Organic milk has all the nutritional goodness of non-organic milk but, due to the cows’ more natural diet, it also has some additional potential health benefits.
Science – understanding food and health
Scientific understanding about nutrition and health is always advancing. Results of scientific studies on the potential health effects of different substances in our food are being published in scientific journals all the time. These studies are checked by other scientists before they are published – this is called ‘peer reviewed’.
At OMSCo we take an active interest in the results of scientific research and want to keep you informed about the latest information published in peer reviewed journals. We know that there is uncertainty in science and that scientists don’t always agree on the health effects of the different components and contaminants of food – it can take time for consensus to be achieved.
A balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and little processed food is the most important route to health. We believe organic food is better for your health because:
- There is an increasing evidence that it has more beneficial nutrients
- It contains far fewer additives
- It is produced without the use of almost all chemical herbicides
Here are some examples of research outlining some of the health benefits of organic milk:
Organic milk and eczema
A recent study[i] published in the British Journal of Nutrition and carried out in the Netherlands showed that the incidence of eczema in young children was reduced by 36% where the children consumed organic dairy products. The scientists studied 2834 women from the final weeks of pregnancy through to when the children were two years old. One-third of children in Western societies have one or more allergic-type reactions like eczema. Some parents have observed that changing the child’s diet can help reduce the problem. We at OMSCo think that this study provides some scientific evidence to back this up.
Organic milk and Omega-3 essential fatty acids
Organic milk is naturally higher in certain nutrients than non-organic milk and one such nutrient is the “Omega 3” essential fatty acid Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA).
The results of independent research funded by OMSCo and carried out by Dr Kathryn Ellis at the Universities of Liverpool and Glasgow from 2002 to 2005 looked into the compositional differences between organic and non-organic milk. The results, published in the Journal of Dairy Science in 2006[ii], showed that organic milk is on average 68% higher in total Omega-3 than non-organic milk. Following this research, 11 independent scientists wrote to the Food Standards Agency in the UK, and the Agency now acknowledges that organic milk contains more Omega 3 essential fatty acid than non-organic milk.
Organic milk is thought to contain more Omega 3 because of the high levels of natural red clover fed to the cows on an organic dairy farm. In 2003 Dr Richard Dewhurst, Joint Leader of the Nutrition and Microbiology Team at the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, published a peer reviewed study which showed that cows fed red clover produced milk with higher levels of Omega 3 fatty acids[iii].
ALA is a poly-unsaturated fatty acid, different from the poly-unsaturated Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish such as mackerel and salmon. These have well accepted benefits for heart health, functioning of the immune system and are important components of our brain and nervous system. The Food Standards Agency recommends that we eat two portions of fish (one oily like salmon or mackerel) each week, although nutritionists acknowledge that we do not achieve this recommended level of consumption.
Scientists do not agree on the direct benefits of ALA to human health. The Food Standards Agency considers that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that ALA is important for cardio-vascular health. However, some studies do show that ALA can help protect against heart disease[iv], and contribute to healthy bones[v], but until there is more evidence we can’t be sure that ALA has direct benefits for human health.
A workshop convened by the Food Standards Agency[vi] to discuss the health implications of the greater amount of ALA found in organic milk concluded that ALA can be converted in the human body to the types of Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish – important for a healthy heart, immune system and brain. Rates of conversion are much higher in women than in men. The scientists at the workshop concluded that increasing the consumption of ALA could be particularly important in women during pregnancy when the foetus has a high demand for these fatty acids for brain development. They also stated that higher intake of ALA could be important for children who also have a huge demand for these types of fatty acids for brain development.
[i] Kummeling I, Thijs C, Huber M, van de Vijver LPL, Snijders BEP, Penders J, Stelma F, van Ree R, van den Brandt PA, Dagnelie PC (2007) Consumption of organic foods and risk of atopic disease during the first 2 years of life in the Netherlands. British Journal of Nutrition, 2007 Aug 29; pp 1-8
[ii] Ellis K, Innocent G, Grove-White D, Cripps P, McLean WG, Howard CV, Mihm M (2006) Comparing the Fatty Acid Composition of Organic and Conventional Milk. Journal of Dairy Science 89: 1938:1950
[iii] Dewhurst RJ, Fisher WJ, Tweed JKS, Wilkins RJ (2003) Comparison of grass and legume silages for milk production. 1. Production responses with different levels of concentrate. Journal of Dairy Science, 86: 2598-2611
[iv] Mozaffarian D (2005) Does ALA intake reduce the risk of coronary heart disease? A review of the evidence. Altern. Ther. Health Med. 2005 11(3): 24-30
[v] Griel AE, Kris-Etherton PM, Hilpert KF, Zhao G, West SG, Corwin RL (2007) An increase in dietary n-3 fatty acids decreases a marker of bone resorption in humans
Nutrition Journal 2007, 6:2
[vi] FSA (2007) Organic milk workshop, FSA 1st June 2007. Report of workshop available at http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/orgmilkwork.pdf (accessed 19 February 2008)