Milk, the Sacred Elixir
In last month’s article, we looked into nourishing rasa in the debilitated and dehydrated patient. This month we will consider the role of milk in nourishing rasa at times when extra building is needed (santarpana). Such instances include post-partum and nursing mothers,patients with TB (rajayakshma), convalescent patients and those recovering from surgery. Often the first phase is the gentle rehabilitation of digestion described in Part I and the second phase is santarpana.
Liquid foods are of vital importance in nourishing rasa, a liquid dhatu. Just as water is of prime importance in the early stages of nourishing rasa, so does milk come into its own during the santarpana phase. Both classical and modern scientific concerns are vital in understanding where, how and for whom the various kinds of milk are beneficial. Sushrut considers eight kinds of milks, of which three—camel milk, horse milk and elephant milk—are not typically available in the US. We will consider first cow’s milk, the most abundant and readily available type of milk in our society. In speaking about milk in general, Sushrut describes it as ‘the best of all nutritive (jivaniya) substances’.1 Possessed of guru, shita and slakshna qualities (heavy, cold and slimy) and a sweet taste, milk is considered beneficial for vata, pitta, mental disorders, chronic fever, cough, wasting diseases, heart disease, miscarriage, fractures and TB, among other conditions.2 It is regarded as a sacred food which is building (bruhaniya), tonic, spermatopoietic (shukral), rasayana and vajikarana (aphrodisiac).2 Cow’s milk in particular is demulcent, heavy, a sacred elixir and calming to vatta and pitta.3
So when our ancient texts describe milk in such glowing terms, why is milk today implicated in a range of conditions from leaky gut syndrome to asthma and eczema to heart disease? The answer is simple—a sacred food is so only when produced in the traditional, sacred way. The milk of a modern Holstein cow, produced on a feedlot from a diet of GMO corn, antibiotics, pesticides, rBGH and rendered animals, homogenized to extend its shelf life, pasteurized, refrigerated and bottled in plastic bears little resemblance to the sacred elixir of life described in our texts. And this is where modern food science comes into play in our understanding of milk.
First let us consider the breed of cattle. Our Ayurvedic texts refer to milk from humped zebu cattle, bos indicus, an ancient indigenous breed. The beta casein in milk from the humped bos indicus has a different amino acid make-up from the milk of bos Taurus, today’s hump-less cattle.4 Human, goat and zebu milk contain A2 beta casein, beneficial for human health.5 Milk from modern breeds of cows often contains A1 beta casein, which has been associated with ischaemic heart disease, diabetes, schizophrenia, autism and sudden infant death syndrome.6 Milk from older breeds of cattle, including Guernsey and Brown Swiss, is likely to be less allergenic and closer to Sushrut’s description than A1 milk from breeds such a Holsteins, although there are individual variations from cow to cow.7 Casein is not the only potential allergen in milk. Some individuals are allergic to beta lactoglobulin in whey. Beta lg is found in cow, sheep, goat and mare’s milk but not in human or camel milk, perhaps accounting for the high esteem in which Sushrut holds camel milk.8, 9
Not only is the breed of cow important in the understanding of milk. The genetic and ethnic heritage of the individual milk consumer is also of significance, particularly where lactose intolerance is concerned. Unlike an allergy reaction, which is a response to a foreign protein, lactose intolerance results from an enzyme deficiency. The enzyme lactase, located in the brush border of the small intestine, splits lactose or milk sugar into two simple sugars, glucose and galactose, for transport across the cell membrane. If lactose is absent or insufficient, gas, bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea will follow milk consumption. Lactose intolerance rarely affects infants, but can develop in adults as primary adult hypolactasia. Whereas only 2% of Northern Europeans have hypolactasia, this condition affects, “nearly 100 percent of adult Asians and American Indians. Blacks and Ashkenazi Jews have prevalences of 60 to 80 percent, and Latinos have a prevalence of 50 to 80 percent.” 10 Thus lactose intolerance has widely divergent prevalence for different ethnic groups. In your Asian, black and Jewish patients, strongly consider lactose intolerance as a cause for digestive discomfort. Since all types of milk contain lactose, it is wise for lactose intolerant individuals to avoid milk completely, although they may be able to digest fermented dairy products such as yoghurt and kefir without difficulty.10
