“Should I drink raw milk?” This is a question a lot of people are wondering since there is a lot of conflicting information. If you source your raw milk from a grass-fed dairy where the milk is regularly certified to be free of pathogens, you both provide your body with healing nutrients, enzymes, and probiotics and protect yourself from pathogen risk
These days, many people have sensitivities to or simply cannot drink cow’s milk… the question is’ why’?? Raw milk was prescribed by doctors for many diseases up until the middle of the 20th century. The famous Mayo Clinic itself – in Rochester, MN- was established in part by Dr. J.E. Crewe MD, who saw many patients recover with his raw milk treatments, dubbed ‘the milk cure’. I still remember the days of the ‘GOT MILK?’ adverts with handsome actors and beautiful actresses sporting nice white mustaches! It was supposed to be a healthy food full of calcium to build bones! What has changed?
What is the Difference between Raw and Pasteurized Milk?
In a word, ‘heat’. Raw milk is left in its original, unheated and untreated state while pasteurized milk has been heated to temperatures of 162F(72C) for normal pasteurization and 285 F(141C) for UHT (ultra high temperature) pasteurization. The word ‘pasteurized’ is not to be confused with ‘pasture-raised’ which refers to pastures that grass-fed cows are provided to munch freely on. ‘Pasteurized’ is derived from Louis Pasteur’s name. He was one of the first to recognize bacteria could be killed through heat.
A Brief History of Pasteurization
Let’s go back in time to understand why pasteurization became the matter of course and how it impacted the nutritional benefits of raw milk. The laws around pasteurization hail back to almost a hundred years ago when cows were moved from country fields to crowded cities and the first confinement operations were introduced. These operations were incredibly unsanitary and crowded cows were fed leftover acid grain slop from whiskey distilleries. These cows became severely unhealthy and easily contracted Tuberculosis thus passing it along through their raw milk.
Infant death rates from raw milk from these distillery cows shot up and that was more than enough to begin enforcing the pasteurization of milk. Pasteurization was much cheaper than hauling and ice-cooling country-side milk into the city. It ‘promised a quick, technological fix that would make New York’s milk safe to drink’.
While the quick fix did prevent infant deaths, it was truly a stop-gap measure for unhealthy distillery cows. The harmful pathogens which were contributing to infant deaths, however, came from unsanitary confinement dairies and not certified grass-fed dairy farms with free-roaming cows.
Even proponents of pasteurized milk at that time ‘recognized that carefully produced raw milk from healthy animals was safe’ and that ‘a sufficiently low bacterial count offered safety from milk-borne infection’.
The Grass-Fed and Conventional Pasteurized Dairy Difference
Now that you’ve gotten a peek into the history of pasteurization, what is the difference between grass-fed vs. confinement grain-fed operations? On a grass-fed dairy, cows are fed primarily grass with possibly a small amount of hay feed in the winter. They are allowed to roam and graze freely on idyllic pastures. On the other hand, conventional dairies use confinement operations where cows stand shoulder to shoulder knee-deep in their feces. They are forced to eat a conglomeration of genetically engineered corn, soy, and other industry throwaways.
Cows’ seven stomachs are perfectly created to digest grass, not corn. Because their stomachs are not meant to digest corn, the corn sits and putrefies in their stomachs creating sicknesses and early death for most conventionally raised cows. A grass-fed cow can expect to live its full twelve to sixteen years while a conventional grain-fed confinement cow will be lucky to live two to four years!
It may be of interest to note that the smell of confinement dairies can be smelled a mile away and are often located where passersby cannot get a whiff. These operations do not even allow photography of their dairies, as they are so unpleasant. On the other hand, grass-fed dairies have no problem with people seeing or smelling their operations. I find the transparency of these dairies very telling.
Nutrients Found in Raw Grass-Fed Milk
Raw milk is a ‘whole, complete’ food because it contains all nine essential amino acids. Current research affirms that grass-fed milk contains significantly higher amounts of CLA (conjugated-linoleic-acid) , omega 3 fatty acids, and Vitamins A and E than grain-fed, conventional milk. It also affirms that raw milk allows for greater absorption of folate than pasteurized milk.
