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Joe Mercola and raw milk faddism invade HuffPo

Since its very inception five years ago, The Huffington Post has been, to steal a phrase from Star Wars, a wretched hive of scum and villainy, at least when it comes to anything resembling medicine. Of course, that’s the problem. Very little, if anything, published in HuffPo resembles actual science-based medicine. The vast majority of medicine published there consists either of anti-vaccine screeds that are beyond stupid, quantum woo courtesy of Deepak Chopra, or pure, dangerous quackery, such as advocating homeopathy for H1N1 and acid-base woo for cancer. It’s so bad that on more than one occasion HuffPo has been described as waging a “war on science” and I myself have scoffed at the concept of a science section for Arianna’s home for wandering quacks and anti-vaccine loons.

Still, as long as I’ve been paying attention to HuffPo’s promotion of quackery (and it’s been five years now), there’s one step I hadn’t realized that HuffPo had taken. What could that be? After all, HuffPo has David Kirby, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Deepak Chopra, Patricia Fitzgerald, “detox” maven Kim Evans, and even believer in “distant healing” Srinivasan Pillay. Who, you might reasonably ask, could be so bad that it would even surprise me? Take a guess. Seriously, take a guess.

Dr. Joe Mercola. I kid you not.

Mercola, as you may recall, is the guy who runs one of the largest repositories of medical pseudoscience and quackery on the web, Mercola.com, a site that vies with that other major anchor of quackery on the web, Mike Adams’ NaturalNews.com. Now he has a blogging gig on HuffPo. Apparently it started four months ago, and for some reason I never noticed. Maybe it’s because I don’t pay as much attention to HuffPo as I used to. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, I don’t know, but I do know that it will provide me with a more “target-rich” blogging environment. Unfortunately, it will also promote more quackery to the masses. This time around, Mercola is giving advice that could be truly dangerous, in a post he called Why You Shouldn’t Drink Pasteurized Milk. It begins with primitive, vitalistic nonsense that has no place in science:

First of all, please understand that I do not recommend drinking pasteurized milk of any kind — ever. Because once milk has been pasteurized it’s more or less “dead,” and offers little in terms of real nutritional value to anyone, whether you show signs of intolerance to the milk or not.

Dead? You mean “dead” the way cooking vegetables allegedly kills them? What is it with these “raw food” and “raw milk” fanatics, anyway? Why do they insist that the food they eat must still be “alive”? Do they insist that their chicken clucks when they eat it? Do they insist on ripping muscle off of live cows to eat it? Do they grab a fish they just caught and eat it raw before the fish dies? Then what’s the big deal about “live” milk or “live vegetables”? There could be an argument to be made in some cases that cooking may destroy specific nutrients, but the argument that it somehow destroys all the nutritional value of various foods or that pasteurization utterly destroys the nutritional value of milk.

Of coures, Adams can’t handle the nuance of science-based medicine. For him, it’s either all or nothing. To quote a Star Wars movie again, albeit one of the lesser prequels, only a Sith deals in absolutes. Raw foodists and raw milk boosters are very Sith-like in their absolute, black and white thinking. Come to think of it, Sith-like thinking predominates a lot of “alternative” medicine. If chemotherapy can’t cure cancer 100% of the time, it’s worthless and doesn’t work at all. Ditto modern pharmaceuticals and whatever disease they are treating. By living “right,” you can always prevent cancer, heart disease, and other diseases that are influenced by lifestyle. “Western” medicine is always soulless, reductionistic, and of little or no utility.

And pasteurized milk is bad, bad, bad, bad–at least to Mercola:

The healthy alternative to pasteurized milk is raw milk, which is an outstanding source of nutrients including beneficial bacteria such as lactobacillus acidophilus, vitamins and enzymes, and it is, in my estimation, one of the finest sources of calcium available.

Raw milk is generally not associated with the health problems linked to pasteurized milk, and even people who have been allergic to pasteurized milk for many years can typically tolerate and even thrive on raw milk.

However, some people may still experience problems, such as upper respiratory congestion, when drinking raw milk, and the difference between the breeds of cows the milk comes from appears to hold the answer.

“Beneficial enzymes”? Enzymes are proteins. They are denatured in stomach acid and rapidly reduced to their constituent amino acids by the proximal small intestine, with the help of enzymes secreted by the pancreas. Leaving these “beneficial” enzymes intact by not pasteurizing them is not going to allow them magically to bypass the digestive system and be absorbed into the bloodstream. All the rest of these claims are sheer nonsense. If there’s enough lactobacillus in raw milk to make a difference, there could well be enough really nasty pathogens (like Campylobacter or E. coli) to make you really, really sick. Even worse, Mercola is claiming that someone with a milk allergy can safely consume raw milk. That’s extremely dangerous and potentially even deadly advice if someone with a serious milk allergy were foolish enough to listen to it.

Indeed, the WHO reports that there are no known proven reliable methods to reduce Campylobacter levels around dairy farms, which means that there is no known effective intervention farmers can use to decrease the risk of Campylobacter contamination of cow’s milk as it’s harvested. As a consequence, the WHO quite reasonably strongly discourages the consumption of raw milk. The evidence of the link between raw milk and serious infections is incontrovertible, as Dr. Joe Albietz points out after describing a patient he took care of who was sickened by raw milk. As blog bud PalMD points out, there have been 45 outbreaks of infections due to raw milk-borne Campylobacter, Salmonella, and E. coli. Given the lack of evidence for truly compelling health benefits of consuming raw milk compared to consuming pasteurized milk, the risk just isn’t worth it. Even if the benefits were that compelling, other methods would need to be found to eliminate the risk of infection, because, even if the raw milk faddists’ most extreme fantasies were true, I’m still not sure the risk-benefit ratio would favor raw milk. Given that the fantasies of raw milk faddists for raw milk apparently to prevent and cure all that ails you are not based in science, there’s no doubt that the risk of infection far outweighs any possible benefit that raw milk can provide.

