The Health Benefits of Raw Milk from Grass Fed Animals
by Ron Schmid, ND
Raw milk in my health and practice
In 1970, I went to live on the island of Martha's Vineyard. I was quite ill with gastrointestinal problems. I began living mostly on seafood, fresh vegetables and salads, and raw milk and eggs purchased from a local farmer, with a little meat and whole grain bread. My health problems, intractable for years before, disappeared.
Raw milk remained a mainstay of my diet. Since 1981 I have strongly recommended raw milk to thousands of people who have seen me in my practice as a naturopathic physician. I practice in Connecticut, where we enjoy the right to purchase certified raw milk throughout the state (with the exception of the town of Fairfield, where a fascist local health board has instituted an unchallenged-for-lack-of-funds town ordinance prohibiting the sale of raw milk).
The farm that provides my raw milk
The raw milk available in the part of Connecticut where I live is from Debra Tyler's farm in Cornwall Bridge, called "Local Farm." Debra has nine cows on fourteen acres. Eight health food stores in central and northern Connecticut pick up milk regularly at Local Farm. There are about a dozen other certified raw milk dairies among Connecticut's 210 dairy farms.
Debra has Jersey cows. Most farms have Holsteins, which provide more milk, but with less protein, fat, and calcium. Jerseys were originally bred by the French to produce milk for cheese making. The fat content of Debra's milk at this time of year is about 4.8%, well above the normal 3.5% for whole milk. Debra's cows eat mostly grass in the spring, summer, and fall, and mostly hay in the winter (each cow consumes a forty pound bale a day!), with a few pounds a day of ground corn and roasted soybeans (five to one corn to soybeans ratio).
Local Farm milk is certified organic. Certification costs several hundred dollars a year in fees, and considerable paperwork. It also means that Debra must sometimes pay more for certified feed from faraway places than for locally produced feed she knows to be organic but which is not certified. Which raises the question: if you know and trust the local farmers who produce your food, does it really have to be certified?
Connecticut citizens' right to purchase raw milk threatened
The right of the people of Connecticut to purchase raw milk was last seriously threatened in 1994 when the state Environmental Committee held public hearings on the certification of raw milk, before voting almost unanimously to continue licensing new farms and allowing raw milk to be sold. I testified at those hearings. My testimony responds to objections to raw milk raised by the state health department, and documents the benefits of raw milk. To quote from that testimony:
"The state epidemiologist writes that 'It has yet to be demonstrated that raw milk has any beneficial health effects…' He cites articles attached to his letter. In one article, 'Unpasteurized Milk, The Hazards of a Health Fetish' (Journal of the American Medical Association, Oct. 19, 1984), the authors make a series of misstatements about the research of Francis Pottenger before concluding that raw milk has no health benefits. I detail this in the paper I've given the members of the Committee.
Pottenger's studies on raw milk
Now what Pottenger actually did in some of his experiments is this. He used four groups of cats. All received for one-third of the diet raw meat. The other two-thirds was either raw milk or various heat-treated milks. The raw milk/raw meat diet produced many generations of healthy cats. Those fed pasteurized milk showed skeletal changes, decreased reproductive capacity, and infectious and degenerative diseases.
Now just who was Pottenger? He was the son of the physician who founded the once famous Pottenger Sanatorium for treatment of tuberculosis in Monrovia, California. He completed his residency at Los Angeles County Hospital in 1930 and became a full-time assistant at the Sanatorium. From 1932 to 1942, he also conducted what became known as the Pottenger Cat Study.
In 1940, he founded the Francis M Pottenger, Jr. Hospital at Monrovia. Until closing in 1960, the hospital specialized in treating non-tubercular diseases of the lung, especially asthma.
Dr. Pottenger was a regular and prolific contributor to the medical and scientific literature. He served as president of several professional organizations, including the Los Angeles County Medical Association, the American Academy of Applied Nutrition, and the American Therapeutic Society. He was a member of a long list of other professional organizations.
