The Dangers And Benefits Of Raw Milk

By:    Published: September 6, 2011

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Over the years, many food fads have come and gone: In the 1950s, TV dinners were revolutionary, in 2000, colored ketchup caught on, and after that, cupcakes were all the rage. But the trend of drinking raw milk, which has had a resurgence over the past few years, has probably been the most controversial food trend of all.

What is Raw Milk?

Raw milk is milk that hasn't been pasteurized, and it has drawn serious opposition from the USDA, FDA and the Centers for Disease Control. But raw milk consumers, who are calling raw milk, "real milk," say that there are many benefits to drinking milk in its raw state, including a better taste.

Benefits

While drinking unpasteurized milk may not sound like a healthy choice, consumers and supporters of it say that it has many vitamins and minerals that pasteurized milk doesn't offer. Those vitamins and minerals, they say, are lost during the pasteurization process, which consists of heating milk to kill any harmful bacteria. These are some of the nutritional benefits of raw milk:

  • According to Raw-Milk-Facts.com, raw milk contains all eight essential amino acids as well as immunoglobulins, which help the body resist viruses and bacteria. It also contains both water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins, and a complete balance of calcium, magnesium and phosphorous.
  • Raw milk may be easier to digest for those who suffer from lactose-intolerance and can no longer make the enzyme, lactase. The website also states that, because of the high nutritional value of raw milk, it is considered to be a complete food, meaning that the body could survive off of raw milk alone if it had to.
  • Raw milk, which was the only form of milk before the pasteurization process was created, has also been shown to have other health benefits as well. According to Raw-Milk-Facts.com, during the early twentieth century, raw milk was used for medicinal purposes and subsequent studies show that people who were raised on, or drink a lot of, raw milk are less prone to having allergies.

Dangers

Despite all of the possible benefits, the FDA and the CDC have both condemned raw milk, saying that the dangers largely outweigh the benefits. The FDA cites the following as some of the dangers of consuming raw milk:

  • Unpasteurized milk could harbor dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria.
  • These bacteria can be especially harmful to those with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, children and the elderly, and can lead to foodborne illness in anyone who consumes raw milk, or products that are made from raw milk, such as cheese or ice cream.
  • Foodborne illnesses can cause stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting, and in some cases, they can lead to paralysis, kidney failure, kidney disease and even death.

According to the CDC, 86 outbreaks from raw milk and its products were reported between 1998 and 2008. Those outbreaks resulted in 1,676 illnesses, 191 hospitalizations and two deaths. But as the CDC points out, these are only the numbers of cases that have been recognized and reported.

Buying Raw Milk

In 1987, the FDA banned the interstate sale and distribution of raw milk according to the Los Angeles Times. Most states have also banned the sale of raw milk, either for human consumption, or altogether. These are some of the state laws, according to Realmilk.com:

  • Some states, like South Carolina and Connecticut, have legalized the sale of raw milk on farms and in retail stores.
  • Other states, like North Carolina and Indiana, have banned the sale of raw milk for human consumption but have legalized it for animal consumption.
  • States like Hawaii and West Virginia have banned the sale of raw milk outright.

If you're ready to give raw milk a try, and you live in a state where the sale of it is legal, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • There are two types of raw milk: "real" milk, which is meant to be consumed directly from the cow, and "unclean" milk, which must be pasteurized due to the way it was produced.
  • Farms or companies that produce raw milk on a large scale may not have enough room or land to keep proper care of the cows. If the cows are kept in close quarters, chances are the area they're being kept in is unclean and filled with manure. This is a recipe for milk filled with bacteria and other toxins.
  • Cows that have been injected with hormones are another possible danger. Those hormones cause cows to overproduce milk, which in turn, causes inflammation of a cow's teats. When teats are inflamed, pus and extra white blood cells are produced, which leak into the milk.
  • Cows that are fed grain or soy aren't a good idea either. Compounds in those foods can mimic estrogen, and could potentially alter the milk. The ideal glass of raw milk comes from a grass-fed cow, and has been cooled to 36-to-38 F.

Consumers also need to realize that the raw milk they might be looking for isn't always the same. There are many factors, like the ones mentioned above, that can affect the type of raw milk you're drinking. Knowing where raw milk should come from, and the potential risks of consuming it, is the first step in keeping you and your family safe.

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