Then comes the question of what the cows eat and how they are cared for. In Sushrut’s time, cows ate grass, their natural food. Today, typical fodder for cattle includes corn, soybeans, sorghum, oats and barley. These unnatural feeds alter the nutritional components of milk. CLA, conjugated linoleic acid, is a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids created in the stomachs of ruminant animals. CLA helps build lean muscle, reduces fat, prevents diabetes, cancer and heart disease, and regulates gene expression.11 Our access to dietary CLA comes from milk, cheese, butter, ghee or meat of ruminants. But the content of CLA in milk is dramatically higher in grass-fed animals. “Cows grazing pasture and receiving no supplemental feed had 500% more conjugated linoleic acid in milk fat than cows fed typical dairy diets.” 12 In addition to CLA, milk is a vital source of membrane essential polyunsaturated fatty acids that are incorporated into the brain and support intelligence and mental health.13 The content of these nutrients is also higher in grass fed cattle.14, 15
What do we do to our milk? Today’s store bought milk is typically pasteurized, homogenized, reduced fat and has added vitamin D. Pasteurization of milk destroys or alters many nutrients including the enzymes phosphatase and lactoferrin as well as vitamin B complex vitamins and vitamin C present in raw milk. For a comparison of the nutritional content of raw and pasteurized milk see http://www.realmilk.com/whichchoose.html. Dr JC Annand has published several papers over three decades postulating that the process of denaturing milk by pasteurizing it may lead to heart disease.16 Tribes such as the Masai and Woodabe who mainly live on raw milk have a low incidence of ischaemic heart disease despite their extremely high milk intake.17
Controversy has raged for decades concerning the potential dangers of homogenization of milk. The issue is muddied by difficulty in separating effects of pasteurization from effects of homogenization in the relationship between milk and atherosclerosis. “Homogenization changes the organization of milk components by decreasing the size of milk fat globules, on which caseins become the main protein fraction adsorbed…. there is still no clear-cut evidence about the impact of these structural changes on some health properties of milk such as CVD, diabetes and allergy. The effects of milk homogenization and heating regarding the bioactivity of casein peptides and MFGM proteins and lipids, and the cardiovascular impact of milk consumption, remain to be elucidated.” 18
Organic milk production methods also may lead to better nutritional content of milk. “From this pilot study it can be concluded that in this pair wise comparison the organic milk generally scored better than the conventional milk for both the conventional and holistic measures. Statistically significant differences were seen in the amount of omega 3 fatty acids, the lymphocyte stimulation index, the biophoton emission and crystallization pictures.” 19 Vegetarians should note that the vitamin D in fortified milk is not usually of vegetarian source. Low fat and fat-free milk is currently favoured but is not without its own health risks. For example, consumption of low fat dairy has been found to increase anovulatory infertility whereas whole milk decreases it20. And removing the fat from milk also removes much of the vitamin E.21
And then how do we store our milk? Insist on glass or at least rebottle your milk when you get home from the store. Plastic bottles may leach small amounts of bisphenols into the milk, and small amounts work cumulatively to present a major health risk.22, 23 BPA (bisphenols) similarly can leach from the plastic coating of paper milk cartons.
How do we consume our milk? Sushrut advises that milk not be taken cold, as cold milk is extremely heavy and increases slimy secretions.24 Milk is best taken warm and freshly milked.24 Overheated milk (which would include pasteurized and UHT milk) is heavy and promotes obesity.24 Deepan (agni kindling) spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, pippali, or saffron can be gently cooked into the milk to promote absorption. Vata and pitta can enjoy cow’s milk as long as there are no allergy issues; kapha can take the lighter goat milk. Shakes made from milk with other building foods such as almonds or dates are excellent for santarpana. Here are a couple of recipes:
Almond Restorative Drink
- 10 raw almonds
- 1 cup pure water
- 1 cup milk (unhomogenized if possible) (milk is highly rejuvenative when digested)
- 1 Tablespoon organic rose petals (optional - rejuvenative)
- 1 tsp ghee (rejuvenative)
- 1/32 tsp saffron (increases digestion & rejuvenative)
- 1/8 tsp ground cardamom (increases digestion)
- pinch of black pepper (helps control the Kapha)
- ½ tsp of sweetener (increases lactose digestion)
- Soak almonds and water together overnight
- In the morning, drain off the water and rub the skins off the almonds
- Bring the milk to a boil
- Pour the milk in the blender with the peeled almonds
- Add rose petals, ghee, saffron, cardamom, black pepper, and sweetener
- Blend until smooth
- Drink 3-4 times a week as directed
Date Milk Shake
- 4-5 whole dates (Medjool variety or similar is best)
- 1 cup whole organic milk (preferably not homogenized)
- 2 pinches cinnamon powder
- Boil milk until it foams once.
