Some of the best cheeses are made from raw milk, but I haven’t eaten them in nearly a decade, since I became a mom.  Bacteria in raw milk products can cause virulent infections including meningitis and blood stream infections.  For pregnant women, these infections can result in miscarriage or stillbirth.  Infants and young children are more susceptible to the ugly bacteria that can live in raw milk products, including Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter jejuni, Salmonella species, Brucella species, and Escherichia coli O157.  As a mom, I have become the cheese police, always reading the labels on all milk products I buy and asking in restaurants if their cheeses are pasteurized.  So I was very excited last week when the American Academy of Pediatrics released a new policy statement calling for a ban on the sale of all raw milk and raw milk products. 

We have a simple fix to this problem—pasteurization.  Yet 30 states currently permit the sale of unpasteurized milk products, although it is illegal to sell these products across state lines.  Raw milk products are still the primary source of foodborne illness in the United States.  From the AAP policy statement:

“[A]mong milk- or milk product–associated foodborne illness outbreaks reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 1973 and 2009, 82% were attributable to raw milk or cheese.”

Supporters of raw milk often cite possible health benefits of unpasteurized products.  According to the AAP, there is no medical evidence to support these claims.  There is, however, strong scientific evidence that pasteurization does not alter the nutritional value of milk.

One European study showed that kids who drink raw milk have less asthma and allergies, but it is unclear if it was the milk itself that caused this difference.  Even the Swiss PhD student who worked on this study, Georg Loss, describes raw milk as a “double edged sword.”  “On the one side it is protective for the development of asthma and allergies but on the other side it may imply serious health risks due to harmful microorganisms.”

We just don’t have enough research right now to say that raw milk consumption prevents asthma and allergies.  But even if that research existed, why would you put your child at risk of serious illness or death in an effort to prevent a treatable illness?  It’s a medical decision all parents need to make before their babies are born—no raw milk.

I’ve seen meningitis from Listeria, a bacteria found in raw milk products.  I’ve seen it turn a healthy, beautiful newborn into a lethargic, gray baby with a high fever.  I’ve tested many more babies for infection caused by raw milk, sticking needles into their backs to collect cerebral spinal fluid and collecting blood for a battery of tests.  Wouldn’t it be easier just to pasteurize?  Good cheese is not worth this pain.

Comments

  • anonymous

    Sure would be nice to read the comments for this post without having to post

  • Kat, the only reason they call them raw milk cheeses is that they are not homogenized and are pasteurized at a lower temperature then milk.

    The “Bacteria” said to be “in raw milk products” are said to “cause virulent infections including meningitis and blood stream infections.” but not in association with raw milk consumption.

    “For pregnant women, these infections” could hypothetically “result in miscarriage or stillbirth.” according to a study on guinea pigs that where injected with large quantities of three pathogens.

    “Infants and young children are more susceptible” because of their intense vaccination schedule and the fact that they are more likely to see the doctor.

    There is evidence that pasteurized and homogenized “milk products ” cause allergies, cancer, and heart disease and little evidence to the contrary.

    “So I was very excited last week when the American Academy of Pediatrics released a new policy statement calling for a ban on the sale of all raw milk and raw milk products.” Are you out of your mind? Who has the authority to ban a food. And the AAP has a conflict of interest since the only reason people drink raw milk is for their health.

    “pasteurization” is not a “fix”. It doesn’t eliminate foodborne illness and even if you refuse to recognize the scientific evidence, there’s no way milk is the same after heating to 161°F for 16 seconds and pressurizing at over 14,500 psi. before the fat globules are broken down to 0.2 microns.

    In the United States raw milk products are associated with diarrhea by doctors more often than pasteurized milk which suggests that raw milk may be the second safest food you can buy since pasteurized milk is claimed to be the safest based on some epidemiological data. The problem with that claim is that it is not supported by the fact that even during a serious outbreak of so called foodborne illness a cow share with 900 people only has about 9 cases of diarrhea in a month while the national average comes out to 225 cases of diarrhea per month for a group of 900 people.

    “Supporters of raw milk often cite possible health benefits of unpasteurized products. According to the AAP, there is no medical evidence”(This is alternative medicine. Why would there be medical evidence?) to support these claims. There is, however, evidence that pasteurization does not significantly alter the nutritional value of milk according to the so called nutrition label on the side of the bottle.

    “We just don’t” recognize “enough research right now to say that raw milk consumption prevents asthma and allergies.” Why would you? Who would pay for it? “But even if that research existed, why would you put your child at risk of” possibly getting diarrhea one day(even though the average American gets diarrhea 3 times a year) “in an effort to prevent” an illness that caused 3447 deaths in 2007?

    “I’ve seen meningitis from Listeria, a bacteria(that is said to be) found in raw milk products. I’ve seen it turn a healthy, beautiful newborn into a lethargic, gray baby with a high fever.” newborns don’t eat cheese or drink cows milk.

    “I’ve tested many more babies for infection (I thought were) caused by raw milk, sticking needles into their backs to collect cerebral spinal fluid and collecting blood for a battery of tests.” Just because their parents brought them in for diarrhea.

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  • Dr,

    I wish, I wish, I wish you and I could talk about high quality raw milk and the CDC data. Your article is not supported by the real data. Outbreaks does not equal Number of Illnesses. There have been 70 deaths and 450,000 illnesses from pasteurized milk and cheeses in the USA since 1972 ( CDC ). There have been an average of about 40 illnesses per year related to raw milk in the USA since 1972 and no Deaths from any American raw milk or cheeses.

    In CA 625 stores carry state inspected raw milk, with 80,000 people consuming it.. The standards for raw milk differ completely from the raw milk you have described in your article.

    I invite you to learn more about raw milk and join the 21st century of caring and informed doctors and parents.

    Mark Mcafee
    5598469732. Please call me.

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