The prevalence of allergic diseases has increased significantly in Western countries in the last decades. This increase is often explained by the loss of rural living conditions and associated changes in diet and lifestyle. In line with this 'hygiene hypothesis', several epidemiological studies have shown that growing up on a farm lowers the risk of developing allergic diseases. The consumption of raw, unprocessed, cow's milk seems to be one of the factors contributing to this protective effect. Recent evidence indeed shows an inverse relation between raw cow's milk consumption and the development of asthma and allergies. However, the consumption of raw milk is not recommended due to the possible contamination with pathogens. Cow's milk used for commercial purposes is therefore processed, but this milk processing is shown to abolish the allergy-protective effects of raw milk. This emphasizes the importance of understanding the components and mechanisms underlying the allergy-protective capacity of raw cow's milk. Only then, ways to produce a safe and protective milk can be developed. Since mainly heat treatment is shown to abolish the allergy-protective effects of raw cow's milk, the heat-sensitive whey protein fraction of raw milk is an often-mentioned source of the protective components. In this review, several of these whey proteins, their potential contribution to the allergy-protective effects of raw cow's milk and the consequences of heat treatment will be discussed. A better understanding of these bioactive whey proteins might eventually contribute to the development of new nutritional approaches for allergy management.
Keywords: Allergic diseases; Immune regulation; Milk processing; Raw cow’s milk; Whey proteins.
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