What Is Raw Milk? Here's Why You Really Shouldn't Try This "Healthy" Trend
Someone really needs to sit me down and explain these pseudo-health trends popping up on social feeds, because TBH, I’m just not seeing the appeal. Look, raw water was one thing — I mean, I get it, it comes from dear old mother Earth, and nature is great, and pure, and all that — but what is raw milk? In my opinion, it sounds so wrong that it just can’t be right to drink it. Granted, I’m iffy on dairy to begin with, but I cannot honestly believe that someone, somewhere, took one look at a cow’s udder, dripping with milk, and thought, “Now there’s something to quench my thirst,” without any thought as to what’s in raw milk, and the many ways it could seriously mess up your insides.
As someone who considers herself relatively tapped into what’s hot and what’s not as far as wellness trends go, I can honestly say I didn’t see this one coming. Apparently, though, raw milk isn’t exactly “new” on the market (a quick internet search will resurface articles from as far back as 2009 tackling the controversial subject).
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), raw milk poses a “serious health risk,” and, unsurprisingly, there’s science to back up this claim. The FDA goes on to report that an analysis performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) between 1993 and 2006 found raw milk was likely to cause 150 times more food-borne illnesses and 13 times more hospitalizations than the cartons you’d typically see at the grocery store. Still thirsty?
But, I'm getting ahead of myself here. What does it mean for milk to be raw, anyway?
When you stop at the store on your way home to buy a gallon of milk, unless a label on the carton explicitly says otherwise, you can trust that that gallon has been pasteurized. According to the FDA, this means that, in a fancy lab somewhere, a professional heated the animal’s milk to 161 degrees exactly, and kept it simmering there for about 15 seconds in order to kill harmful bacteria like salmonella, E. coli, and listeria so that, by the time it reaches your lips, it’s 100 percent safe to drink.
Raw milk is, you guessed it, raw — aka unpasteurized — so you might want to think twice when pouring yourself a tall glass of the stuff, because there’s a solid chance your cup is swarming with all kinds of disease-causing crap. It’s a party in your tummy you don’t want to host, trust me.
So, OK, I can sort of understand why raw milk might sound enticing, especially when you consider the shady conditions animals are often exposed to in the dairy industry. However, the FDA has made it very clear that raw milk cannot exterminate the harmful bacteria that can lead to illnesses like salmonella and E. coli naturally, so even though, in theory, this idea of all-raw-everything sounds fantastic, every sip is a potential health risk — one that I, personally, am not willing to take.
Still, experts in the field continue to debate whether or not raw milk is safe to consume.
I guess there really are two sides to everything, even health trends that probably shouldn’t be trending at all. This is both valuable, and grounds for concern, but there’s no harm in laying everything out on the table in order to make your own decision, especially when it has to do with something as personal as your health.
Having said that, let’s talk about the possible benefits of drinking raw milk (because, apparently, that’s a thing). In 2009, for example, Makenna Goodman wrote an article for Huffington Post after reading about what David Gumpert, blogger and author of the book Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights, had to say about what government officials apparently aren’t telling us about raw milk.
According to the HuffPost article, raw milk might actually be healthier than pasteurized milk, but there’s a catch: Depending on the animal’s “diet, how and where it’s raised, and how the milk is collected,” Goodman wrote, unpasteurized dairy can be rich in things like healthy amino acids and beneficial enzymes, as well as fatty acids that protect against against disease and “stimulate the immune system.”
Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of DrAxe.com, best-selling author of the book Eat Dirt, and co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, has also claimed that society has been “misled” to believe that raw milk is dangerous. According to Dr. Axe, raw milk “contains all of its natural enzymes, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals,” making it a “complete food.” In fact, according to his research, drinking raw milk can "improve skin health, prevent nutrient deficiencies," "make probiotic food," and does not contain "added sugar or synthetic ingredients." Fair enough.
The risk of consuming bacteria from these products, he goes on to explain, is “very, very low” — which, if I’m playing devil’s advocate here, might be why these products go in and out of headlines: because reports only show when there is a significant outbreak. But, again, this is just speculation on my part.
Though some experts might defend raw milk, a recent food poisoning outbreak in Colorado shows why you're probably better off not drinking this stuff.
While all of these alleged health benefits sound legit, SELF reports that the CDC has released a 2016 analysis linking a Colorado-based outbreak of C. jejuni — aka one of the most common causes of food poisoning found in the U.S. and Europe — to the consumption of raw milk. The analysis demonstrates the potential dangers of drinking the beverage, including high fever, unruly stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and bouts of diarrhea.
What’s interesting is that raw milk is legal to sell in some states, which is why lead author of the CDC analysis, Alexis Burakoff, M.D., explained that authorities need to buckle down and do more to prevent these sorts of outbreaks from happening. According to Burakoff and her team, guidelines are being created to “address future outbreaks related to raw milk from herdshares,” because, should more states legalize the distribution of raw milk, “the number of associated outbreaks will likely increase.”
In short, raw milk is probably not a health trend to join in on. If you're looking to forego dairy, try nut or seed milks as an alternative. Talk to your doctor, and do some research to figure out what your options are. Just do yourself a favor, and leave raw milk out of the running.