Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?
Dr. Loss: In this large population based cohort study we observed that consumption of fresh unprocessed cow’s milk protected from respiratory infections, febrile illness and inflammation of the middle ear during the first year of life. The risk of developing these conditions was reduced by up to 30%, and the effect was diminished if the milk was heated at home before consumption. Conventionally pasteurized milk retained the ability to reduce the risk of febrile illness, while exposure to the higher temperatures used in UHT (Ultra-heat-treatment) processing eliminated the effect altogether. Importantly, the positive impact of fresh milk could be clearly separated from the confounding effects of other elements of the children’s nutrition. Furthermore, infants fed on unprocessed milk were found to have lower levels of the C-reactive protein, which is a measure of inflammation status.
Medical Research: What was most surprising about the results?
Dr. Loss: Before this study there was no evidence supporting the idea of fresh milk protecting against respiratory infections in early life. In fact, pediatricians recommend against consuming cow’s milk during the first six months of life, especially against the consumption of unprocessed milk in infancy due to a possible contamination with harmful bacteria. We knew from previous studies that breast feeding protects from respiratory infections. We thought it could be possible to observe a similar effect in our rural population by consumption of cow’s milk in its native state given the similarities of breast milk and cow’s milk. It was surprising, however, to observe such a clear protection against infections and that ingestion of unprocessed milk reduced the levels of inflammation markers.
Medical Research: What should clinicians, patients and health officials take away from your report?
Dr. Loss: Middle ear inflammation and respiratory infections are common during the first year of life. The latter has been hypothesized to be involved in the development of asthma later on. Reducing these infections reduces their direct burden and may be beneficial in the onset of asthmatic disease. A microbiologically safe milk with minimal processing to preserve beneficial components might be a novel basic food with an enormous public health value. A prevention strategy based on a well-accepted food of everyday nutrition might succeed without profound changes in life-style.
Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Dr. Loss: We would like to see an intervention study with a microbiologically safe but minimally processed cow’s milk to substantiate our findings. Moreover, we plan to identify exact components responsible for the health effects.