Is Raw Milk Good for You?

What are the benefits of drinking unpasteurized milk?

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
Episode #112

What are The Benefits of Drinking Raw Milk?

Most of the evidence for the benefits of drinking raw dairy is anecdotal. People report that when they started drinking raw milk, they got fewer colds, or their allergies went away, or their irritable bowel wasn’t as irritable or they were no longer lactose intolerant. These sorts of testimonials can be very compelling. But as scientific evidence, they have three major weaknesses.

The 3 Main Problems with Anecdotal Reports

Reporting bias Anecdotal evidence may be a very accurate representation of someone else’s experience. But it doesn’t give you much information about how likely you are to have the same experience. That’s because you’re much more likely to notice and tell people about a positive response than if nothing special happens. This reporting bias tends to make positive outcomes seem much more likely than they actually are.

The scientific literature suffers from the same bias, by the way. An experiment that finds a relationship between A and B is much more likely to be published than an experiment that finds no relationship between A and B. But when you think about it, both are equally important pieces of information. 

Uncontrolled variables Another weakness with anecdotal information is that it doesn’t control for variables. Maybe switching to raw milk was part of a larger effort to improve your diet. In addition to adding raw milk, you also eliminated refined sugar and started eating more vegetables. If you then get fewer colds, who’s to say that it was the raw milk that made the difference rather than, say, the extra broccoli?

Or perhaps the year that you started drinking raw milk happened to be a year when the frost date was a lot later than usual, which lowered the pollen count that Spring. Or a year when low rain fall reduced the mold count. Is the improvement in your allergies from the raw milk or environmental factors?

There are also a lot of anecdotal reports of people who can’t drink pasteurized milk because they are lactose intolerant. Yet they tolerate raw milk just fine. Remember, however, the raw milk—which is usually unskimmed—may be a lot higher in fat than the milk they had been drinking. And the higher that fat content, the lower the lactose content.  

The broccoli, the frost date, the rain fall, and the fat content of the milk are all examples of uncontrolled variables.

The placebo effect Finally, anecdotal evidence doesn’t control for the placebo effect—which describes the fact that people often feel better simply because they think they will. If anything, the more anecdotal evidence you hear, the more likely you are to experience a placebo effect. That doesn’t make you gullible or stupid. It makes you human.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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