Mercola then goes on to make a rather remarkable additional claim, namely that we are “raising the wrong cows” that make a mutated form of a protein in milk known as casein. To boil it down, about 5,000 years ago a strain of cows developed a mutation in casein known as A1. A1 casein is allegedly bad; A2 casein is allegedly good, and–of course!–in the U.S. most cows make A1 casein:

Beta casein is a chain of 229 amino acids. A2 cows produce this protein with a proline at number 67, whereas A1 cows have a mutated proline amino acid, which converts it to histidine.

The proline in A2 milk has a strong bond to another small protein called BCM 7, which helps keep it from being released.

Histidine (the mutated protein), on the other hand, only weakly holds on to BCM 7, so it is liberated in the GI tract of animals and humans who drink A1 cow milk. Now, BCM7 is a powerful opiate that can have a very detrimental impact on your body.

As discussed in these two articles from the NY Times and the Medical Hypotheses, it is likely the cause of increased phlegm production in your digestive- and respiratory tract, which can worsen upper respiratory problems.

Here’s a hint: Medical Hypotheses (MH) is a speculative journal that is not peer reviewed. As I’ve discussed many times before, MH is a welcoming home to all sorts of crackpot ideas that can be presented without evidence. The NYT article actually references the MH article; it relatively credulously discusses it, concluding, “THE BOTTOM LINE: There may be a link between milk and phlegm in some people, but for now it is only hypothetical.”

Now that’s some pretty lame evidence.

Mercola also references a website betacasein.net, which, according to Mercola, “offers a comprehensive list of published scientific studies of the differences between A1 and A2 milk and their health ramifications.” I did find several articles there, and I’ll quote some of them.

  • “We found no evidence that dairy products containing beta-casein A1 or A2 exerted differential effects (P > 0.05) on plasma cholesterol concentrations in humans.” (Venn et al, 2006)
  • “Plasma insulin, homocysteine, C-reactive protein, fibrinogen, protein C and S and von Willebrand factor levels were not different between the two casein supplements. Endothelium function, measured as a vascular response using venous occlusion plethysmography to intra-arterial infusions of the endothelium-dependent agonist acetylcholine, were not different between the two casein interventions. Similarly, neither blood pressure nor measures of large artery stiffness were affected by differing the casein variant. We therefore conclude that there is no evidence from the present study that supplementation with casein A1 has any cardiovascular health disadvantage over consumption of casein A2.” (Chin-Dusting et al, 2006)
  • “The animal experiments with diabetes-prone rodents that supported the hypothesis about diabetes were not confirmed by larger, better standardised multicentre experiments. The single animal experiment supporting an A1 beta-casein and CHD link was small, short, in an unsuitable animal model and had other design weaknesses. The A1/A2 milk hypothesis was ingenious. If the scientific evidence had worked out it would have required huge adjustments in the world’s dairy industries. This review concludes, however, that there is no convincing or even probable evidence that the A1 beta-casein of cow milk has any adverse effect in humans. This review has been independent of examination of evidence related to A1 and A2 milk by the Australian and New Zealand food standard and food safety authorities, which have not published the evidence they have examined and the analysis of it. They stated in 2003 that no relationship has been established between A1 or A2 milk and diabetes, CHD or other diseases.” (A review by A.S. Truswell, 2005)

From my perusal of the literature, the best I could find was that the evidence that the A1 variant of casein has any adverse effects on health relative to the A2 variant is weak, conflicting, and not at all convincing. In fact, the only sources to which Mercola refers that are actually peer-reviewed scientific and medical studies are not particularly supportive of his idea. The sources he cites that are enthusiastically supportive of all the claims Mercola makes for raw milk are not peer reviewed. One is a book disguised as a “study. Of xourse, when I see “publication by book” or publication by press release, I always wonder why, if what the author allegedly found is so revolutionary, the author didn’t–oh, you know=–publish the research in a peer-reviewed journal rather than as a book. Other sources cited by Mercola include commentaries and an MH article.

The claims made by raw milk faddists seem way too good to be true, and, not surprisingly, they are. They make incredible claims for how raw milk will supposedly eliminate allergies, provide calcium, prevent diabetes and heart disease, and all manner of other diseases. No reliable or convincing science supports any of these claims.

The raw milk cult is simply another example of the worship of “ancient” wisdom. It’s a manifestation of the yearning for the pastoral life on the farm that seems to permeate so much of “alternative” medicine. In moderation, to at least some extent, life on a farm would be healthier than how most people live now, with lots of exercise and food fresh from the fields. Raw milk probably won’t hurt people if it’s drunk right after the cow is milked, but distributing raw milk, where it has to be stored and transported, provides ample opportunity for the bacteria contaminating it to grow to dangerous levels that can cause disease when the milk is consumed. Pasteurization was developed because of an obvious and serious problem with milk contamination. It is actually a triumph of food safety that allowed milk to be distributed far from the farm where it was produced and stored until sold and consumed. These days, ultrapasteurization allows milk to be stored for ever-longer periods of time safely without any convincing evidence of a huge decrease in the nutritional value.

Modern life, complete with its processed foods and preservatives, for example, may be rife with detrimental effects on health, but pasteurization is not one of them–quite the contrary. Let’s not forget that the “good old days” weren’t always so good, and that the idealized vision being promoted by raw foodists of life out on the farm drinking raw milk was not so ideal.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

172 replies on “Joe Mercola and raw milk faddism invade HuffPo”

Ah, the Weston A Price Foundation nuts (they’re the raw milk promoters). That’s a good source of woo. I like the claim that raw milk contains lactase, and pasteurization destroys it.

I live in a state where raw milk is legal for retail sale (you can buy it in health food stores). That makes me nervous.

Ultrapasteurization may not reduce the nutrition level, but it makes milk (and especially cream) taste like crap.

