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Stanford Study on Raw Milk Digestibility: Conflicting Interpretations

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Researchers found little difference between the digestibility of raw versus pasteurized milk, according to a Stanford University study published in the March/April 2014 edition of the Annals of Family Medicine. But raw milk proponents dispute the interpretation of the findings.

The researchers selected participants based on results of an approved medical test for lactose malabsorption--the hydrogen (H2) breath test. According to the researchers, raw milk failed to reduce hydrogen levels, indicating no improvement in lactose malabsorption or intolerance symptoms compared with pasteurized.  The university headlined the findings, "Claim that raw milk reduces lactose intolerance doesn't pass smell test."

The study results are in conflict with the personal experience of many satisfied raw milk drinkers who complain of difficulty digesting pasteurized milk. Critics of the Stanford study point to flaws in the design, choice of controls and sample size, leading researchers to a false conclusion.

For example, the researchers chose only sixteen individuals, after screening four hundred forty applicants claiming to have problems digesting milk.

Mark McAfee, chairman of the board at the Raw Milk Institute, questions drawing conclusions from such a small sample. "The study actually shows that the H2 breath test is insufficient to diagnose milk sugar digestion problems in 97 percent of the study applicants. Most people are not overtly lactose intolerant but are better described as pasteurization intolerant, something for which medical science may not have an appropriate test."

Critics also questioned the use of soy milk as a control.  According to Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, which provided partial funding for the study, "We hear reports that soy milk causes indigestion and flatulence in many people.  Yet, according to the H2 test, it is more digestible than both raw and pasteurized milk.  The study design was severely flawed, and not appropriate for measuring overall milk digestibility."

The Raw Milk Institute, which also provided funding for the research, claims the brevity of the study limited its value.     
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