Consumption of unprocessed cow's milk protects infants from common respiratory infections

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2015 Jan;135(1):56-62. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2014.08.044. Epub 2014 Oct 19.


Background: Breast-feeding is protective against respiratory infections in early life. Given the co-evolutionary adaptations of humans and cattle, bovine milk might exert similar anti-infective effects in human infants.

Objective: To study effects of consumption of raw and processed cow's milk on common infections in infants.

Methods: The PASTURE birth cohort followed 983 infants from rural areas in Austria, Finland, France, Germany, and Switzerland, for the first year of life, covering 37,306 person-weeks. Consumption of different types of cow's milk and occurrence of rhinitis, respiratory tract infections, otitis, and fever were assessed by weekly health diaries. C-reactive protein levels were assessed using blood samples taken at 12 months.

Results: When contrasted with ultra-heat treated milk, raw milk consumption was inversely associated with occurrence of rhinitis (adjusted odds ratio from longitudinal models [95% CI]: 0.71 [0.54-0.94]), respiratory tract infections (0.77 [0.59-0.99]), otitis (0.14 [0.05-0.42]), and fever (0.69 [0.47-1.01]). Boiled farm milk showed similar but weaker associations. Industrially processed pasteurized milk was inversely associated with fever. Raw farm milk consumption was inversely associated with C-reactive protein levels at 12 months (geometric means ratio [95% CI]: 0.66 [0.45-0.98]).

Conclusions: Early life consumption of raw cow's milk reduced the risk of manifest respiratory infections and fever by about 30%. If the health hazards of raw milk could be overcome, the public health impact of minimally processed but pathogen-free milk might be enormous, given the high prevalence of respiratory infections in the first year of life and the associated direct and indirect costs.

Keywords: C-reactive protein; Respiratory infections; epidemiology; fever; infancy; inflammation; milk; otitis; prevention; rhinitis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drinking
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Fever / epidemiology
  • Fever / prevention & control*
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Milk*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Otitis / epidemiology
  • Pasteurization
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / prevention & control*
  • Rhinitis / epidemiology