The quantity and quality of living enzymes in raw milk are astounding and worth noting. These enzymes are sensitive to heat and are generally destroyed by pasteurization. It seems contradictory that the beneficial role of enzymes in a mother’s breast milk for the child is widely accepted, while the health benefits of these very same enzymes from cow’s milk are lacking and/or downplayed in modern research. This is likely due to the overarching concerns around the safety of raw milk (addressed below.)
Here are some of the enzymes in raw milk and their functions:
- assists in the digestion of fats and the assimilation of fat-soluble vitamins
- antiviral, antibacterial, antimicrobial, stimulates the immune system
- anti-inflammatory creating a healthy gut balance.3 It also
- assists in visceral fat reduction
- proper iron utilization
- FDA approved for use as an anti-microbial spray to combat E. coli contamination in the meat industry.  Lactoferrin significantly reduces the burden of TB (tuberculosis) organisms.
- assist in the digestion of proteins. Further research has demonstrated their importance as they
- assist in cell division, DNA replication, ovulation, fertilization, stem cell mobilization, inflammation, and immunity just to name a few!!
Lactase: Lactose is the all-important enzyme to:
- break down ‘lactose’ into glucose and galactose which are digestible sugars.
- a naturally antimicrobial enzyme
- Possible role in skin cancer prevention.
- “Used as an antibacterial agent in reducing bacterial microflora in milk and milk products” according to Wikipedia:
- A key enzyme in accessing two of milk’s important minerals, phosphorus, and calcium.
- helps regulate and control intestinal calcium absorption.
- associated with decreased inflammation and decreased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- Breaks down starch and carbohydrates
- Improves digestion and energy, anti-diabetic,
- is used in anti-cancer treatments
To summarize, enzymes in raw milk assist in the digestion of fats, sugars and proteins. They are antiviral and anti-bacterial. Enzymes assist in iron, calcium and phosphorous utilization. They have anti-cancer properties. Enzyme activity is associated with a decreased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease as well as fat reduction potential in animal studies. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss out on all the incredible health supporters found in the enzymes of raw milk!!
Raw unpasteurized grass-fed milk is full of probiotics including lactobacilli. Lactobacilli “inhibit pathogenic organisms, reduce lactose intolerance, and increase the immune response.”
In a recent study, beneficial bacteria P.freudenreichii and P. acidpropionici reduced pathogen adhesion to intestinal mucus, increase bifidobacteria counts, restore a healthy gut microbiota, improve bowel movement, alleviate inflammatory disorders and reduce allergy development“.
Raw milk is a wonderful way to develop and maintain a healthy gut and stay regular. I’ve even seen people go on a raw milk fast to alleviate constipation.
One of the special vitamins contained only in ‘grass-fed’ milk – mainly the cream of the milk – is Vitamin K2. This is because cows get Vitamin K1 from grass which turns into Vitamin K2 in their milk. K2 is responsible for depositing calcium and phosphorus in bones, protecting against cavities, protecting against atherosclerotic plaque, calcification, and inflammation of blood vessels. Milk from grain-fed cows does not contain as much of this special vitamin as the cows don’t munch on their natural food – Vitamin K1 containing grass.
Raw grass-fed milk also contains higher levels of Vitamins A due to the conversion of carotenes in green grass and Vitamin D which comes from sunlight.
Raw grass-fed milk contains many minerals including calcium, phosphorus, copper, iron, zinc, magnesium, and potassium. The presence of the alive enzyme phosphatase and vitamin K2 from grass-feeding renders calcium ‘bioavailable’, that is, to assist the body in assimilating the calcium found in milk. Heat treatment of milk does lower the nutrient content of milk. In this article which studied the effect of pasteurization on various minerals in raw milk, it was found that, “Pasteurized milk, […] gave a lower calcium balance than did fresh milk.”
In raw grass-fed milk, we find higher levels of Omega 3’s, both short and medium-chain fatty acids which disrupt pathogens and control inflammation as well as CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which assists in fat burning and has strong anti-cancer effects as discussed below.
What are the Health Benefits of Raw Grass-Fed Milk?
