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Friday, September 30, 2011

Asthma protection may be in the whey.

The GABRIELA (a multidisciplinary study to identify the genetic and environmental causes of asthma in the European Community) study group provides this month’s contribution to the mounting evidence supporting the hygiene hypothesis with important findings on early consumption of farm milk and asthma and allergies.

Loss et al (
J Allergy Clin Immunol 2011;128:766-773) report on results from an extensive study in rural Germany, Austria and Switzerland that collected questionnaire data from parents of over 8,000 children, with over 7000 consenting to provide serum samples for specific IgE levels. Additionally, 800 cow’s milk samples from the children’s homes were analyzed for viable bacteria, whey protein levels, and total fat content.

The GABRIELA protocol divided milk consumption into two categories: “shop” milk and “farm” milk. Farm milk consumption was further divided into “only boiled farm milk drinkers” and “any unboiled farm milk drinkers.” Children drinking exclusively farm milk had significantly lower risk for asthma, current asthma, atopy and hay fever as compared to children exclusively drinking shop milk. This relationship held for consumption of any unboiled farm milk. Consumption of farm milk was also inversely correlated to food allergen sensitization.

Loss et al. describe microbiological analysis of shop milk and heated farm milk, which detected microorganisms in only a few samples. Raw farm milk, in contrast, contained significant amounts of micrococci, staphylococci, and lactobacilli as well as other bacteria. Only 3 milk samples contained human pathogens,
Listeria innocua and Listeria ivanovii. Consumption of the analyzed raw farm milk was inversely correlated with asthma and current asthma, but not with atopy as compared to heated shop milk. Total fat and viable bacterial load did not associate with any health outcomes; however, increased levels of whey proteins were inversely associated with asthma, but not atopy. Specific significant associations were found for α-lactalbumin, β-lactoglobulin and bovine serum albumin and protection from asthma.

Loss et al. comment that higher bacterial load in raw farm milk might be expected to cause the protective effects, but instead, no association was observed between viable bacteria counts and any of the health outcomes. Surprisingly, the authors found that some whey proteins were inversely associated with asthma. They state that this finding is perplexing given that two of the three proteins inversely associated with asthma, α-lactalbumin and β-lactoglobulin, are the major allergens in milk. Loss et al. note that the inverse relationship of bovine serum albumin, α-lactalbumin and β-lactoglobulin to asthma does not apply to atopy and speculate that other milk components may be responsible for epidemiologic data that demonstrate inverse association between farm milk consumption and atopy.

UPDATE 10 October 2011:
We asked senior author Charlotte Braun-Fahrländer to comment on the implications of this report:

Dr. Braun-Fahrländer: The study is the first to point to the role of whey proteins in the prevention of asthma and thus offers new options to eventually develop a safe and protective milk. Yet, our results also raise many questions for future research ranging from confirming the findings to understanding the mechanism underlying the effects to possible preventive implications. It is intriguing that major milk allergens might be involved in reducing the risk of asthma and future research needs to unravel the mechanisms involved. Nevertheless, it has previously been shown that high dose exposure to cat allergen was associated with less sensitization (Platts-Mills et al. 2011) and recent results from a mouse model of oral tolerance suggested that the context of allergen presentation might be relevant as complexing the allergen with immunoglobulins that were transferred to the newborn by breastfeeding induced oral tolerance in the offsprings (Verhasselt et al. 2008).



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  2. I am very intrigued by these findings. I have a men's group that meets weekly and our discussion turned to about half the groups children (all around 7) who are really suffering from asthma. Beyond my curiosity of why it's so prevalent, I really wanted to find information to help them. They are all seeing doctors who have prescribed the normal reactive approach. They have not tried any supplements but I would really like to suggest some. So far I have found good reports for fish oil, astragalus, d3, and now this very interesting report. If anyone has other suggestions please let me know.

    1. Thank you for your interest in this article. We forwarded your question to the Communications Director at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. She suggested the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database as a potential source for this type of information. A direct link to the database's page about asthma follows:

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.