Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Why I am against the raw milk movement

Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert on this topic. I do not work for any dairy operation or any company associated with the dairy industry. The discussion below simply expresses my opinions about this issue and is based on what I know from my Ph.D. in microbiology. If you disagree with these opinions, please let me know! Like I said, I am not an expert on raw milk, and I am open to other opinions and interpretations.

Being a smart consumer is about understanding both sides of an issue and making informed decisions. I try to adhere to this credo as much as possible because I think people are so inundated with information these days they do not always take the time to evaluate the information they are given. Who can blame them? Evaluating all this data takes a lot of work, but I do think it would behoove us all to ask, “Is that true? Does it make sense?” when a company/industry/etc. makes a claim that their product is better for us. Drinking raw milk instead of pasteurized milk is a new trend in my neck of the woods. My initial gut reaction as a microbiologist is that this is a bad idea. Pasteurization, along with other sanitary procedures, was put into practice to protect people from pathogens that can infect milk. If this practice is no longer used, aren’t we simply opening ourselves up to an increased chance of drinking infected milk?

According to the CDC and the FDA, the answer is yes. The CDC reported that, “Among dairy product-associated outbreaks reported to CDC between 1973 and 2008 in which the investigators reported whether the product was pasteurized or raw, 82% were due to raw milk or cheese.” (See http://www.cdc.gov/Features/RawMilk/ for the full article and http://www.realrawmilkfacts.com/scientific-references/ for the scientific references the FDA used in support of their stance on raw milk). While my search was not exhaustive, I did not find any scientific studies from peer-reviewed journals to refute these findings by the CDC. What do I mean by peer-reviewed? I agree with Wikipedia’s definition, which is “Peer review is a generic term for a process of self-regulation by a profession or a process of evaluation involving qualified individuals within the relevant field.” Obviously this method is not without fault, but I think it is the best method we have in the pursuit of truth. Therefore, I maintain my stance that there are inherent risks in drinking raw milk. However, the raw milk movement says that drinking raw milk has many advantages over pasteurized milk. Perhaps these advantages outweigh the risks of drinking raw milk.

What are the advantages claimed by proponents of raw milk? Since I couldn’t find a scientific article describing the advantages, to answer this, I will use information I found here http://www.raw-milk-facts.com/raw_milk_health_benefits.html because unlike many of the websites I found about raw milk, this site actually listed some references to support their claims. I would like to point out that some of their references are links to other like-minded websites, which I consider simply opinions not facts. Keep in mind, there may be better sites out there.

One of the proposed advantages to drinking raw milk is that pasteurization destroys active enzymes and antibodies in milk that have beneficial properties. Enzymes and antibodies are simply proteins, and yes, heat can denature, or inactivate, them. However, acids can also denature proteins, and the acidic environment of the stomach has evolved to do just that. In my opinion, I am not convinced that these enzymes and antibodies could have any appreciable activity once they have passed through the stomach. Also, antibodies and many of the beneficial enzymes they describe in raw milk such as lactoferrin, catalase, and lysozyme are already made by our bodies, so why would we need to get them from milk? Do we even know how active and in what quantities these enzymes and antibodies are in our bodies after ingesting milk? To me, until we answer these questions the claim that raw milk is more beneficial than pasteurized milk because there are more active enzymes and antibodies in raw milk is speculation at best.

Another proposed advantage of drinking raw milk is that people who are lactose intolerant should not have as strong of a reaction to raw milk. The reason stated for this is that raw milk contains Lactobacillus, a group of bacteria that can break down lactose into lactic acid. It is true that pasteurization can kill these bacteria. However, complete consumption of lactose in milk into lactic acid by these bacteria takes time, and as the bacteria consume lactose they produce more and more lactic acid which eventually leads to sour milk. Can these bacteria break down enough lactose before the milk goes sour to allow lactose intolerant people to drink it without having a reaction? I think the answer is that we don’t know, and because the magnitude of lactose intolerance can vary from person to person there are some people who cannot tolerate raw milk. To me, this proposed advantage is not compelling enough for me to advise lactose intolerant people to start drinking raw milk.

The presence of the enzymes listed above and production of lactic acid by Lactobacillus can inhibit the growth of other bacteria, including some pathogens. This is why some proponents of raw milk claim that it is safer than pasteurized milk. If that is true, then I would expect that we would only find pathogens infecting milk after pasteurization, but we know that pathogens can infect raw milk and pasteurized milk that is not kept in a sterile environment. Plus, the natural defenses found in milk are also found in your body. Pathogens have evolved mechanisms to overcome these natural defenses, which allow them to cause disease in your body. I do not find this a convincing argument for raw milk being safer than pasteurized milk.

There are other proposed advantages to raw milk that I have not mentioned, such as the probiotic effect conferred by ingesting Lactobacillus, which can easily be consumed in other, safer food products like yoghurt. In my opinion, most of the proposed advantages to raw milk are merely conjecture and do not outweigh the increased risk of contamination in raw milk. For me, that is the bottom line. You are free to agree or disagree!

Friday, September 10, 2010

My cover star!

The hubby made it onto the cover of sailing magazine! Can you guess which one he is? I'm so proud!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

My second marriage proposal...sort of

A little over a year ago, I lost my wedding ring. For those of you who have seen me lose numerous keys, gloves, and other items, this is probably no surprise, but I was devastated! Luckily, my husband understands the depth of my forgetful/ditsy tendencies and had a very good insurance policy for it.

Thus enter the era of the new ring! The picture you see above is indeed my ring, but we didn't get the wedding band with it. It would have put us way over what our insurance was willing to pay, but I love it all the same.

