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Milk, Infants and Pasteurization, The Real Story
(Part 1 of 3 on Milk)

Louis Pasteur

Milk advocates claim it builds strong bones, helps muscles grow and is a good source of vitamin D. Milk critics say it causes cancer, increases the risk of diabetes and can cause osteoporosis. It's time to cut through the hype and scare tactics. After going through 617 studies, this is what clinical testing revealed.

Milk and Infants

Let's start with babies. Milk from cows can lead to iron deficiency in children under 1 year of age. There are a combination of reasons.

  • Cow's milk is low in iron, yet is used as a primary source of nutrition for many infants.
  • 40% of normal infants will experience intestinal blood loss when they're fed cow's milk.
  • Cow's milk is high in calcium and the protein casein, which inhibits the absorption of iron.

Each point is minor, but together they can cause iron deficiency in infants. Fortunately, researchers found that, "Loss of iron in the form of blood diminishes with age and ceases after 1 year of age." That means it's generally not a problem for children older than 1 year.

Milk also contains much more protein and minerals than an infant needs, so they pee more to get rid of the excess. The excess urine can lead to a negative water balance. If additional fluids aren't given to compensate it can lead to serious dehydration. This also ceases to be a problem as infants pass the age of 1 year.

The risk of iron deficiency and dehydration make cow's milk is a poor choice for infants or children under the age of 1 year. Mother's milk is best, but if you're unable to provide that, infant formulas can be a good choice.

Adverse effects of cow's milk in infants. By: Ziegler EE; Fomon Infant Nutrition Unit, Department of Pediatrics, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA.

When you're old enough to drink milk, the next debate that comes up is how processed the milk should be.

Raw vs. Pasteurized Milk

Purists suggest that everyone should drink raw milk because it's so much healthier. Raw milk proponents claim it has protective components that kill pathogens, prevent pathogen absorption and strengthen the immune system.

To better understand pasteurization and what it does, the following information is from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

"Pasteurization is a process that kills harmful bacteria by heating milk to a specific temperature for a set period of time. First developed by Louis Pasteur in 1864, pasteurization kills harmful organisms responsible for such diseases as listeriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and brucellosis."

"Research shows no meaningful difference in the nutritional values of pasteurized and unpasteurized milk. Pasteurized milk contains low levels of the type of nonpathogenic bacteria that can cause food spoilage, so storing your pasteurized milk in the refrigerator is still important."

After reviewing the available data, we were unable to find any research directly observing the benefits that are supposed to come from drinking raw milk versus drinking pasteurized milk. We couldn't find any clinical evidence that raw milk could strengthen the immune system any better or prevent pathogen absorption to a greater degree than pasteurized.

We did find dozens of studies detailing the direct benefits of pasteurization in reducing illness. In several large-scale studies, involving hundreds or thousands of samples, raw milk was always cited as having more disease-causing problems from contamination than pasteurized milk.

Effective heat inactivation of Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis in raw milk contaminated with naturally infected feces. By: Rademaker JL, Vissers MM, Te Giffel MC.; Department of Health and Safety, NIZO Food Research, Ede, The Netherlands. Jan.Rademaker@nizo.nl

Bacterial contaminations of informally marketed raw milk in ghana. By: Donkor E, Aning K, Quaye J.; Department of Microbiology, University of Ghana Medical School, Korle-Bu, Accra.

In raw milk's defense, advocates encourage consumers to "get to know" their local producer and make sure the milk is coming from a sanitary source. That's wonderful in theory. The reality is that very few people have the time to visit their local dairy and if they did, what should they be looking for? How can the average person tell if their local dairy is sanitary or not?

There's another little problem. The sale of raw milk has been outlawed in nearly half the states and cannot be sold in interstate commerce.

Because of the potential problems including possible contamination and the legal restrictions on sale, we cannot at this time suggest raw milk as an alternative to pasteurized milk. There are simply too many risks for consumers to adequately protect themselves.

UPDATE 1/30/2018

Raw milk is much more dangerous than we estimated when this article was first written. As of 2015, approximately 3% of all milk consumed is raw milk. However, 80% of all pathogen outbreaks linked to milk are attributed to RAW milk. Think about that, 3% of the market but responsible for 80% of the disease outbreaks.

The stats are sobering. Drinking raw milk is 150 times more likely to result in illness than pasteurized milk.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) put together a great informational piece about Raw Milk.

Read it here: Raw Milk Questions and Answers

Download a PDF of the article here: Raw Milk Questions and Answers

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Updated 1/30/2018