Donkey milk derby? Study trumpets health boosting potential for elderly

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Picture Copyright: Scott Miller
Picture Copyright: Scott Miller

Related tags: Donkey milk, Milk

Donkey and horse milks and their derivatives could prove valuable foods for elderly consumers, and could also be used in probiotic drinks due to health-promoting properties.

That’s according to a new study published in the June version of the International Dairy Journal​ by Italian co-authors Elisabetta Salimei and Francesco Fantuz, which noted the immunological, anti-tumour and anti-proliterative (tending to inhibit tumour cell growth) benefits of such foods.

Noting increasing problems with cows’ milk allergies among infants, where horse and donkey milk was considered useful as an alternative food, they said it could also be used to prevent atherosclerosis, where arterial walls thicken as fatty materials such as cholesterol accumulate.

Raw horse and donkey milk and its fermented derivatives were useful in preventing atherosclerosis (Chiofalo et al. 2006) and upregulated elderly immune response (Jirillo et al. 2010) while donkey milk whey proteins had been reported to exert anti-proliferative and anti-tumour activity in vitro ​(Mao et al. 2009).

“Nutrition is considered crucial in the immune recovery of elderly consumers and equid milk may be an interesting food also for this consumer group,”​ Salimei and Fantuz wrote.

Innovative dairy chain

Despite extensive reviews of horse and donkey milk composition (for instance, Doreau & Martin-Rosset 2011), Salimei and Fantuz said that their paper broke new ground in exploring the milk’s natural attributes and its possible use within an innovative dairy chain.

Recent clinical evidence had renewed interest in horse and donkey milk due to high tolerance among infants with a cows’ milk protein allergy (CMPA) the authors wrote.

Due to its compositional resemblance to human milk and its palatability, especially amongst the young, when equid milk was produced hygienically it could be considered a valid substitute of hypoallergenic formulae, the authors said, but its low fat content should be appropriately balanced in the infant’s diet.

Salimei and Fantuz noted research by Monti et al. (2007) showing that children with CMPA fed supplemented donkey milk showed significant weight and other growth-related parameters.

However, D’Auria et al. (2011) noted growth impairment and nutritional deficiencies in a five-month old baby with CMPA underfed unmodified donkey milk.

“Although results from clinical studies on the nutritional adequacy of equid milk need to be confirmed, its use must be balanced in a varied diet, according to child growth and age,”​ the current authors wrote.

“Moreover, the presence of endogenous bioactive compounds may help explain the health-promoting properties of raw horse and donkey milk.”

Probiotic food preparations

If confirmed by more in-depth studies, dairy equids could be used in an agro-medical chain, and to this extent specific milk processing technologies were needed to improve milk shelf life to preserve its natural attributes, the co-authors wrote.

Donkey milk could also prove a good base ingredients for probiotic and therapeutic food preparations, and had already been inoculated with some Lactobacillus rhamnosus ​probiotic strains, the authors wrote.

But they said that texture and flavour issues could constrain product acceptability, perhaps making fortification with Na-caseinate, pectin, threonine or the addition of flavours necessary to enhance rheological and sensory qualities (Chiavari et al. 2005).

“The scenario of the innovative ‘dairy chain’ for human consumption could revitalise many marginal areas of the world, where soil stability and animal diversity are becoming serious concerns,” ​Salimei and Fantuz wrote.

Title: ​‘Equid milk for human consumption’

Authors:​ Elisabetta Salimei and Francesco Fantuz

Source:International Dairy Journal 24 ​(2012) 130-142 doi:10.1016/j.idairyj.2011.11.008

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