Raw milk doesn’t make it easier to digest lactose

27 February 2024
What was claimed

Raw milk is easier to digest due to the presence of enzymes that aid in digestion.

Our verdict

This is not true in relation to lactose, an ingredient in milk that commonly causes digestive problems.

What was claimed

Consuming raw milk helps strengthen the immune system.

Our verdict

This is missing important context. People with weaker immune systems should not consume raw milk, which might be dangerous to them.

A post on Instagram with more than 70,000 likes makes a potentially misleading claim about raw milk—which is milk that has not been through pasteurisation, when it is heat-treated to kill germs that might be harmful.

Specifically, the post says: “raw milk is easier to digest due to the presence of enzymes that aid in digestion.”

We can’t say for sure which ingredients of milk or which aspects of digestion this claim is talking about. However, lactose malabsorption and intolerance are common problems that some people experience with digesting milk, and as we have written twice before, drinking raw as opposed to pasteurised milk does not help with this.

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Raw milk and lactose intolerance

Lactose is a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products. Some people do not have enough lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose in the gut. This is what usually causes lactose intolerance, although it can be caused by other gut diseases.

Raw milk also contains lactose, but it does not cure lactose intolerance. Nor does it contain lactase or any lactase-producing probiotics.

As we’ve said before, a 2010 review of the evidence found no association between lactose intolerance and drinking raw milk. Another study asked 16 lactose intolerant people to try consuming different types of milk, and found “no hint of any benefit” among those consuming raw milk.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also said: “There are no additional protease and lipases in raw milk that facilitate milk digestion.”

Raw milk can be dangerous

The Instagram post also says: “Consuming raw milk helps strengthen the immune system.”

The FDA says: “Raw milk is not an immune system building food.”

The claim is also missing some important context, because people with weaker immune systems are specifically advised not to consume raw milk.

The Food Standards Agency says “raw or unpasteurised milk and cream may contain harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning. People with a weaker immune system are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning and should not consume it.”

This includes people aged 65 or over, those who are pregnant, infants and small children, and people with a compromised immune system, such as cancer patients.

Raw milk can be sold in certain situations in most of the UK, but it is illegal in Scotland.

Misleading information can spread widely on social media and may be harmful if people use it to make decisions about their health.

We approached the author of the Instagram post but have not received a response at time of writing. Similar claims have also been shared on Facebook.

Image courtesy of Anita Jankovic

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