As you can already see, raw grass-fed milk is a true superfood containing almost all the nutrients, and immune protection the body needs! Here are some of the studies that have looked into various specific health effects of raw grass-fed milk:
Asthma, Allergies and Excema
Numerous European studies conducted on farm children and adults who drank ‘unprocessed’ (raw) milk, demonstrated that drinking raw milk lowers rates of allergies, asthma, and eczema.
PARSIFAL AND GABRIELA Studies
The PARSIFAL and GABRIELA studies- 14,000 and 8,000 participants respectively- are of particular interest. The PARSIFAL study also showed that raw milk drinking was directly responsible for lower rates of asthma.
Further, in a study called, ‘PASTURE’ 1,100 children were studied for the impact of raw/fresh/farm milk on asthma. Asthma was markedly lower in children who had drunk raw milk for at least four years. The PASTURE study also followed 983 infants with results showing a 30% decrease in respiratory infections and fever. In a study on 4,700 children in England, raw farm milk is associated with significantly fewer eczema symptoms’. For a summary list of these cross-sectional studies on the effects of raw/’unprocessed’ milk on allergies, asthma, and eczema, please reference the bchershare tables.
Whether or not pasteurization is a cause for lactose intolerance is a hot mess of debate in the nutrition and medical community. Recent studies claim there is no impact of pasteurization on lactose toleration in milk. Yet, survey research shows otherwise. The Weston A Price Foundation conducted a fascinating study of 2,500 participants demonstrating an 80% tolerance level for lactose in ‘lactose intolerant’ raw milk drinkers. The enzyme ‘lactase’- only available in raw milk- assists in the digestion of lactose.
Grass-fed milk is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids which protect from cardiovascular disease.
Anti-Cancer Effects and Possibilities
There is a decrease in the expression of squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer) under the influence of raw milk due to the enzyme lactoperoxidase. This enzyme is only active in raw milk.
Additionally, CLA (as discussed above) has anti-cancer effects in animal studies.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Raw, fermented milk decreases Inflammatory bowel disease by decreasing the t-helper 17 response.
Growth in Children and Tooth Decay
In the 1930’s, the effects of pasteurization were studied. During this time, laws and lobbying around pasteurization were less strict. They observed that raw milk improved the growth of children in terms of height increases. Children who drank raw milk suffered minimal tooth decay. While these studies are older, a current conflict of interest around raw milk safety and its true nutrition has prevented a thorough modern investigation of these previous research results. That said, the CDC currently admits that Vitamin C is lower in raw vs. pasteurized milk but negates its value.
Healing Testimonials from Raw Milk
- Healing from autism using raw milk kefir therapy.
- Healed from digestive issues and constipation with raw milk (A2) kefir.
- Healing of Lyme’s disease through raw milk.
- Healing of tooth sensitivities and cavities through raw milk.
- Testimonies from the Weston A Price foundation on healing Crohn’s disease, weight gain in underweight baby, healing of asperger’s and ADHD, healing of milk allergies, relief from lower back stiffness.
- While anecdotal, I have read two testimonies of people who have seen their osteoporosis reverse and saw their bone strength increase through raw milk drinking.
- Under the ‘Milk Cure‘ protocol by Crewe, testimonies included healing from “countless conditions, including tuberculosis, cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, nervous system, diabetes, anemia, obesity and underweight patients.“
How Does Pasteurization Impact the Nutrition of Raw Milk?
As outlined in the Raw Milk Institute’s Letter to Medical Professional’s, pasteurization of milk has the following effects:
- Decrease of copper and iron
- Reduce Vitamins A, B Complex, C, and E,
- Destroys beta-lactoglobulin. (This negatively impacts the intestine’s ability to absorb Vitamin A and D.),
- Inactivate beneficial enzymes, including lactase, alkaline phosphatase, and lactoperoxidase.
In the older studies referenced above, calcium balances were higher in raw milk than in pasteurized milk. Pasteurization destroyed 38% of Vitamin A, most B vitamins, and 20-50% of Vitamin C.
The Impact on Enzymes, Probiotics and Structure
The pasteurization (heat-treatment) process destroys or inactivates all of the wonderful health-promoting enzymes and probiotics and many of the other nutrients in raw milk. The few nutrients that do remain are difficult to properly absorb as the enzymes that assist in absorption have been killed off. No wonder so many people are needing to go dairy-free these days! Our bodies are not intended to drink a dead product that has zero ‘life’ in it. The enzymes help our bodies assimilate the vitamins and minerals as well as the fats, proteins, and sugars we need from milk.