Clinical Evidences of the Value of Raw Milk
Pottenger's experiments met the most rigorous scientific standards. His outstanding credentials earned him the support of prominent physicians. Alvin Foord, M.D., Professor of Pathology at the University of Southern California and pathologist at the Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, co-supervised with Pottenger all pathological and chemical findings of the study. One particular question that modern science has largely ignored was addressed: What is the nutritive value of heat-labile elements-nutrients destroyed by heat and available only in raw foods?
I'll quote some of Pottenger's work directly. First, from his article 'Clinical Evidences of the Value of Raw Milk:'
'Some of the factors transmitted by milk are thermo-labile (sensitive to heat). Though their destruction may not produce death, their deficiency may prevent proper development of the child. This may show in the development of an inadequate skeleton or a decrease in resistance….delay in development of osseous centers is noted more frequently in those children…receiving heat treated milk. It is particularly absent from the raw milk fed children….I am basing this discussion on analysis of 150 children whose parents have consulted me because of respiratory allergies….many other workers…have also shown that treating milk by heating interferes with its proper assimilation and nutritional qualities….The best milk from a nutritional standpoint is raw milk….Heat-treating milk interferes with calcium metabolism causing…delay in bone age, and small bones….The interference with calcium metabolism as shown in the bones in only a physiological index of disturbed metabolism throughout the body.'
Speaking for myself—I personally have prescribed raw milk from grass-fed animals to my patients for nearly fifteen years. Time and again I have seen allergies clear up and dramatically improved health. Particularly in children, middle ear infections usually disappear and do not recur on raw milk. Both children and adults unable to drink pasteurized milk without problems have thrived on raw milk. In hundreds-perhaps thousands- of my patients using raw milk, not one has ever developed a Salmonella, Campylobacter, or other raw milk related infection.
In the letter cited above, the state epidemiologist states that 'The processes of certification and/or inspection do not guarantee that raw milk will not be contaminated with pathogenic organisms.' He also lists a host of microorganisms that are alleged to be transmitted by raw milk consumption, not mentioning that, as the literature accompanying his letter makes clear, the only organisms even potentially associated with the consumption of certified raw milk are Salmonella and Campylobacter. And in one of the articles he cites, 'The Hazard in Consuming Raw Milk' (in The Western Journal of Medicine), the authors write that 'Salmonella and Campylobacter diseases in humans are generally not serious. But in persons with compromised health (particularly those with malignant conditions and immunosuppressed by disease or therapy), these infections may be serious.'
So, the gist of the state's argument against certified raw milk is that it might possibly on isolated occasions cause serious disease in some people whose immune systems have been compromised by the toxic effects of chemotherapy. And those of us who might choose to drink certified raw milk for the benefits I have catalogued should be denied that right."
Fortunately, the members of the Environmental Committee saw through the shallowness of the state's argument and voted in favor of raw milk.
Milk in History and Evolution
Is milk a 'natural' food for humans?
Not everyone agrees that milk should be part of the human diet after infancy. The argument is made that just as all other species drink no milk after weaning, neither should we, especially that of another species. Many adults have difficulty digesting pasteurized milk, and allergies to pasteurized milk products are common. While this lends credence to arguments against milk, such reactions are usually due to pasteurization itself and the poor quality of conventionally produced milk and milk products. While for some individuals genetic influences play a role, for most the body's reaction to milk depends largely upon the quality and state of the particular milk used.
The Swiss of the Loetschental Valley were one of the few native groups Weston Price studied that used milk (the others were certain African tribes, including the Masai). The Valley people used raw, whole milk, both fresh and cultured, cheese, and butter, all in substantial quantities. The milk was from healthy, grass-fed animals and was used unpasteurized and unhomogenized. Such foods clearly can play a major role in a health-building program for the individual genetically enabled to utilize these foods well. They are a rich source of fat-soluble vitamins A and D and other crucial nutrients in short supply in diets lacking in high quality animal fats. (Contrary to popular opinion, liberal amounts of animal fats, particularly from grass-fed animals, are essential for good health and resistance to disease.)
