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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Raw Milk Article Long but Flawed

David E. Gumpert's article Got Raw Milk? (single page version, from the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, is a major treatment of the subject. Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized. Proponents claim that this improves the flavor of the milk, doesn't damage the nutrients, and is healthier overall. Many states ban raw milk entirely and almost all the rest have strict regulations concerning its sale. Unless extreme care is taken with the health of the cows and of the milk before it reaches the consumer, a variety of diseases can be passed through to those who drink it.

For background check out my own major article on the subject titled Raw Milk Not for Lactose Intolerants.

With that background, the section of Gumpert's article of greatest concern to us follows:

Results of a just-released study of 2,217 raw-milk drinkers in Michigan - conducted by a herd-share group there and by a professor at the University of Michigan and underwritten by the Weston A. Price Foundation - suggest that raw milk can be consumed by most sufferers of lactose intolerance, a condition the study's authors estimate affects about 10 percent of all Americans. This is a tiny sample, but of the 155 people in the study who said they had been "told by a healthcare professional they had lactose intolerance," more than 80 percent reported regularly drinking raw milk without symptoms. (An FDA spokesman counters that because of the study's methodologies, its authors do not consider the findings conclusive, nor do they call the consumption of raw milk a preventive measure.)

Since I've been saying loudly for a very long time that no evidence exists that people with lactose intolerance will be no more symptom-free from raw milk than from pasteurized milk, I need to point out a few facts that Gumpert doesn't include in his article.

First, David H. Gumpert. While newspaper reporters are usually supposed to be objective and report both sides of an issue, magazine writers are normally not under the same obligation. Partisans often write on subjects of concern to them. One of Gumpert's major concerns is raw milk. He's for it. Searching his The Complete Patient journal yields numerous articles over the last several years extolling the virtues of raw milk and attacking governmental interference with it.

Second, the Weston A. Price Foundation, the funder of the study. It is not an impartial observer in the controversy. Quite the opposite.
Specific goals include establishment of universal access to clean, certified raw milk and a ban on the use of soy formula for infants.

One of its major initiatives is the Campaign for Real Milk. Real = Raw.

Anti-milk groups always protest when they see studies on the benefits of milk funded by Dairy Associations and other interested parties. It will be interesting to see their position on this one. My take is that this study should be given the same level of credence, one based on the value of the science it produced tempered with the understanding that special interest-funded studies that hit print almost invariably are favorable to the product being studied.

What of the study itself? I wish I knew. I couldn't find the study mentioned on the Price foundation site. And Gumpert's journal entry says:
Hopefully, they'll get in published in a scholarly journal of some kind.

That appears to mean it is a non-peer-reviewed study that has not been looked at by the rest of the scientific community. The FDA has seen it, judging by the comment Gumpert put in his article, and they weren't impressed.

But what about the claim itself? Lactose intolerance individuals could drink raw milk without symptoms. Doesn't that prove something?

Not without a control group. Here's the fact that either the study doesn't bother to give or Gumpert left out. People with lactose intolerance can often drink any kind of milk, even pasteurized, without getting symptoms. That's a fact that's been showing up in peer-reviewed studies for decades.

If the Beals study did not do a blinded comparison of raw milk to pasteurized milk among its drinkers there is no possible way to know if they people who considered themselves lactose intolerant had symptoms from pasteurized milk. And without that comparison the numbers given by Gumpert are meaningless.

I hope more details emerge soon or the complete study is posted online. I'll keep an eye out for it.

In the meantime continue to view raw milk with the same suspicion you would view pasteurized milk. Don't let a group touting raw milk convince you otherwise.

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