The glaring problem I see, which is far more dangerous then the other stupidity in this article is he is telling people with milk allergies that it’s safe to drink raw milk. This could be deadly, and at very best is extremely irresponsible.

“THE BOTTOM LINE: There may be a link between milk and phlegm in some people, but for now it is only hypothetical.”

Perhaps they think the milk is deficient in black bile, yellow bile, and blood.

My wife’s grandfather went on a rant a while back about how in “his day” they used to drink raw milk all the time and it “never hurt anyone.”

His wife absolutely lit up, listing off a childhoood friend who died of milk-borne disease, three or four other who were made very sick by it and a fifth who tried to raise an infant on raw milk and nearly killed the child.

It was glorious.

The raw milk advocates are getting a big, though unintended, boost from breastfeeding advocates, who go on and on about breastmilk being a living substance and how that makes it better than formula, aids digestion, improves immune function, blah blah blah. So the enzymes in breastmilk, like lactase, don’t make a difference? I know a lot of breastfeeding advocacy tends toward woo, I don’t know what’s real and what’s not.

I drink living milk — I use milk with added acidophilus bacteria. Which is kind of weird if you think about it. It helps me avoid the gas and indigestion that dairy products usually cause me, though, and I don’t have to worry about bad bacteria and it is available at my local supermarket.

@ Becky

My issues with formula is that it’s frequently promoted as better than breast milk, for which there is very little evidence. As with most things, it’s seems that the moderate position is the correct one – breast milk has certain considerable advantages over formula (for a lot of mothers, it’s quite a bit cheaper and easy to deliver to the infant, and is nutritionally complete by its nature) but isn’t a super food. Mostly because that word, “super food,” has no meaning.

This reminds me of a story of a goat with rabies and the hilarity that ensued when raw goat’s milk had to be tracked down… Darwin had a theory that would surely apply to people who choose not to sanitize what they eat. Sadly, it also applies to their children, who don’t know better.

“Living” milk with Campylobacter or Listeria is no joke.

@Jim — oh I do agree that the benefits of breastfeeding are more moderate than often portrayed. I was just wondering about the specific claims about the benefits related to the fact that it is a “living substance” and contains important enzymes, etc. In other words, those claims that are just about identical to the raw milk claims.

Most states don’t let one sell raw milk for human consumption – so it is advertised as ‘pet food’ (wink, wink)

In those states it can go for up to $20/gallon, so there is a powerful incentive for the dairyman to sell as much raw milk as possible, regardless of whether or not he suspects contamination.

He’s almost certainly dumping it all into one bulk tank (so even if you purchase a ‘milk share’, it’s mixed with milk from all the other cows)

If you choose to consume raw milk, you have no legal recourse if you do become sick.

Ask raw milk advocates if they’d be content to drink stagnant water from a ditch – if they won’t treat milk, with its known bacteriological issues, why treat water?

This is one issue where woo-proselytizers do not have a homogenized opinion but separate into two factions:those who believe that *only* raw milk is acceptable(e.g. Adams,Mercola)and those who believe that *all* milk is unacceptable and advocate an entirely vegan diet(Null).Of course,Mercola relies on *Deja Woo*,the Eden myth of the purity and bliss of ages past before the dawn of factory farming/dairies and governmental agencies: this is nothing new.I can condense a few articles from “Prevention Magazine”,circa 1960(J.I.Rodale,Editor): modern milk is produced “unnaturally” and makes you sick or “too tall”(seriously, he says that!)and is *not* for adults.(BTW, Adams has a new report on the Health Freedom Movement’s latest “victory” over the FDA and Sec. Sebelius;NaturalNews,6/4/10;and many articles about raw milk and health freedom)

The enzymes in breast milk, AFIK, are not denatured as readily in an infant’s stomach, because the gastric acids and proteases are not present to the extent they are in an adult’s stomach. So the claims of the breast feeding advocates have some basis in reality. I don’t know what the benefits of the enzymes are, apart from easier digestion.

I’m just commenting off the top of my head here, so I may be getting this a bit wrong. If so, my apologies.

I love reading about crazy people…thanks, Orac. So I google raw milk in PA (where I live) and it can be sold here, but is highly regulated. There are annual certifications and constant testing for those nasty germs. So I keep reading and apparently one of those nasty germs, Campylobacter is one of the leading antecedent infections of Guillain-Barré syndrome. Hmmm, where have I heard about that before???

The ex-wife went with raw milk supplied legally (I think) through our local coop. Always made me nervous. We moved to a state that did not allow raw milk sales and swithched to soy milk. Whew.

I had stopped drinking milk almost completely at that point. I rarely use it now, 15 years later, regardless of it’s source. I make pancakes and such with water.

Sigh… the homogenization process has saved countless people from illness. this should be even more proof that Mercola is a bloody idiot.

@Becky, Human milk really is better for infants than cows’ milk or formula. There’s decades of research on that score. It doesn’t have anything to do with human boob-juice being “living” or “healthful enzymes”.

There is one area where raw milk is undeniably better than pasteurized. That’s in the creation of cheeses. I’ve been making cheese for a fair while. Taste and texture really are different in ways people can tell in a blind taste test. I don’t know why, although I know there are industry researchers studying the issue.

We just had an outbreak of E. coli from a raw milk producer in Minnesota. It’s also been found in cheese that they made on site. (You cannot legally sell raw milk outside of a dairy farm here. But you can sell it on the farm, and this one is obviously set up exclusively for raw dairy production.) There’s a two-year-old still hospitalized.

In the comment thread for the article, I decided to bring up the rabies issue, which managed to pass unnoticed by other commenters. According to one study I found, there are, on average, 150 cases of rabies in domestic cattle reported to the CDC annually in the US. Some of those are dairy cattle. If their milk is sold raw, the CDC then has to track down those who drank it and give them post-exposure prophylaxis against rabies, at an average cost of about $2300 per person (plus a lot of pain, and hopefully the person isn’t allergic to rabies shots, and hopefully the CDC manages to find all of them in time to start the prophylaxis). No deaths yet, but rabies transmission via contaminated milk happens occasionally in parts of the world where milk is not commonly pasteurized.