The Impact on Milk’s Structure
Barbara Rubik PhD magnified raw and pasteurized milk 4,200 times to see if or what differences can be observed. She says, “Pasteurization as well as homogenization alters the colloidal structure of milk, rendering it a less complex and more homogeneous liquid. Such milk has lost its structural complexity.” While this doesn’t necessarily speak to the destruction of nutrients, one can visibly ‘see’ the impact that pasteurization has on raw milk. Raw milk has an amazingly complex structure, as does everything that God has created in nature! I tend to think that this complex structure must be useful and beneficial for the human.
Safety of Raw Milk
Nowadays, small organic, grass-fed dairies perform routine and technologically advanced tests to certify against pathogens such as campylobacter, listeria, salmonella, and E.coli in their milk. Their cows are out in the pasture and milked and highly sanitary conditions. They are not standing in their poop like confinement cows do. This means raw milk is, in fact, very safe to drink. My family is only one of a growing population of people that have been drinking it for years with only positive health outcomes!
Dairy is a ‘Low Risk’ Food Group
Interestingly enough, raw milk is one of the least risky food groups. Statistics of outbreaks from 1999-2006 reveal that seafood and chicken are the most likely to cause an outbreak and dairy products are the least likely! This is because raw milk contains many components that kill pathogens and strengthen the immune system. These special enzymes in raw milk protect it from becoming pathogenic! The bacteria in raw milk are preventative in nature. Ron Schmid, ND states, “raw milk contains multiple, redundant systems of bioactive components that can reduce or eliminate populations of pathogenic bacteria while also strengthening the immune system.”
Criss Kresser, M.S., L.Ac, analyzed the safety of raw milk and challenged the CDC’s statements regarding the true statistical risk of drinking raw milk. His research and analysis of CDC’s data concluded that one has about a one in six million chance of hospitalization from drinking raw milk. Statistically, “you have 750 times greater chance of dying in a car crash than becoming hospitalized from drinking raw milk.” The internet will try to scare you out of it… but often concerns are way overblown and likely profit-driven. Dairy as a whole has the least chance of all the other food groups for being pathogenic.
Long Term Health Benefits from Raw Milk
Overall, as we can see from all the studies mentioned above, the long term health benefits that stand out for drinking raw milk are the following:
Lessen your chances of osteoporosis This is due to the calcium bioavailability in raw milk as well as phosphatase enzyme, proteins, and Vitamin D3 in raw milk. Vitamin K2 in the cream of raw milk also assists in calcium absorption. These nutrients work synergistically towards strengthening bones.
Lessen your chances of cancer This is due to CLA and cytokines in raw milk.
Increase assimilation of Vitamin A, D Most people are too low in these vitamins! They are important for the health of every organ, protein metabolism, hormone regulation, and mineral metabolism.
Build strong bones in babies and young children as well as adults!
Increase healthy gut bacteria Raw milk is full of healthy probiotics. We now know that a healthy gut influences nearly every other aspect of our health.
Protect from bad bacteria. Raw milk is surprisingly antimicrobial!
Assist in preventing weight gain. Lactoferrin – an enzyme in raw milk- has been repackaged as a supplement to assist with weight loss. Why not get it directly from your food? The healthy fat CLA in grass-fed milk also assists in fat reduction.
After reviewing all these studies related to the benefits of drinking raw grass-fed milk, I want to shout all the benefits of certified raw milk from the rooftops and let everyone know what an incredibly healthy food raw milk is. Not to mention how delicious, creamy, and sweet real, farm-fresh raw milk is!
How to Enjoy Raw Milk
Create your own Starbucks latte, make a sweet eggnog, add it to black tea or create your own matcha latte. Add raw milk cream to soups. Create a morning protein smoothie. The options are endless!
So, I’ll let you decide. Should you drink raw milk? Let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments below!
If you source your raw milk from a grass-fed dairy where the milk is regularly certified to be free of pathogens, you are both protecting yourself from pathogen risks and providing your body with nutrients, enzymes and probiotics that are incredibly healing to the gut.