I was anxiously awaiting delivery of said ring. After losing my old one, my ring finger felt lighter, and I was starting to get phantom ring pains (you laugh, but I bet this really exists especially with women who have been married for a long time). Anyways, another week had passed and still no ring! The hubby talked me into taking my mopey self out for a hike in the Central Cascade Mountains. We ended up getting into a bunch of shenanigans that involved a Canadian couple and two flat tires, but I won't get into that until a later time. We did get to go on a short hike to a mountain stream. As per my usual, I was trying to find a cool rock or shell to bring home as a reminder of our trip. I spotted a particularly nice one and pointed it out to the hubby. When I realized he wasn't looking where I was pointing, I turned to him full of annoyance that he wasn't paying attention and noticed that he was holding something under the water. He said, "I like this rock much better." 'Lo and behold, it was my new wedding ring. I shrieked and cried just like when we got engaged the first time. It was the best second-proposal I have ever had!

By the way, my husband is a brave man to propose twice! When he forgets to do dishes or clean the house, I like to remind him that next time he asks I may say no.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Come on Lefty!

As a scientist, I work a lot. This should come as no surprise since any progress in my career depends largely on how much data I procure, and being the type A personality that I am, I want to do well. This is no doubt why so many scientists are workaholics, and we engender a culture where working 70+ hours a week is considered fundamental to being a great scientist. Okay, okay, before scientists out there skewer me for saying that, I will say that I think this culture may be shifting a little bit. I do think that more scientists are placing greater value on their life outside the lab, which totally makes sense to me. Lab work has a lot of highs and a lot of lows, and I think weathering the emotional storm that is lab work is more easily navigated if you have something other than work to fulfill you.

But I digress...

The reason for my above really comes down to one thing that I am determined to achieve, which is getting a hobby! It's true that I enjoy reading, but I wouldn't exactly consider it a hobby. Plus, I want something that keeps me active since my brain gets a workout everyday. I decided to try ballet. Now I am sure some of you are experiencing the same thing my husband did on hearing this announcement, namely an attack of the giggles, but I assure you I am serious. For the past six weeks, I have been taking a beginning ballet class, and it has been great! I'm not sure how far I will go with it, but I find it fun and challenging.

Here is the main thing I have learned, though. The left side of my body is not in communication with my right side. While my right side is doing a fair rendition of Swan Lake, my left side looks like it is taking a cigarette break. My right side is Cinderella and the left side is the ugly stepsister. What is up with that? It's true the right is my dominant side, but apparently I didn't know how dominant. I am hoping that more ballet classes will help with this, but until then I will continue my Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde version of ballet. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

No Mans, no dog, sad Vixen

Here I am. I have this grant that I should be writing, but instead I am procrastinating and having a pity party. My husband is off sailing to Bermuda, and my dog is off at doggy fun camp with her two biggest fans so I can, allegedly, get some work done. Instead, I am sitting here beating my head against a wall trying to find the best way to make my work sound significant. How do I, someone who hates to do anything resembling boasting, brag about how my work is significant? *sigh* Don't worry. I will get 'er done. Procrastination is all part of the process.

With the hubby gone, though, I have noticed a few small changes around here. So here are some ways you can tell the Fixen Vixen is minus one man in her home.

-All of the dishes in the sink are coffee cups and wine glasses. Definitely not a lot of cooking going on right now!

-Now that I don't have to share the bed with a dog or a man I have taken over the bed. I go to bed on my "usual" side of the bed only to find myself flipped around 180 degrees or draped horizontally across the whole bed. Apparently when I don't have a man/dog fence to contain me, I take over.

-I get to sleep in because there is no dog waking me up to go for a walk!! Yippee!

-I watch every Jane Austen book turned into a movie that I own, and every Sex in the City episode that I have seen a gazillion times.

-I sometimes wear the same holey sweater two days in a row. GASP!

-I am reading trashy romance novels and eating oreos in bed. Yep, I know, so cliche!

Sometimes it's nice to be a single girl again. Just not a single girl with a grant to write! Back to work Fixen Vixen!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Back to blogging

It has been over a year since my last post? Really? Truly? By now the five people who read this blog have gone on to greener, and I am sure more interesting, pastures. I would love to say that my life has just been so slow, relaxing, and carefree over the past year that I just could not bring my relaxed self to post a single blog. Unfortunately, that is not the case, and I have had a crazy, hectic year. First and foremost, I graduated with a Ph.D.! Whahoooo! For the past three months, I have been swamped writing my thesis, training my replacement, and generally getting everything ready for The Defense. It is almost completely over. I just have to fill out some paperwork and get my thesis bound and then I will be done done done.

Two really awesome things happened to me this past year. One, I got a post-doc position in Seattle, which I am super excited about. The people seem great, and I loved Seattle. What a gorgeous place! You all have to promise to come visit once I settle into my surroundings. Secondly, I have a new love in my life. Her name is Penelope (Penny for short), and she is a beautiful golden retriever. She is so sweet, loves all people and dogs, and I spoil her like crazy. I am pretty sure I've lost about 5 pounds since we got her from all the running/walking we do, and I am pretty sure she has gained 5 pounds because I spoil her with treats. The look she is giving the camera is exactly the same look she gave me when I was home writing my thesis. Once she realized I wasn't at home to play with her, she would just lay there and give me this sad stare. It was brutal.

Anyways, I hope I get to post more in the future. If you haven't noticed, I am not terribly great at this whole blogging thing, but I am going to give it a go. I will keep you posted!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tired of pipetting?

For my fellow science geeks, watch this video. It is hilarious!

More to come about my trip to Bermuda...