Can milk kill you?
In this short article, we will provide an answer to the question “can milk kill you?” and the possibility of becoming sick from consuming raw milk.
Can milk kill you?
No, unless it is raw milk, contaminated with bacteria, milk will not kill you, but it may have negative effects on individuals who are lactose intolerant or allergic to milk.
There is no evidence for a decreased or increased risk of all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease, and stroke associated with adult milk consumption (1)
Why is it possible to get sick after consuming an excessive amount of milk?
Milk poses health risks to specific individuals due to its challenging digestion and absorption processes, which can result in negative effects.
Certain metabolic diseases and allergies necessitate the elimination of milk from the diet. Two common conditions requiring milk avoidance are lactose intolerance and cow’s milk protein allergy.
Lactose intolerance, affecting approximately 75% of the global population, can impact individuals of all ages. It occurs when there is an insufficient amount of the lactase enzyme, leading to incomplete digestion of lactose.
Consequently, consumption of milk and dairy products can cause symptoms like flatulence, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.
In contrast, cow’s milk protein allergy primarily affects children in their first three years of life.
This allergy involves the immune system’s response to the protein components in milk, triggering the release of antibodies, histamines, and other defensive agents. As a result, various allergic symptoms can manifest.
To mitigate the potential harm associated with these conditions, it is crucial for affected individuals to exclude milk from their diet. By doing so, they can effectively manage their health and prevent adverse reactions. (2)
What is lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance (LI) is a disease of the small intestine mucosa that precludes the digestion and absorption of lactose from the diet, either due to low activity or non-production of the lactase enzyme, β-D-Galactosidase in the body.
LI exhibits symptoms such as flatulence, abdominal discomfort, feeling of swelling, bloating, nausea, borborygmus, vomiting, constipation, watery diarrhea with acidic stools, perianal roasting, dehydration, metabolic acidosis and may lead to malnutrition, depending on the intensity of the clinical case.
Diarrhea occurs because lactose is not absorbed or used in the small intestine, thus, it increases local osmolarity, attracting water and electrolytes to the mucosa and this accumulation causes intestinal dilatation, which accelerates transit, increasing malabsorption.
Subsequently, lactose accumulates in the colon, where fermentation occurs by the intestinal microbiota resulting in the formation of short-chain organic acids such as acetic, butyric and propionic and gasses such as methane, carbon dioxide and hydrogen.
These gasses are responsible for flatulence, distension and abdominal pain. The formation of organic acids involves the acidification of feces, making them liquid and causing more abdominal distension, and perianal hyperemia.(2)
What is Cow’s milk protein allergy?
Cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA) is an abnormal immune reaction to cow’s milk protein, which may be due to the interaction of one or more milk proteins and one or more immune mechanisms, resulting in immediate reactions.
Cow’s milk has more than 20 proteins that can cause allergic reactions, the main allergens are casein and whey protein.
Normally, individuals who are allergic to an animal’s milk also have reactions to almost all types of animal milk, due to the presence of some of these proteins in milk from other mammalian species.
The symptoms of CMPA may appear immediately or only start a few hours or days after the consumption of cow’s milk or infant formula. The most frequently occur in the gastrointestinal tract, being found in 50 to 75% of cases and usually involve abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Respiratory tract manifestations such as runny nose, sneezing, coughing or wheezing were found in 50% of cases. Between 10 and 30% of people with CMPA have skin symptoms such as itching, edema, rash, or hives.
Anaphylactic shock is one of the most serious symptoms of CMPA and can lead to death, which has been seen in 12% of cases but is the most difficult symptom to occur compared to others.(2)
What are the risks connected with drinking raw milk?
Raw milk refers to milk that hasn’t undergone pasteurization, a process that eliminates harmful bacteria. Consuming raw milk can expose you to dangerous germs, making it one of the riskiest foods available.
Those who fall ill from raw milk may experience prolonged episodes of diarrhea, stomach cramping, and vomiting.
In severe cases, individuals might develop life-threatening diseases such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause paralysis, or Hemolytic uremic syndrome, leading to kidney failure, stroke, and even death.
Raw milk is associated with various food borne illnesses, some of which can be extremely severe.
The specific symptoms of a foodborne illness depend on the type of germ ingested. It’s important to note that individuals can become ill from the same brand and source of raw milk they previously consumed, even after an extended period of time, without experiencing any prior illness.
Pasteurization significantly reduces the risk of such illnesses. It involves heating milk to a sufficiently high temperature for an adequate duration, effectively eliminating harmful germs present in the milk.
Raw milk can become contaminated through various means. Even healthy animals can carry germs that are detrimental to humans, and if these animals’ feces come into contact with raw milk, it can lead to contamination.
Certain individuals face a higher risk of severe foodborne illness, including adults aged 65 and older, children under 5 years old, and individuals with weakened immune systems.
However, it’s important to note that even healthy individuals of any age can become seriously ill after consuming raw milk contaminated with harmful germs. (3)
Other FAQs about Milk that you may be interested in.
In this short article, we provided an answer to the question “can milk kill you?” and the possibility of becoming sick from consuming raw milk.
- Mullie P, Pizot C, Autier P. Daily milk consumption and all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease and stroke: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational cohort studies. BMC Public Health. 16(1):1236. 2016.
- Silva, A. R. A., Silva, M. M. N., & Ribeiro, B. D. Health Issues and Technological Aspects of Plant-based Alternative Milk. Food Research International, 108972. 2020.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID), Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases (DFWED) [CDC]. Raw Milk Questions and Answers. 2023.