Some will say that raw milk is fine as long as it is swiftly refrigerated. This will indeed delay the growth of E. coli or Campylopacter, but it does nothing at all to the rabies virus.

My issues with formula is that it’s frequently promoted as better than breast milk, for which there is very little evidence.

Jim – “frequently”? OK, there might still be a few old pediatricians who are sticking with their views from the 70s, but having a young child (18 mo) of my own, and one on the way, I rarely encounter anyone who thinks formula is BETTER than breastmilk, and even then, it is generally second-hand (usually someone’s mom who was told it was back in the 70s; of course, she doesn’t think car seats are necessary, either).

There are the breastfeeding whackos who disdain everything non-breast, but most people absolutely have the “centrist” opinion – breastfeeding is the best approach, for lots of reasons, but formula is an acceptable substitute if there are circumstances that prevent breastfeeding or breastmilk. The “formula is better” crowd is mostly the old folks who no new parents would ever listen to.

@Jim-6,

I agree that in almost any grocery store when you see something labeled as a super food, it is nothing more than another gee whiz buzz word used to make you think it is better.

However, there is one context in which I think the term super food helps make a useful distinction. Our bodies cannot digest all complex biochemicals equally well. For instance, we can’t digest cellulose. So, it’s easier to let pigs and cows eat the cellulose and digest it and then eat the pigs and cows.

And some foods that we can digest like corn and soybeans can be digested better or more easily if they are chemically processed a little. That lets the body extract more nutrients from the same amount of food. For instance, when corn is processed into hominy or posole, this happens. Also, when soybeans are converted into tofu, you get a similar result. It’s been a while since I read about it (it may have been in one of the Scientific American book series I bought), so I don’t remember the specifics.

Calling these converted foods super foods makes a useful distinction, but since the term is effectively uncontrolled, its main value in the grocery store is likely to be to help you spot products to avoid buying because they are probably overpriced.

Bill in NC points out an important point that I like to make: raw milk is a MAJOR coup for the dairy farmers. $20 a gallon? Yeah, no wonder a dairy farmer is going to go for that, considering that the local dairy will pay maybe $1 a gallon right now. But that’s the price of prohibition.

Of course, the same people will complain about Big Pharma and conflicts of interest, but ignore the major scam that “raw milk” farmers are pulling off.

I’ve mentioned before, when I was growing up, we in fact drank “raw milk.” Not for any loopy reasons, but because we had a deal with a local dairy farmer where he sold us some milk at cheaper than store prices, and we paid him better than dairy prices. Nowadays, it would be like paying him $1.50/gal. I remember very clearly riding in the car to go to barn and filling a 3 gallon milk pail of milk from the bulk tank. That was our version of “going out to buy milk.”

My B-i-L is a dairy farmer. They would NEVER drink milk straight from the bulk tank. Being dairy farmers, they know better.

I loved it when someone on my mommy board noticed that their Horizon Organic milk was ultrapasteurized. Her head almost exploded. Her beloved organic milk was now forever tainted by the unholy process of ultrapasteurization. Oh Noes!!1!!!1!
If I were a nicer person I would not have also pointed out that there was suspicion that some of the organic milk providers they use in PA also run puppy mills, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

In regards to breast milk. There is one clear advantage I noticed between breast milk and formula, and that is the smell it produces on it’s way out of the baby. I swear, formula diapers are toxic!

I’ve tried raw milk, because I was told that it tasted better. (I’m more foodie than woo-ie) However, getting fresh local milk that has been pasteurized tastes just as good as raw milk, without having to worry. I do wonder whether those local producers are able to slow pasteurize, rather than the high heat fast method, which might account for some of the difference. Or maybe it’s just fresher.

Calli @ 16: You beat me to it! (I’m a Minnesotan, so my local news has of course been following this story.)

The tainted milk that has sickened at least five people all came from one farm, Hartmann Dairy Farm in Gibbon, MN. (It’s legal in the state to sell raw milk, but only if it’s sold from the farm to the consumer.) Here are some links on the subject:

http://www.aboutlawsuits.com/minnesota-raw-milk-recall-e-coli-outbreak-10589/

http://www.startribune.com/local/95529164.html (“Officials said they are looking into several additional illnesses that may be connected to the farm’s products.”)

Leaving these “beneficial” enzymes intact by not pasteurizing them is not going to allow them magically to bypass the digestive system and be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Even if the foreign enzymes weren’t denatured and broken down to peptides, wouldn’t they be too large to pass through the intestinal lining?

Even worse, Mercola is claiming that someone with a milk allergy can safely consume raw milk.

Holy crap.

I was reading a comment thread on raw milk on another board and several people said that they boiled it before drinking it… basically self-pasteurizing it. Makes me wonder what they think pasteurization is…

In the area of the upper Midwest where I did my pediatrics residency, we kept on running into people who would give their children raw goat milk after weaning them from breastmilk (usually well before the first year, even). So when these infants came in near-skeletal and developmentally delayed, presumably from rampant bacterial infections and nutritional problems and what have you, the parents would give us the usual line about how THEY drank raw goat milk when they were kids, and they turned out just fine! This was more healthy and natural!

Be that as it may (you can’t argue with insanity sometimes), how can they look at their pathetic little failure-to-thrive children and think that their CHILDREN were doing just fine on raw goat milk?

Of course, these would also be the unvaccinated children as well.

The sea of ignorance and pastoral-fetishism is depressing sometimes. My great-grandmother lived in the good old (pre-industrial) days and lost 13 of her 15 children before the age of 5 – is that what we’re seriously gunning for nowadays?