- Turn off heat.
- Put milk, cinnamon and dates in automatic blender.
- Blend until dates are ground fine.
- Serve warm in winter, room temperature or slightly cool (not cold) in summer or if a strong Pitta imbalance exists.
- Bishagratna KL tr, Sushrut Samhita, Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series, Varanasi, 1981 su ch.XLV v 19
- ibid v 20
- ibid v 21
- Thompson M P, Gordon W G , Pepper L and Greenberg R, Amino acid composition of β-caseins from the milks of Bos indicus and Bos taurus cows: A comparative study Comparative Biochemistry and PhysiologyVolume 30, Issue 1, 1 July 1969, Pages 91-94.
- Ginger M, Grigor MR Comparative aspects of milk caseins Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part B: Biochemistry and Molecular BiologyVolume 124, Issue 2, October 1999, Pages 133-145
- Kamiński S, Cieślińska A, Kostyra E, Polymorphism of bovine beta-casein and its potential effect on human health Journal of Applied Genetics Volume 48, Number 3, 189-198.
- Francis H. F. Li and Stanley N. Gaunt A study of genetic polymorphisms of milk β-lactoglobulin, αS1-casein, β-casein, and κ-casein in five dairy breeds Biochemical Genetics Volume 6, Number 1, 9-20, DOI: 10.1007/BF00485960
- Bishagratna, op cit su ch.XLV v 22.
- E.I. El-Agamy The challenge of cow milk protein allergy Small Ruminant Research 68 (2007) 64–72
- Daniel L. Swagerty, Jr., M.D., M.P.H., Anne D. Walling, M.D., And Robert M. Klein, Ph.D. Lactose Intolerance Am Fam Physician. 2002 May 1;65(9):1845-1851 Free full text article at http://www.aafp.org/afp/2002/0501/p1845.html?ref=Guzels.TV accessed May 25 2011
- Martha A. Belury Dietary Conjugated Linoleic Acid In Health: Physiological Effects and Mechanisms of Action1Annual Review of NutritionVol. 22: 505-531 (Volume publication date July 2002)
- T.R. Dhiman, G.R. Anand, L.D. Satter, M.W. Pariza Conjugated Linoleic Acid Content of Milk from Cows Fed Different Diets Journal of Dairy Science Volume 82, Issue 10 , Pages 2146-2156, October 1999
- Edmond J. .2001 Apr-Jun;16(2-3):181-93; discussion 215-21.Essential polyunsaturated fatty acids and the barrier to the brain: the components of a model for transport. J Mol Neurosci
- Lipids Volume 12, Number 1, 115-119, DOI: 10.1007/BF02532982 The phytanic acid content of the lipids of bovine tissues and milk A. K. Lough
- Yves Chilliard, Anne Ferlay and Michel Doreau, Effect of different types of forages, animal fat or marine oils in cow’s diet on milk fat secretion and composition, especially conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and polyunsaturated fatty acids, Livestock Production ScienceVolume 70, Issues 1-2, July 2000, Pages 31-48
- Annand JC. Denatured bovine immunoglobulin pathogenic in atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis. 1986 Mar; 59(3):347-51.
- G.V. Mann, R.D. Shaffer, R.S. Anderson, H.H. et al Cardiovascular disease in the Masai Journal of Atherosclerosis Research Volume 4, Issue 4, 8 July 1964, Pages 289-312
- Marie-Caroline Michalski On the supposed influence of milk homogenization on the risk of CVD, diabetes and allergy British Journal of Nutrition (2007), 97, 598–610
- Joke Bloksma, Ruth Adriaansen-Tennekes, Machteld Huber et al Comparison of Organic and Conventional Raw Milk Quality in the Netherlands Biological Agriculture and Horticulture, 2008, Vol. 26, pp. 69–83
- J.E. Chavarro J.W. Rich-EdwardsB. Rosner and W.C. WillettA prospective study of dairy foods intake and anovulatory infertility Human Reproduction Volume22, Issue5 Pp. 1340-1347
- Kaushik S, Wander R, Leonard S, German B, Traber MG. Lipids. Removal of fat from cow's milk decreases the vitamin E contents of the resulting dairy products 2001 Jan;36(1):73-8
- http://cerhr.niehs.nih.gov/chemicals/bisphenol/BPADraftBriefVF_04_14_08.pdf accessed May 25, 2011
- An informative and well-researched blog with good references. http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/are-plastic-bottles-and-containers-safe accessed May 25, 2011.
- Bishagratna, op cit su ch.XLV v26.