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NLM Director’s Comments Transcript
Organic Milk’s Health Benefits: 01/27/2014

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Greetings from the National Library of Medicine and MedlinePlus.gov

Regards to all our listeners!

I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D. senior staff National Library of Medicine for Donald Lindberg, M.D, the Director of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Here is what's new this week in MedlinePlus.listen

Compared to whole milk from non-organic dairies, organic milk may contain a healthier ratio of fatty acids, finds a pioneering study recently published in PLOS One.

However, nutritional experts (cited in news reports following the study’s release) noted the broader health benefits of drinking organic whole milk (and digesting more healthy fatty acids) is scientifically equivocal — and the study suggests a need for more foundational research.

The nationwide, retail, milk comparison study (which was partially sponsored by an organic milk dairy) took 384 samples and found four percent (or whole) organic milk contained 62 percent more omega-3 fatty acids and 23 percent less omega-6 fatty acids than non-organic, whole milk. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish and flaxseed; omega-6 fatty acids are found in some fried foods, such as some potato chips. Incidentally, there are zero fatty acids in fat free milk, which explains why the study did not compare organic and conventional skim milk products.

Dr. Charles Benbrook, a Washington State University nutritionist and the study’s lead author, explained to the New York Times, the balance, or ratio of omega-3 to omega-6, may be a key indicator of a healthy versus a less healthy food product. In the current case, it was hypothesized the lower the ratio, the more healthy the milk. The study found the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in organic, whole milk was 2.28, significantly lower than a 5.77 ratio found in conventional four percent milk — with little seasonal variability.

Similarly, the authors suggest a lower, or healthier omega ratio may reduce some of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The authors explain cardiovascular disease prevention is hypothetically linked to consuming healthier fatty acids found in food and drinks.

Dr. Benbrook told the Seattle Times (and we quote). ‘In my judgment, the benefits from this healthy balance of fatty acids in organic milk is the most significant nutritional benefit demonstrated so far from organic food’ (end of quote).

Conversely, several nutrition experts (who were not involved in the study) told the New York Times, Seattle Times, and the Los Angeles Times, the study suggests the need for future research to demonstrate the extent of the links between lower fatty acid ratios (in milk as well as other foods) and the prevention of cardiovascular disease. For example, the president of the American Dairy Science Foundation told the Seattle Times (and we quote) ‘I would want to see a greater ability to connect the dots between this (fatty acid) ratio and some great claims about cardiovascular disease’ (end of quote).    

Several of the study’s critics acknowledged the research is the first to comprehensively assess differences between the fatty acid levels within retail conventional and organic four percent milk.

Interestingly, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey study in 2007-08 suggests about one of every five children and teens report they drink no fat (or skim) milk. The same study finds two of every five children report they drink two percent or low fat milk. Remember: two types of whole milk – not low fat and skim — were compared in the current study.

Serving milk as part of a healthy diet for kids (from the Nemours Foundation) is discussed in the ‘specific conditions’ section of MedlinePlus.gov’s child nutrition health topic page. Some background information about fats in foods and children’s health risks (also from the Nemours Foundation) is found in the ‘specific conditions’ section of MedlinePlus.gov’s child nutrition health topic page.

MedlinePlus.gov’s child nutrition health topic page additionally provides links to the latest pertinent journal research articles, which are available in the ‘journal articles’ section. Links to clinical trials that may be occurring in your area are available in the ‘clinical trials’ section. You can sign up to receive updates about child nutrition as they become available on MedlinePlus.gov.

 To find MedlinePlus.gov’s child nutrition health topic page type ‘child nutrition’ in the search box on MedlinePlus.gov’s home page. Then, click on ‘child nutrition (National Library of Medicine).’ MedlinePlus.gov also contains health topic pages on food allergy, and lactose intolerance (that provide helpful background information for children, teens, and adults who are allergic to milk and dairy products).

 Overall, the current study strikes us as progress in a topic of long-standing interest to parents – and also underscores the need for more foundational research about the impact of drinking milk on health.

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