Orac, at the start of your 7th paragraph, you went from talking about Mercola to Adams (Mike the Health Ranger for his pals).
“Of coures, Adams can’t handle the nuance ”
Did I miss the transition from one quack to the next, or is it an interesting lapsus scripta?

Not that it changes anything of the accuracy of the paragraph, mind you. Spot on on both of them – both are adept of the fallacy of Nirvana.

@Pablo, formula was aggressively pushed for decades by the manufacturers. They spent hundreds of millions advertising it as more healthy, more “scientifically balaned”.

It was only in the last fifty years that women in the West began to breastfeed again. And it was a battle. My in-laws got all kinds of nastiness from the women in their families just like Dr. Spock told them they would. There were murmurings of taking their son away because they were “starving” him by nursing.

The formula makers still provide “samples” to new mothers. The “samples” last just long enough for mother’s milk to dry up and force her to rely on the product. In the developing world it was even worse. Hundreds of millions were spent by the companies, particularly Nestle – which is why I won’t buy their products to this day – to convince women to abandon breastfeeding and use formula, often diluted and with sketchy local water supplies. Thousands of deaths due to infant diarrhea can be directly attributed to this.

It took laws and international treaties to put a stop to that bullshit. Laws which couldn’t be enforced today.

Matthew, Mercola said;

and even people who have been allergic to pasteurized milk for many years can typically tolerate and even thrive on raw milk.

This is more then irresponsible. Having seen a true anaphylactic emergency I wouldn’t want anyone with an allergy to even touch milk (raw or otherwise). I truly, truly hope no one with such an allergy will read this article and try it.

Jim said: “My issues with formula is that it’s frequently promoted as better than breast milk, for which there is very little evidence.”

From my experience, this is false. Breastfeeding was heavily encouraged by our OB, the hospital and pediatrician. In a post birth follow-up from the hospital, they even gave it emphasis and complimented on our decision to do so. It’s just an anecdote, but practically every other mother I know had similar experiences.

On top of that, the local mommy forum “natural” area even had someone that posted a study funded by formula companies that found that breastfeeding had advantages and recommended it. Of course they missed the irony of it all, given they are so gung-ho to claim “conflict of interest” against vaccine/formula/etc studies and this proved that funding did not equate to a study being biased.

The same people are also pretty big on the whole raw milk thing. They are afraid of vaccines, fluoridated water and dental fillings and had a long thread about practically needing a hazmat team to clean up a broken CFL lightbulb, but raw milk – no worries there! The claim is raw milk farms are somehow “cleaner” by necessity, it is quite laughable that they think that bacteria can somehow be avoided on a real farm.

formula was aggressively pushed for decades by the manufacturers.

Yeah, I know, that’s why I talked about how the attitude still persists among old pediatricians and old moms.

But it isn’t happening now, and Jim’s comment was that it “it’s frequently promoted as being better.” I disagree. It is very rare nowadays to find anyone legitimate (old mothers don’t count) who think that formula is actually better. It USED to be promoted as better, but then again, kids USED to be advised to sleep on their stomachs. You don’t hear that anymore, either, except from old mothers who no one listens to.

Coworker of mine has a kid with a violent casein allergy. Makes buying snacks nearly impossible, because it’s such a common ingredient. Even fake cheese usually has bovine casein. I agree — Mercola is seriously over the line with that claim. That’s downright negligent.

Elemenohpea @ 25:

I was reading a comment thread on raw milk on another board and several people said that they boiled it before drinking it… basically self-pasteurizing it. Makes me wonder what they think pasteurization is…

Well, ya know, it’s the *industrial* scale that’s the problem. Artisanal home pasteurization is fine because . . . well, I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Actually, what they’re doing is (by their standards) worse than pasteurization. Pasteurization does not boil the milk; it will heat it to anywhere from 160 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, deliberately below the boiling point, as milk definitely changes when it boils.

The raw-milk faddist who compare it to breastmilk are just plain silly. Breastmilk is superior to formula mainly because it comes out of the source in a form suitable for infant consumption, while cow’s milk (or goat or soy or whatever) requires extensive modification to make it suitable for infant consumption. Ergo, if there really are any differences between pasteurized and unpasteurized cow’s milk, they’re eclipsed by the fact that it’s *cow’s milk*, not human milk, so of course it won’t be so perfect for us.

(Note: I don’t mean this to imply cow’s milk is bad. It’s not. It’s *awesome*, especially when made into cheese, which is possibly the greatest invention of all mankind. But it’s not a perfect all-in-one food like breastmilk is, and for reasons which really should not be surprising to anyone.)

I realize this is a tangent, but the greatest benefit of breastfeeding as far as I can tell is that I got to sleep through the night when we had newborns.

Speaking of breastmilk, I’m seeing a trend on mommy boards of “swapping” breastmilk… say, if one mother can’t produce enough, someone else will pump and provide for the infant (heaven forbid formula should ever be used if needed, it’s poison you know!). This always makes my skin crawl, because who knows what is being passed through that milk in terms of disease, drugs, etc. And I way off-base in my thinking here?

2 things
http://www.startribune.com/local/95529164.html?elr=KArksUUUoDEy3LGDiO7aiU
about the farm and the people sickened by e.coli (feces) in their raw milk.

And i think mercola is a whore, oh and he is one of the many people who confuses intolerance with allergy. I am lactose intolerant. I used to have noxious gas, and headaches everyday until my senior year in high school when I had to spend a week with a lady who didn’t drink milk. I knew my grandmother, sister, cousin etc were lactose intolerant, so I tried the soymilk. I felt better almost immediately. I can eat small amount of cheese, just can’t consume that milk. Why anybody thinks you should keep breastfeeding from another animal after you have been weened of your mother is beyond me. I know it is rich in nutrients, hence the Dutch being the tallest people in the world, but man milk is pretty gross, except for on my machiato.

