American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

The Raw Facts About Raw Milk

Child drinking glass of milkAs more families try to avoid processed foods, raw milk is becoming a popular alternative to pasteurized milk. With its supposed nutritional benefits, raw milk may seem to be the healthier option, but there are risk factors that need to be taken into account. To figure out which type of milk your family should be drinking, make sure to consider both the potential benefits and dangers of drinking your milk raw.

"Raw, or unpasteurized, milk can carry potentially deadly bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, which are responsible for causing numerous foodborne illnesses,” explains Geraldine T. O'Shea, DO, an osteopathic internal medicine specialist from Jackson, California. “Symptoms of a foodborne illness, such as vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea, can lead to dehydration and even death.”

Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to understand how lifestyle and environmental factors affect your wellbeing. They listen and partner with you to help you get healthy and stay well. They also encourage your body’s natural tendency toward self-healing.

'Rolling the Dice With Your Health'

In a 13-year study, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the rate of outbreaks caused by raw milk and products made from raw milk was 150% higher than outbreaks caused by pasteurized milk.

“The harmful bacteria found in unpasteurized milk can seriously affect the health of anyone, but are especially dangerous to pregnant women, children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems,” warns Dr. O’Shea. 

By pasteurizing milk, a process that kills bacteria by heating milk to a specific temperature for a set period of time, it can be ensured that 99% of the potentially harmful bacteria found in raw milk are destroyed. 

Raw milk supporters argue that the pasteurization process also kills off many beneficial bacteria and enzymes that help strengthen the immune system and fend off illnesses like allergies, asthma, and even cancer. 

“There is no scientific evidence that raw milk can cure or fend off illnesses listed by raw milk advocates,” says Dr. O’Shea. “The claims are mostly based on testimonials and anecdotal stories.” 

According to Dr. O’Shea, without the research to support the health benefit claims, the risk of consuming harmful bacteria from raw milk is too great. “Every time you drink raw milk, you are rolling the dice with your health,” she adds.

Raw Milk Alternatives

In addition, according to the FDA, research shows no meaningful difference in the nutritional values of pasteurized and unpasteurized milk. “The healthy vitamins, fats, and carbohydrates found in raw milk remain in pasteurized milk,” says Dr. O’Shea.   

Milk is pasteurized to ensure the safety of the product. For this reason, milk products sold commercially in the United States are required to be pasteurized. In most states, it is only legal to buy unpasteurized milk from the source itself. In other words, dairy farms can sell unpasteurized milk at their farm, but they cannot ship it out to your local grocery store. 

Before trying raw milk or offering it to your children, Dr. O’Shea encourages proceeding with caution and talking to a health care provider about the possible risks of serious bacterial infection. 

“If you want beneficial bacteria in your diet, you’re much safer eating yogurt,” she concludes.​​​​


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