Health Benefits of Raw Milk
What’s this hype about raw milk anyways? What is it? It is milk, straight from the cow’s teat. That is what all of the buzzes is about. It’s quite remarkable how this has spawned so much controversy. History shows just how common drinking raw milk is.
In fact, royalty used to bathe in it, as far back as Cleopatra in Ancient Egypt (Could have been donkey milk, but still raw!). They extolled the effects of how beautiful and healthy their skin would become after submerging themselves in this nutrient rich bath. Yet, somehow, in today’s age, it has become demonized as the vessel of all foodborne illness, which is not true.
The History of Raw Milk
So, how did this happen anyways? It was in the early 1800s, with the implementation of confinement dairies, that thing took a turn for the worse. The conditions of the dairies were abysmal. Cows were shoulder to shoulder, and their waste was everywhere. If you think about the general conditions which promote microbial growth, they were all there. Darkness, warmth, and moisture all together create a cocktail of microscopic carnage.
These cows were behind closed doors, and their collective body heat would raise the temperature of the room. With the raised temperature, cows would sweat (through their nose, like a dog does) to cool themselves down, which would only increase the humidity in the room. And this is all disregarding the heat and moisture content of their urine and feces… It was a veritable Petri dish. To top it off, the cows weren’t even fed real food, instead of being fed a waste byproduct from distilleries. The resulting milk was called swill milk.
This went on for a very long time, over a hundred years, and was subsequently blamed for the deaths of a rather large portion of children under the age of five in certain cities. Milk got a bad reputation. The invention of pasteurization helped drop this percentage and was considered to be the saving grace.
Unfortunately, there were also a lot of other things taking place around the same time that could have explained but more likely simply contributed to the drop in child mortality. Cars came into the picture, reducing the amount of horse traffic, and hence horse manure, in the streets. Improved sanitation and water treatment systems were also taking root in cities, as well as increased consumer refrigeration. The fact that swill dairies were outlawed probably was the largest factor.
These other factors, however, didn’t stop the forward momentum of pasteurization, since it was so clearly linked to the elimination of the disease.
But, before we continue, what is pasteurization, exactly?
It is when a food is heated to a specific temperature and then cooled. The process is done so as to reduce the number of pathogens, not necessarily eliminate them entirely. Some form of it was known in China about 900 years ago, but it was Louis Pasteur who invented the modern version of it. His ideas in the Germ Theory of Disease are what really catapulted the whole thing.
So, you may be wondering, how is this bad? Who wouldn’t want to reduce harmful bacteria?
The problem is the picture is one-sided. Milk, in its raw form, is a whole, complex system onto itself. It contains quite a few vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, enzymes, and beneficial bacteria; all very good stuff! When you pasteurize milk, it destroys a lot of the enzymes (biological molecules that speed up chemical reactions). Without them, a large percentage of the compounds in the milk aren’t absorbed into your body. When they are properly absorbed, they do a number of good things.
Studies on rats have shown raw cow’s milk to improve immune function, brain function, have better fur, and better teeth. The corresponding rats that were fed pasteurized cow’s milk weren’t as smart, were susceptible to skin diseases and had patchy fur and poor dental health. This, of course, doesn’t necessarily translate to human health, but the same experiment has been done on cats and dogs with similar effects.
This shouldn’t at all be surprising. Milk is designed by mothers in nature to nurture their developing young offspring. When was the last time you saw a hamster run to the boiling pot to heat up their milk before giving it to their babies?
The question becomes, where is the middle ground? When is the interplay between your body’s immune system and the invading microbes not in your favor?
So long as the cows aren’t in conditions like the swill dairies, and proper handling of the raw milk is exercised, a similar reduction in pathogens can be obtained as if you pasteurized it. Milking a properly cleaned udder of a healthy, pastured, happy cow and then immediately refrigerating that milk is as simple and natural as it gets. Adding in the immune building and overall health improving effects (Yes, even in people) should tip the scales in favor of what nature has been doing all along.