@Ababa

The formula thing is true. I am a new mom and wasn’t faced with it nearly so much, but I hear tales from older women and I think that there are regional or cultural differences as well. A friend of mine (nearer Boston) did receive free samples. Family and friends from NJ also seem a lot less gung ho about the whole breast milk thing. One Grandma told her DiL that “women in our family don’t breastfeed.”

According to the CDC, about 26 percent of babies in this country are never breastfed at all, but in some areas that number is much higher.

(I know this is a bit on the ad hom, but…)

Why is it that whenever I read the name ‘Mercola’, all I can read is Mercaptan?

I realize this is a tangent, but the greatest benefit of breastfeeding as far as I can tell is that I got to sleep through the night when we had newborns.

I am the bain of all fathers in that I got up for EVERY feeding of the Offspring to change his diaper.

I am generally warned by the other dads to NEVER mention that in the presence of their wives.

@ 17 – Sorry, could’ve been clearer there. Most first-world doctors promote brestfeeding, but I was referring to the push by the formula industry. As soon as we registered our impending birth(s) (we have two boys) we started getting the usual coupons and advertisements. Some were from formula companies. One that I wanted to keep was a twenty-page document styled after a medical journal that supposedly “debunked” the notion that formula is harder to digest than breat milk, sent to us by the good people at Carnation Milk. Ironically, that pamphlet was destroyed by our first-born.

That’s the most blatant example, but the formula industry is still pushing hard in the first world, and pushing harder in developing countries.

And as the chief diaper changer and baby calmer, I can attest that breast milk is much, much better on a baby’s digestive tract. We used formula a few times when my wife was too sick to nurse, and for a brief time after our son began to refuse breast milk but before we could switch to whole milk.

Robin – all you have said is true, but completely aside from the point. As I noted, Jim’s original comment, to which ababa and I responded, was that formula IS promoted as being better than breastmilk. That says now. What was being done 50 years ago is irrelevant.

Ababa is 100% right: basically nobody _today_ promotes formula as better than breastfeeding except for old people who are stuck in their old ways. As I said, these are the same people who don’t think carseats are necessary, and that babies should be sleeping on their stomachs.

Yes, there is a large fraction of babies who never have breastmilk, but that’s usually not because people think formula is better for them. It’s usually because they know that breastfeeding is not going to be something they are going to be able to do, for one reason or another, and so choose the either path of starting the child on formula. They are absolutely being taught by the pediatricians that breastfeeding is the best approach. However, they are also told that formula is an acceptable alternative.

This is quite off-topic, and I apologize, but since Chopra and his foolishness came up at the beginning of the article, I wanted to mention that the Vancouver branch of CFI is going to be present at Deepak Chopra’s traveling show tonight. If any of you are in the Vancouver area and want to help innoculate some people against Chopra-woo, we’d love to have you.

Pablo — hubby and I had a system for midnight feedings. He got up and changed the baby’s diaper while I went to the bathroom and got myself a tall glass of water. Then we’d trade off, he’d go back to bed, and I’d nurse the baby back to sleep.

@Pablo 42

I had to go down the road of formula because I produced zero milk. Let me tell you, I was absolutely drowning in tears because EVERYTHING I saw and read and told me how much better breastmilk is, and that formula is no comparison. I had a lactation consultant work with me at the hospital, and you know it’s bad when even she said I should give up. The neonatologist had to take me under his wing and assure me that my baby was not going to grow up sick and stupid from being fed formula.

Actually, Jojo, my head tends to pop, too when I see ultrapasteurization. In regular pasteurization, milk is heated to about 180F and held for 20 or 30 minutes (I am going off the top of my head here). The UP process heats milk to 230F or so for less than a minute. It’s cheaper for the processor, and tends to last longer in the fridge, but it results in a dairy product with less dairy taste and a bit of an off, burnt taste. It’s difficult these days to get cream that’s not UP (or without added emulsifiers, for that matter), which means special trips when it’s time for the ice cream machine to come out.

Calli – our routine was more of, we’d both get up, and she’d start nursing. I went with her, but we had a futon in the nursery, and I could lie down and snooze. I changed the diaper in-between boobs, as a way to wake him back up.

Then, we took turns putting him back to bed when he was done eating. For a while, he wasn’t always ready to go back to sleep after nursing, so it took some rocking. If it wasn’t my turn, I could go back to bed after I changed the diaper, and on my turn, my wife could go right to bed after finishing nursing.

It was a difference of 10 – 15 minutes here and there, but it helped.

@Enkidu

Weirder yet is people drinking breast milk in hopes it will help with cancer — though I think there is a company running clinical trials w/ synthetic talactoferrin for lung cancer, so maybe they’re on to something.

It does seem like the pendulum on breast milk has swung the other way; like if you don’t breast feed, you’re a really bad mom.

Back to the raw milk people, I just don’t get why some people would take the chance on killing their kids in order to prevent colds and allergies. The rewards just don’t seem to outweigh the risks.

One other benefit of breastfeeding infants – relative to breast milk, formula tastes like crap. My milk dried up when my daughter was 9 months old and we couldn’t get her to drink the formula for anything. I tasted it and could see why. I felt so sorry for her.

“The raw milk cult is simply another example of the worship of “ancient” wisdom. It’s a manifestation of the yearning for the pastoral life on the farm that seems to permeate so much of “alternative” medicine.”

This is one of those things I can’t understand. These people are saying we should all go back to living a lifestyle that produced an average life expectancy of around 35 years. Ancient wisdom indeed.

Conversely, if “how most people live now” is so bloody toxic and horrible, why are so many of my patients living (and living well)into their 80’s and 90’s? People who moan about how our modern life is killing us are idiots. You don’t need super science to figure this out, just frickin’ look around. Average life expectancy in the US is nearly 80 and the number of people over 100 is increasing by about 7% a year!

Orac brought up a point which continues to confuse me.

Which aspects of food, beyond their macro-nutritional content, determine their role in good human health? I believe it’s true that eating green or brightly-colored fresh vegetables confers greater health than just rice and potatoes, for example. What, then, is getting through and into the blood stream? Vitamins? Enzymes? A more complete mix of amino acids? Fiber?

