Cow's milk is an important part of human diet and a source of food allergy for some individuals. Medical guidance strongly discourages consumption of raw milk because of the known health risk associated with pathogenic bacteria present in unpasteurized milk. Despite these risks there is a growing body of epidemiological evidence suggesting that consumption of unprocessed cow's milk does not increase but rather decreases the risk of asthma, hay fever and atopic sensitisation. The article reviews the epidemiological literature and discusses components of unprocessed milk potentially responsible for this protection. It focuses on the role of bacteria in raw milk, the fatty acid profile, whey proteins and finally the role of allergens in milk. Although the epidemiological evidence consistently suggest a protective role of unprocessed cow's milk consumption on the development of asthma, hay fever and atopic sensitization the underlying mechanisms are not yet understood and the consumption of raw milk cannot be recommended as a preventive measure for allergic diseases.
Cite this as: C. Braun-Fahrländer and E. von Mutius, Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 2011 (41) 29–35.
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