Camel Milk: The Dairy You Didn't Know You Needed
There are so many different milk alternatives and milk substitutes on the market. While cow milk remains the most popular and widely consumed (at least in the U.S.), there are plenty of non-bovine
milk products as well.
Among the lactose intolerant or dairy avoiders, many people turn to vegan options such as soy milk, coconut milk, nut milks, or oat milk. There are alternative animal milks as well. Goat milk is an alternative to cow milk, although it is less commonly used. Because the proteins are different, many people who are sensitive to cow milk find that they do just fine with goat milk.
Goat milk is more similar to human milk than cow milk. The proteins in goat’s milk are structurally more similar to human milk, and the fat globules are smaller and easier to digest. Goat’s milk is also said to be better for infants because the curd is finer, meaning that the protein clumps that form when the milk makes contact with the stomach acid are smaller. This is because goat’s milk is more naturally homogenized; cow’s milk, on the other hand, is processed in order to make it more homogenized. Otherwise there would be greater separation seen in the milk.
One study that compared goat milk formula to cow milk formula in infants found that the nitrogen content of goat milk was more easily processed that that in cow’s milk, although the ultimate protein metabolism remained the same. This implies that the goat’s milk was easier for infants to digest. In another study that looked at goat milk vs. cow’s milk in infant mice, the mice who were fed goat’s milk had a better immune system response, with increased immunoglobulin response, increased phagocytosis, and increased T-Cell production in the spleen.
Another animal milk alternative that is less well known, but has a myriad of health benefits is camel milk. Yes, you read that right. Camel milk. Milk that comes from camels. While it is uncommon in the United States, camel milk is frequently consumed in areas where camels are ubiquitous. Because camels live and thrive in harsh climates with sometimes limited access to resources, their milk is particularly nutrient-dense, and is the most biologically similar to human milk, even more so than goat milk. Compared to cow’s milk, camel milk has a higher water content, is more homogenous because of smaller fat particles, and has higher levels of insulin, calcium, potassium, zinc, vitamin C, and niacin. Cow’s milk, on the other hand, is richer in beta-carotene, iron, vitamin E, vitamin A, and vitamin B1.
The medicinal benefits of camel milk have been studied by numerous sources. It has been found to have anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory properties. It helps to reduce blood sugar, decreases insulin resistance, and improves lipid profiles, and so helps to regulate the blood sugars and insulin of diabetics. One study showed that it had anti-proliferative effects on human colorectal and breast cancer cells by inducing autophagy. Another study showed that it can modulate alcohol-induced damage to the liver by making changes to the gut microbiome. Camel milk has been shown to increase certain beneficial gut microbiota, including Allobaculum, Akkermansia, and Bifidobacteria. These three gut bacteria have been shown to reduce GI distress including diarrhea, constipation, and IBS, have anti-cancer properties (especially colon cancer), and are linked to decreased levels of obesity, diabetes, metabolic disorders, and inflammation.
Camel milk also contains natural anti-microbials, and because of this can benefit the immune system.8 It has been shown to help destroy tuberculosis cells, including multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, which remains the highest cause of death from infectious disease worldwide. Because the immune proteins found in camel milk are much smaller than human immune proteins, they are able to penetrate to areas that human proteins cannot. This is also a reason that camel milk has been hypothesized to benefit autoimmune disease, including Crohn’s disease.
Like goat’s milk, many people who are sensitive to cow’s milk find that they are able to consume camel milk without ill effect. In fact, one study showed that children with bovine milk allergies were able to consume camel milk; this is because the main allergenic components in cow’s milk, beta-lacto globulin and beta-casein, are absent in camel milk, and because camel milk proteins are more similar to human milk proteins.
If you are a person who struggles with dairy consumption, it may be worth your time to give camel milk a shot. Unlike goat milk, which has a very strong and distinctive flavor, camel milk is very mild. It tastes like regular milk, but is slightly more saline. It is still more challenging to find in the United States and is more expensive than goat or cow milk, but it can be found in liquid or dehydrated form at several online locations. My personal favorite is Camel Milk Coop. If nothing else, it is a fun adventure to tell your friends all about, and may be a health-boosting way for you to enjoy dairy again!
Andrea Lane is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, and certified Pilates and GYROTONIC® instructor in Portland, Oregon. Her practice particularly focuses on using gentle, Japanese acupuncture techniques and classical Chinese herbalism for the whole family. She is passionate about maintaining good health through a whole-food diet, mindful movement, and meditation. When she is not practicing, she loves to cook, listen to podcasts, chase her baby around, and cater to her cats’ every whim.
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