The Raw Truth About Raw Milk

Before I even start, let’s just enjoy the little throwback photo above, featuring my friend Bailey’s husband, middle, as a youngster. Seth grew up on a local Wisconsin dairy farm, married Bailey, and now carries on the family dairy farming tradition. Seth and Bailey just added a new wee babe, Finnley, to their family so perhaps the dairy tradition will continue for another generation.

What is “raw” milk?

Milk is a staple for most kids and many adults. It’s a good source of calcium, protein, fat, and a bunch of other nutrients that growing bodies thrive on for all kinds of things. You might be completely unaware, as I was not long ago, that there’s a difference between “raw milk” and the milk that most people buy from their local supermarket. The difference is what happens to the milk in the time it leaves the farm and when it hits the grocery store cooler. Most milk in stores goes through a process called pasteurization, which is a process that involves heating milk to a set temperature and then cooling it again. I’ll spare you the scientific details, but the intent of the pasteurization process is to kill off bacteria that may prove harmful if consumed by people. Raw milk, then, is simply milk that does not undergo this heating and cooling process and is instead enjoyed directly by the consumer shortly after it’s milked from the cow.

What does the pasteurization process do to milk?

Aside from the beneficial act of clearing milk of potentially harmful bacteria, pasteurization has been shown to have some negative effects on milk. This process has been shown to:

  • Reduce the bioavailability of calcium and phosphorus (meaning they become harder for the body to use once pasteurized)
  • Reduce the amount of copper and iron which are essential minerals
  • Diminish vitamin A, B complex, C, and E
  • Destroy something called beta-lactoglobulin which makes it harder for the gut to absorb Vitamin A (which is already diminished).
  • Destroy probiotics (known as the good gut bacteria
  • Destroy lactase (which I’ll touch on further below) as well as several other enzymes.

The raw facts

Similar to human breast milk, which is consistently praised for its nutrient dense nature, raw cow’s milk, when produced carefully, is a living whole food which provides excellent nutrition along with health supporting enzymes and probiotics (Raw Milk Institute, 2019). It’s best consumed in its natural form if you have access to it. Interestingly, many people who are lactose intolerant find that they can digest raw milk without any issues because the bacterial content of raw milk allows for the production of the enzyme lactase which helps to break down the lactose sugar in the milk. The heat that comes with pasteurization destroys this enzyme entirely.

Pasteurization also destroys the enzymes protease and lipase which help with the digestion of proteins and fats. The heat also destroys numerous probiotics, some of which are associated with combating growth of harmful bacteria, improving lactose digestion, and improve the overall health of the gut microbiome (basically the good bacteria that help keep your gut healthy). Many of these nutrients have to be added back in during production after pasteurization is complete.

Allergies and Asthma and Raw Milk

It’s no secret that rates of asthma, allergies, and eczema seem to be on the rise nationally. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, more than 8% of children have asthma and more than 8% of children have some form of allergies. It’s not uncommon for these things to go hand in hand. Asthma is actually the leading cause of chronic disease in children (AAFA, 2019). What does that have to do with raw milk? In terms of dairy allergies, children who drink raw milk have been shown to have lower rates of lactose intolerance or other dairy related allergies (Depner et al., 2013). Click here for study details.

Rates of asthma and allergies have also been shown to lower when children consume raw milk vs. pasteurized milk. One study of 8,000 European children showed a significant reduction in childhood asthma and allergies in children who drank raw milk. You can check that study out here. There are also studies the show a correlation between raw milk consumption and lower rates of childhood respiratory and febrile illnesses. That study can be seen here.

Isn’t drinking raw milk dangerous?

Funny you should ask. The answer is no if raw milk is sourced correctly. When obtained from the right kind of local farm, the nutritional benefits of raw milk can be profound. Let me be clear, though: the pasteurization process is necessary when it comes to the mass production of milk and dairy across our nation. Many of the mass production dairy farms across the United States have a large amount of dairy cattle in close quarters that lends itself to an understandably increased risk for potential harmful bacteria to take up residence in the milk produced. We need these farms in order to match demand for dairy in our society and this milk certainly needs pasteurization as a means to lower the risk of bacterial transmission to the milk drinker. There are many smaller farms, however, where production is done on a more local scale, with the intent to produce raw milk for consumption. The bacterial burden of the milk produced on these farms is much lower than what comes from mass produced milk.

Where can I find raw milk?

As you can see, if you’re able to locally source raw milk from a farm that specifically produces raw milk for consumption, the benefits can be profound. For my local Wisconsin friends, here is a resource for finding farms sourcing raw milk and raw milk products. You can use the Raw Milk Finder to find available raw milk in your state if you’re not local to Wisconsin. Each state has their own rules and regulations regarding raw milk so be sure to check those and make sure you’re sourcing your milk from a farm that produces milk intended for raw milk drinking.

The Raw Milk Controversy

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) argue that consumption of raw milk can lead to the development of foodborne illness because of the bacterial content of milk that’s unpasteurized. In some cases, this is true. However, CDC estimates 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year in the United States. The CDC reports only 2 deaths from raw milk consumption since 1972. The good news is that supporters of raw milk consumption have worked tireless to improve the safety profile of raw milk to further reduce any risk that maybe present if you decide to try out raw milk. The Raw Milk Institute has come up with training for farmers producing raw milk and has developed standards for raw milk production that make it even safer for you to drink. One paper, which can be viewed here concluded that the rate of illness from raw milk consumption has steadily dropped since 2010 despite the fact that more and more Americans are consuming raw milk products (which is at least 10 million as of 2007 and likely much higher now).

Are there people who shouldn’t drink raw milk?

Like most things in life, not everything is good for everybody. There are several groups who are discouraged from consuming raw milk. If you live in an urban area, cannot locally source your own raw milk, don’t have access to refrigeration, or have any kind of underlying health condition that may make you more susceptible to bacterial infections or worse outcomes from illness, you should consume pasteurized milk.

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AAFA. (2019, June). Retrieved January 19, 2021, from

AAFA. (2019, Jun). Retrieved January 19, 2021, f

Atopic sensitization in the first year of life. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2013; 131(3):781-8. Depner M, Ege MJ, Genuneit J, Pekkanen J, Roponen M, Hirvonen MR, Dalphin JC, Kaulek V, Krauss-Etschmann S, Riedler J, Braun-Fahrländer C, Roduit C, Lauener R, Pfefferle PI, Weber J, von Mutius E; PASTURE Study Group.

Consumption of unprocessed cow’s milk protects infants from common respiratory infections. Journal
of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2015; 135 (1): 56-62. Loss G, Depner M, Ulfman LH, Joost van Neerven RJ, Hose AJ, Genuneit J, Karvonen M, Hyvärinen A, Kaulek V, Roduit C, Weber J, Lauener R, Pfefferle PI, Pekkanen J, Vaarala O, Dalphin JC, Riedler J, Braun-Fahrländer C, von Mutius E, Ege MJ; PASTURE study group.

Raw Milk Institute Board of Directors ‘to’ Medical Professionals and Healthcare Providers, December 2019, Raw Milk as a Low-Risk Therapeutic Tool,. Accessed January 17, 2021,

The protective effect of farm milk consumption on childhood asthma and atopy: The GABRIELA study.
Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2011; 128 (4): 766-73. Loss G, Apprich S, Waser M, Kneifel W, Genuneit J, Büchele G, Weber J, Sozanska B, Danielewicz H, Horak E, Joost van Neerven RJ, Heederik D, Lorenzen PC, von Mutius E, Braun-Fahrländer C; GABRIELA study group.

  1. Great info! Thanks, Paige (& Christine)!

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