The last few years we've seen a seeming spike in the numbers of allergies and asthma worldwide and there is a collective shrug as to exactly why.
The "hygiene hypothesis'' is often quoted as a possible explanation. As defined by PBS.org: "The human immune system evolved two types of biological defenses. When one defensive system lacks practice fighting bacteria and viruses, perhaps from an overly sanitary lifestyle, the other system becomes too powerful and overreacts -- as an allergic reaction -- to harmless substances like pollen."
OK, but if this is truly the case, what do we do about it?
The answer from one quarter has been Raw Milk.
Yes. Raw. As in un-pasteurized, un-homogenized. As in straight from the cow.
As early as 2001, The Lancet published a study that concluded: "Long-term and early-life exposure to stables and farm milk induces a strong protective effect against development of asthma, hay fever, and atopic sensitisation."
Spring last year had a new spate of media coverage about raw milk's magical powers. Time said:
"Raw-milk enthusiasts ... insist that along with the bad pathogens, heat-treating milk destroys beneficial bacteria, proteins and enzymes that aid in digestion. Some people with a history of digestive-tract problems, such as Crohn's disease, swear by the curative powers of unpasteurized milk. Others praise its nutritional value and its ability to strengthen the immune system. "I have seen so many of my patients recover their health with raw milk that I perceive this as one of the most profoundly healthy foods you can consume," says Dr. Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic physician and author who rails against the medical establishment on his website, mercola.com."
The New York Times jumped in with this statement: "Advocates attribute stronger immune and better digestive systems to raw milk. Many have incorporated it into their diet as part of a broader philosophy to treat their bodies and the planet properly."
But it was this story last week by the Boston Globe that caught my eye:
"Researchers at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Basel in Switzerland followed nearly 15,000 children ages 5 to 15 in Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, and Germany from 2001 to 2004. The study, sponsored by the European Union and published in 2007, found that children who drank raw milk had a lower incidence of asthma and allergies."
A very brief conclusion of the study quoted can be found here: "Our results indicate that consumption of farm milk may offer protection against asthma and allergy."
The sense that I'm getting is that some farm dirt is good. (No one says anything about living in a city? Does soot/smog work just as well? I think not.) But the FDA isn't going to OK any raw dairy products any time soon.