The protective effect of farm milk consumption on childhood asthma and atopy: The GABRIELA study
Farm milk consumption has been identified as an exposure that might contribute to the protective effect of farm life on childhood asthma and allergies. The mechanism of action and the role of particular constituents of farm milk, however, are not yet clear.
We sought to investigate the farm milk effect and determine responsible milk constituents.
In rural regions of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, a comprehensive questionnaire about farm milk consumption and other farm-related exposures was completed by parents of 8334 school-aged children, and 7606 of them provided serum samples to assess specific IgE levels. In 800 cow’s milk samples collected at the participants’ homes, viable bacterial counts, whey protein levels, and total fat content were analyzed. Asthma, atopy, and hay fever were associated to reported milk consumption and for the first time to objectively measured milk constituents by using multiple regression analyses.
Reported raw milk consumption was inversely associated to asthma (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 0.59; 95% CI, 0.46-0.74), atopy (aOR, 0.74; 95% CI, 0.61-0.90), and hay fever (aOR, 0.51; 95% CI, 0.37-0.69) independent of other farm exposures. Boiled farm milk did not show a protective effect. Total viable bacterial counts and total fat content of milk were not significantly related to asthma or atopy. Increased levels of the whey proteins BSA (aOR for highest vs lowest levels and asthma, 0.53; 95% CI, 0.30-0.97), α-lactalbumin (aOR for interquartile range and asthma, 0.71; 95% CI, 0.52-0.97), and β-lactoglobulin (aOR for interquartile range and asthma, 0.62; 95% CI, 0.39-0.97), however, were inversely associated with asthma but not with atopy.
The findings suggest that the protective effect of raw milk consumption on asthma might be associated with the whey protein fraction of milk.