Other sources of the vitamins and minerals found in raw whole milk
Yet we could attain optimal health without dairy foods. Price discovered groups with complete resistance to dental decay and chronic disease using no dairy foods; their diets invariably included other rich sources of animal fats, calcium, and other minerals. The soft ends of long bones were commonly chewed, and the shafts and other bones were used in soups.
Modern medicine has discovered the importance of a substantial intake of calcium. Several recent studies have linked high blood pressure and other problems with chronic subclinical calcium deficiency, including increased incidence of colon and prostate cancers in men and osteoporosis and osteoarthritis in both men and women. Paradoxically, other problems are associated with high consumption of dairy foods; this has not gone unnoticed by researchers, nutritionists, and nutrition minded physicians. The importance of the quality and freshness of milk products lies behind the paradox. This concept has not been considered in attempts by today's medical community to explain the health effects of dairy foods.
Traditional consumption of raw milk
Domesticated animals were first used for milk eight to ten thousand years ago, as a genetic change effecting mostly people in Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Africa enabled them to digest milk as adults. Milk from domesticated animals then began to become important as a human food. With domestication and settlement, fewer wild animals were available; as groups of people roamed less, they hunted less, eating more grains and vegetables. In some cultures, milk replaced animal bones as the chief source of calcium and some other minerals.
In indigenous cultures where adults used milk, often it was used as cultured or clabbered milk. This is similar to homemade raw yogurt, and it is partially predigested-much of the lactose (milk sugar) has been broken down by bacterial action. This process must be accomplished over a period of several hours in the stomach when one drinks fresh milk; yogurt or clabbered milk is much more easily digested than fresh milk.
Adaptations in evolution are always the effects of particular causes. Humans developing the ability to digest milk into adulthood possessed a survival advantage; such change is the basis of evolution. Put simply, many human beings evolved the ability to easily digest raw milk because raw milk from healthy, grass-fed animals gave them an adaptive advantage; it made them stronger and more able to reproduce. Such milk remains a wonderful food that provides us with fat-soluble nutrients, calcium, and other minerals that are by and large in short supply in the modern diet.
The right to consume raw milk today
In the six years since I presented the testimony quoted above, I have become more convinced than ever of the value and importance of raw milk in the dietary of people of all ages. For many of the people who eat in the manner I recommend, raw milk is the chief source of enzymes. I believe enzymes are a critical component in recovering from disease and establishing and maintaining health. Hundreds of people I've seen have used Local Farm raw milk as an essential part of their naturopathic treatment.
There isn't a day that goes by that I'm not thankful that I live in a state where bureaucrats and medical monopolists have not stripped us of what should be an inalienable, constitutional right. I mean the right to purchase raw milk and other healthy, locally produced foods directly from the people who produce them.
It's impossible to overestimate the importance of the work Debra Tyler and farmers like her are doing. I long to see the day when all Americans have the right to purchase locally produced raw milk, meat, fowl, and other farm products direct from the farmers who produce them. The day when the current yoke of prohibitions and bureaucratic red tape has been thrown off, and we once again are free to produce and consume truly healthy foods. The men and women who founded this country did not intend for commercial interests to control the food supply and thus our health. These are rights of the people, and they are rights that have been stripped away. We need to work together to regain them.
Dr. Ron Schmid has practiced as a licensed naturopathic physician in Connecticut since graduating from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in 1981. A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well, he has taught courses and seminars in nutrition at all four of the accredited naturopathic medical schools in the United States. He served for a year as the first Clinic Director and Chief Medical Officer at the University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine. He is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians and the Connecticut Society of Naturopathic Physicians, and is on the Honorary Board of the Weston A. Price Foundation. He is also the manufacturer of 100% pure, additive free nutritional supplements. Dr. Schmid is the author of Traditional Foods Are Your Best Medicine, first published in 1986.