Raw milk may have a placebo effect if you’re paying $15 per gallon for it, but any other health claims are pure myth. At least that’s one of the conclusions one might come to after reading the July/August edition of Nutrition Today, which includes a peer-reviewed study into the health benefits, if any, of raw milk. John A. Lucey, Ph.D., food science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, looked at the public debate over the possible health benefits of drinking raw milk. He reviewed more than 50 scientific articles and the websites of groups advocating raw milk consumption before coming to the conclusion that there is no evidence to suggest that raw milk provides any health or nutritional benefits, including everything from eliminating lactose intolerance to better digestion. Lucey, who is also director of the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, calls claims about the health benefits of raw milk consumption are “unsubstantiated myths.” “A number of different claims have been made about the possible health benefits that could hypothetically be derived from the consumption of raw milk,” writes Lacey in “Raw Milk Consumption:Risks and Benefits,” published in the open source Nutrition Today. “Recent scientific reviews by various international groups have concluded that there was no reliable scientific evidence to support any of these suggested heath benefits.” Lacey also reports that, “During pasteurization, there is no significant change in the the nutrition quality of milk.” He also writes that pasteurization does not result in any differences in the protein or mineral quality of the milk and that vitamin losses are “very minor.” Raw milk, according to the report, is a frequent source of foodborne illness outbreaks. “U.S. statistics for dairy-associated outbreaks of human disease during the period 1993-2006 have been reviewed,” Lacey writes. “There were 121 dairy product outbreaks where the pasteurization status was known; among these, 73 (60 percent) involved raw milk products and resulted in 1,571 reported cases, 202 hospitalizations, and two deaths. A total of 55 (75 percent) outbreaks occurred in the 21 states that permitted the sale of raw milk.” “States that restricted the sale of raw milk had fewer outbreaks and illnesses,” he continues. “In an updated report covering the 6-year period from 2007-2012, the average number of outbreaks associated with nonpasteurized milk was 4-fold higher during the 6-year period (average 13.5 outbreaks/year) than that reported in the previous review of outbreaks during 1993-2006.” A possible sign of the increased popularity of raw milk is the increase in outbreaks even in states where it is illegal to sell non-pasteurized milk, such as Wisconsin, which saw six outbreaks with 261 illnesses and 27 hospitalizations during the later period. Milk pasteurization as a public safety measure began in Chicago in 1924, but it was resisted for the next eight years. During that time, the public came to accept “purified milk” (pasteurized milk) was safer that “pure milk,” or raw milk, as tuberculosis was brought under control.
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