I find this basic lack of understanding undermines my ability to evaluate various nutritional claims. (For example, is wheat grass juice better or different than just having a serving of spinach?)

If anybody can shed light or provide a link, that would be great! Thanks.

As an aside, the rich and intelligent threads in Orac’s comment section is another indicator of the difference between his SMB and Adams / Mercola. Those sites essentially make impossible any intelligent back and forth either by awful formatting or censorship or requiring being spammed (in the case of Mercola) before participating. I learn so much in these comments.

DLC, #14: Homogenization hasn’t saved anyone from anything other than shaking the milk bottle.

Nutrition is such a fertile field of woo. I made the mistake of reading a bit of Nina Planck’s book while I was in Wegmans today. All the seed based oils are bad for you, and this is proven by the fact that Native Americans didn’t use them, or something. What are her qualifications again, aside from running farmers markets? Does anyone need to be qualified in anything before they write these nutrition books?

@5 Becky –
I was just wondering about the specific claims about the benefits related to the fact that it is a “living substance” and contains important enzymes,

The benefits of breast milk to a NEWBORN are that the antibodies in it are absorbed through the intestinal wall, and the enzymes in it are NOT denatured. Infants have almost no HCL production, and their digestive system is designed to passively absorb some antibodies (as are most mammals). Most of the benefits are in the first few days, with the colustrum.

That does not hold true for older humans (starting in the early months of life if I recall correctly). Their stomachs denature the enzyme and antibody proteins and the pancreatic enzymes break it down. So raw milk has no advantage … it’s KILLED DEAD by the digestive system as soon as it hits the stomach.

Enkidu –

Let me tell you, I was absolutely drowning in tears because EVERYTHING I saw and read and told me how much better breastmilk is, and that formula is no comparison.

I think this is actually more of a problem now than most people realize. I know a lot of moms like you who go to massive, massive efforts to do any little bit of breastfeeding that they can, because the modern push actually makes them feel guilty and ashamed if they aren’t able to breastfeed. Look at the efforts they go through just to simulate breastfeeding (there is a feeding-tube contraption that mom wears so it appears she is nursing).

My impression is that this is pushed mostly by the hospitals themselves, via the nurses and in baby-classes, but not so much by the doctors. Our hospital has a very active program with weekly meetings run by a lactation consultant, and so they push hard, but the pediatricians don’t make all that big of a deal over it. They’ll say, “Good for you!” if you say that you are breastfeeding, but if you choose formula, they’ll say, “That’s fine, too” and then give you some advice about what they want parents to do.

Moopheus – No doubt, UP doesn’t taste all that good. I only ever buy it when I need milk that doesn’t need refrigeration for my son. It’s just interesting that many of the altie moms I’ve encountered will go on and on about how great organic food is, and how much they have researched the topic, and yet it never crosses their minds that Horizon milk might be UP even though you can buy it warm in the juice aisle.

On the breast feeding topic, I’m still getting coupons for formula in the mail and my son is 4. I walked out of the hospital with at least a month’s worth of formula, which I donated to the local food bank. Some of the nurses did suggest that I supplement, but the most shocking thing I was told was by the elderly pediatrician who saw my son in the hospital. My son was 10 pounds, or the size of a 3 month old. The pediatrician flat out told me that I wouldn’t have enough milk and that I would have to supplement with formula. Umm…last I checked most women are able to supply a 3 month old with ample breast milk, so why shouldn’t I be able to? Not surprisingly, it was no problem at all.

“Pastoral-fetishism”, to use a term I grabbed from PM’s post back at #26 is part of the same deluded thinking that “things were better in the old days.” Conservatives have the same thing with their desire for a return to a 1950s (society) that didn’t exist or 1890s (business environment) that didn’t exist.

Sadly, this pastoral-fetishism can be found even in places that should know better, like here on Science Blogs.

I walked out of the hospital with at least a month’s worth of formula, which I donated to the local food bank.

We did end up supplementing with formula for a few months, and then went totally formula by 9 mos, when vetmommy basically dried up.

I think we ended up buying two or three cans of powdered formula (with pretty good coupons), and the rest was all free samples.

Thanks, Orac, for posting this. As Calli mentioned, we are in the midst of a raw milk plus e.coli debacle, and the food-woosters are coming out of the woodwork. I was sitting here with the article from our local paper, trying to figure out what to write about it. It starts “‘Conradine Sanborn of St. Paul refers to supermarket milk as “dead milk.'”

Star Tribune-Raw Milk: Health Food or Hazard?

@enkidu 34:
When my newborn spent months in the NICU, I FROZE my breastmilk for him to use when he was extubated and alive and all. If he had not survived (yep, teh evil medical complex kept him from dying a nice natural death*) the milk would have been given to other babies, IIRC. Think those nice mommies are freezing their swap milk? (Why pump and swap anyway, why not wetnurses?)

*My son survived, and now has a handful of medical conditions, (a couple iatrogenic even…you know, side effects of the meds that saved him…better half deaf than all dead, we say) an imperfect, medicated, , transplanted, dialyzed, happy, smart ADULT. Imagine that.

@Calli Arcale#32: “Artisanal home pasteurization”
Heehee, I am so going to use this.

