The consumption of raw milk has gained popularity on social media platforms Instagram and Tik Tok. Health and wellness influencers are promoting this behavior as being “gut healing” and increasing their ability to consume dairy-containing foods.

Other claims made about the consumption of raw dairy include improved skin health and hormone balancing. Getting a matcha latte with raw milk is being promoted as the pinnacle of health by influencers who start their “what I eat in a day” videos with a body check and their only qualifications to speak on the matter being a flat stomach. The circulating claims that raw milk is pure, and that pasteurized milk is stripped of its nutrition are entirely false.

The process of milk pasteurization began in the United States in 1908 in Chicago (Lucey, 2015). This was when tuberculosis was considered an epidemic and health crisis. There were numerous concerns about the transmission of tuberculosis from infected cow’s milk to humans, with estimated cases being approximately 10% (Lucey, 2015). The process of pasteurization is heating the milk to 72 degrees Celsius for fifteen seconds, or 138 degrees Celsius for four seconds (Lucey, 2015). The “Grade A” pasteurization label seen on dairy milk containers in grocery stores comes from the 1924 invention of the Standard Milk Ordinance regulation from the U.S. Public Health Service. In pasteurization, every particle of milk is heated in the appropriate equipment to both the specified time and temperature to ensure consumer safety (Lucey, 2015).

The argument for raw dairy proposes that it has greater concentrations of Lactobacillus, which is a probiotic strain shown to have numerous benefits for digestion. Probiotics greatly impact the health of the digestive system which has a direct impact on mood in addition to other outcomes of health. It is important to consume probiotic rich foods, but raw dairy is not the best option given that the risk is greater than the reward.

In a 2020 observational study, the gut microbiota of the treatment group that consumed raw dairy and the control group that consumed pasteurized dairy was compared (Butler et.al., 2020). There were so statistically significant differences in the microbiota of each group pre-trial and post-trial after 12 weeks of consumption (Butler et.al., 2020). The only significant finding was the increase in Lactobacillus strains in the treatment group (Butler et.al., 2020). The discussion of this study stated the numerous confounding variables present, the one which may have had the most impact being a shift in environment (Bulter et.al., 2020). The study was limited in being an observational study rather than a blinded randomized controlled trial. The authors of the study concluded that while raw dairy does contain high levels of beneficial probiotic strains, there is more research needed to determine if raw dairy is a causative mechanism for increased short chain fatty acids and Lactobacillus in the human microbiota (Butler et.al., 2020). The authors also concluded that there is no existing evidence for the consumption of raw dairy to improve lactose intolerance (Butler et.al., 2020).

There are numerous other foods besides raw diary that contain probiotics, and these foods have reported benefits. Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut all have reported probiotic benefits for gut health. These foods do not pose the same risk as the consumption of raw milk due to their processing mechanisms. Raw milk has a greater risk associated with it than reward, because of the possible infections from the cow, farmer, and environment. Stick to consuming pasteurized dairy and consider increasing dietary fiber from whole foods to generate the short chain fatty acids that are necessary for the growth and formation of beneficial probiotic strains. Also add some of the fermented foods listed above for additional probiotic support. Wellness influencers on social media platforms without any licensure or credentials often speak from opinion rather than peer- reviewed science, so always research from reputable sources before hopping on to the latest health trend on Tik Tok, because some could have serious consequences.

Helpful References:

Butler MI, Bastiaanssen TFS, Long-Smith C, Berding K, Morkl S, Cusack AM, Strain C, Busca K, Porteous-Allen P, Claesson MJ, Stanton C, Cryan JF, Allen D, & Dinan TG. (2020). Recipe for a healthy gut: Intake of unpasteurized milk is associated with increased Lactobacillus abundance in the human microbiome. Nutrients, 12(5), 1468. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7285075/

de Klerk JN, & Robinson PA. (2022). Drivers and hazards of consumption of unpasteurized bovine milk and milk products in high-income countries. Peer J., 10(1346). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9135038/

Lucey, J.A. (2015). Raw milk consumption. Nutrition Today, 50(4), 189-193. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4890836/

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