The low prevalence of asthma and allergies in farm children has partially been ascribed to the consumption of raw cow's milk. A literature search identified 12 publications on 8 pertinent studies. A meta-analysis corroborated the protective effect of raw milk consumption early in life (<1 to 5 years, according to study) on asthma (odds ratio [OR], 0.58; 95% CI, 0.49-0.69), current wheeze (OR, 0.66; 95% CI, 0.55-0.78), hay fever or allergic rhinitis (OR, 0.68; 95% CI, 0.57-0.82), and atopic sensitization (OR, 0.76; 95% CI, 0.62-0.95). The effect particularly on asthma was observed not only in children raised on farms (OR, 0.62; 95% CI, 0.58-0.82) but also in children living in rural areas but not on a farm (OR, 0.60; 95% CI, 0.48-0.74). This demonstrates that the effect of farm milk consumption is independent of other farm exposures and that children not living on a farm can theoretically profit from this effect. Because of the minimal but real risk of life-threatening infections, however, consumption of raw milk and products thereof is strongly discouraged. Raw farm milk and industrially processed milk differ in many instances including removal of cellular components, manipulation of the fat fraction, and various degrees of heating. Preliminary evidence attributes the effect to heat-labile molecules and components residing in the fat fraction. The Milk Against Respiratory Tract Infections and Asthma (MARTHA) trial is currently testing the protective effect of microbiologically safe, minimally processed cow's milk against standard ultra-heat-treated milk in children from 6 months to 3 years with the primary outcome of an asthma diagnosis until age 5 years. If successful, this approach might provide a simple but effective prevention strategy.
Keywords: Allergies; Asthma; Farm exposures; Farm milk; Milk components; Raw cow's milk; Respiratory infections.
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