From a wonderful book, Otto Bettmann’s THE GOOD OLD DAYS – THEY WERE TERRIBLE (1974)
” It was common knowledge to New Yorkers that their milk was diluted. And the dealers were neither subtle nor timid about it; alI they required was a water pump to boost two quarts of milk to a gallon. Nor was that the end of the mischief: to improve the color of milk from diseased cattle they frequently added molasses, chalk or plaster of Paris.
No wonder, that in 1889 New York’s public health commissioner reported seeing in certain districts a ‘decidedly suspicious looking fluid bearing the name of milk.’ Bacteria-infected milk held lethal possibilities of which people were unaware. The root of this problem was in the dairy farms, invariably dirty, where the milch cows were improperly fed and housed. It was not unusual for a city administration to sell its garbage to a farmer, who promptly fed it to his cows. Or for a distillery to keep cows and feed them distillery wastes, producing what was called ‘swill milk.’ This particular liquid, which purportedly made babies tipsy, caused a scandal in the New York of 1870 when it was revealed that some of the cows cooped up for years in filthy stables were so enfeebled from tuberculosis that they had to be raised on cranes to remain ‘milkable’ until they died.
When in 1902 the city’s Health Commission tested 3970 milk samples it was found that over 50% were adulterated.”

Enkidu – I can relate to your experience. I was unable to produce milk because of a PP hemmorhage that landed me in the OR immediately after birth. I tried for 2 1/2 long weeks to nurse, pumping every 2 hours and getting less than 1/2 an ounce. Whenever someone asks me if I’m nursing, I still feel defensive, like I have to justify my mothering skills to a complete stranger. And while I agree that breastfeeding offers some benefits, the research that I have read suggests that many of the claims made by lactivists are either overblown or simply not true.

And to the topic at hand, well, drinking raw milk is just idiotic. My grandfather was a dairy farmer, and he stopped drinking raw milk as soon as their farm installed a tank for pasteurization. And I guarantee that he wouldn’t have sold raw milk. He knew the risks all too well.

skeptyk — glad you like!

kittywhumpus — There are some real winners in the comment section of that article. I encourage folks here to go visit; Strib does require you to register before you can comment, alas, but I don’t believe I’ve been spammed by them. (Or maybe I’ve just forgotten which e-mail account I used to register.)

@53 Brucellosis *and* Listeria (apologies if someone mentioned Listeria already – didn’t see it if so). Good luck getting rid of all the Listeria spp. around a farmyard or in the fields. I have friends who bought into the woo, swear by raw milk and have “shares” in a cow’s production (to get around the ban on raw milk sales). They feed it to their toddler 🙁 They also served me some as hot chocolate without telling me first but I was not very old, very young, pregnant or immunocompromised at the time, so I’m still speaking to them. I’ve eaten some of the raw milk cheeses from reliable fromageries but not the milk and I would not feed the cheeses to anyone else without telling them the risks (and never to someone in a high-risk group). I also eat medium-rare steak and don’t heat up pastrami before eating it. Woudn’t feed those to a high risk person either.

Raw milk cheese activism (activist gourmets!)is another aspect of all this but at least there the emphasis seems to be on flavour instead of magical healing properties and from what I read there’s a greatly reduced risk for a number of the pathogens in well-made cheese because the pathogens are outcompeted by the ripening bacteria. Not sure if this applies to Brucellosis, though, ugh.

My step-mother spent several weeks when she was fifteen with brucellosis, which she called “undulant fever.” It was an experience she never wished to go through again, nor see anyone else go through.

My oldest spent a week in the Neonatal Intermediate Care Unit (after a night in the NICU, where the “I” was for Intensive). I used the hospital’s breast pump, and rented one for home just so I did not explode.

I used formula only to give him his phenobarbital. I would make the minimum amount possible, two ounces. Then put one ounce each in small bottles, with a dose of the meds. Keep in fridge until needed. He was weaned of of phenobarbital and breast milk when he was a year old (his weaning from breast was because he liked to walk around, so he transitioned to milk/juice/water in a sippy cup).

I like breast feeding not only because I did not have to wash the bottles and rubber nipples, but because I did not have to hold a bottle. I could work on the computer cradling suckling babe with one hand, and using the mouse while working on a CAD (computer aided design) program.

(don’t tell little Augie that not all engineers are male… it might make his little head explode)

Tsu Dho Nimh:

he benefits of breast milk to a NEWBORN are that the antibodies in it are absorbed through the intestinal wall

Are you sure about that? While there are antibodies that protect against a variety of intestinal ailments, I was under the impression that primates (humans included) were unable to absorb the antibodies (or at least large subsets of the antibodies in breast milk) through the intestinal wall into the blood stream. So although the milk contains those antibodies, they don’t make it to the blood stream. (fortunately, in humans, antibodies are passed from mother to fetus)

Alexis–

I wonder if that woomeister has heard that sunflower is raised for oil seeds. Sunflower is one of the ancient American crops; people have been growing it here for thousands of years.

Also, pre-Columbian farming in the Americas was not magically healthier or more productive than farming in Eurasia or Africa. Maize and potatoes and peppers and sunflowers and squash are good, yes. So are lots of things in my kitchen that were domesticated elsewhere in the world. None of it is magic: it’s all the result of a lot of patient work by a lot of people over a very long time.

Maybe they could pasteurize and then use an Amega Wand on it so the damaged good stuff ‘remembers’ what it’s supposed to look like and magically restructures itself using ‘zero-point’ energy.

It is supposed to heal virtually everything. An entire hospital and health clinic in the form of a cheap and easy to use wand.

Get your wand now. Quantities are limited, until we cobble more together, and this offer will not be repeated. Unless we think we can show a profit by repeating it. LOL.

http://www.amegawandenergy.com/

@Calli #67

I don’t know how you can handle the comments section in the Strib. Whenever I see daddywhumpus reading comments, especially on a political article, I figure he is purposefully trying to raise his blood pressure.

I find it interesting that the raw milk the school children drank on their field trip (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00000104.htm) was blamed for the illness despite there being no Campylobacter found in the milk (“Cultures of the raw milk from the farm did not yield Campylobacter.”). I understand that it’s the same for the case in Minnesota as well, unless there have been new developments since I last read about it.

Speaking facetiously – lets make every food that makes people sick due to bacteria etc illegal. That means no more water, or meat, or lettuce, or tomatoes, or sprouts…

Seems to me that people on both sides of the fence get a great deal of exercise jumping to conclusions.

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