Natural Protection of Milk

Project Completed 

Research Team

Dr Alison Hodgkinson

Dr Alison Hodgkinson is a Senior Scientist in the Dairy Foods Team, at AgResearch Ruakura, Hamilton. Her research is focused on the benefits of milk for the health and nutrition of infants and young children, including the role of early life nutrition on adult health. She obtained her PhD in Biological Sciences from the University of Waikato investigating the induction of IgA secretion in bovine milk. Her research experience includes milk components and their bioactivities, mucosal immunology, food allergy; immunoglobulins; and protein biochemistry.

Dr Hodgkinson’s current research programs are focused on characterizing the nutrition and health benefits of goat milk-based nutritional formulations, the role milk plays in allergy development, and understanding how milk-processing affects the natural health benefits of milk.

Public Summary

Principal Investigator: Dr Ali Hodgkinson, AgResearch

The incidence of allergy has markedly increased worldwide in recent decades. Parents are concerned about allergy development in their children and there is a consumer demand for food products that reduce this risk. Combined with this, there is a consumer-pull away from processed foods, following the premise that less processed foods are healthier. Epidemiological studies have shown a clear association between the consumption of raw, unprocessed farm milk and reduced incidence of allergy. However, consumption of raw milk is not always safe and to date no ‘safe’ milk product has been available to fill this market need. The Māori-owned dairy processing and exporting company, Miraka, in partnership with AgResearch, is developing products that are safe to consume and retain the natural traits of unprocessed milk to deliver added health benefits to the consumer.

In this project, researchers at AgResearch identified a pre-clinical gastrointestinal model for demonstrating that a dietary component in early life could reduce risk of allergy development. This model was used to evaluate prototype products. Within this project, other avenues of research investigated the mechanisms by which unprocessed milks elicit reduction in allergy development, along with identifying potential biomarkers that can be used in human clinical trials to assess prototype products. In collaboration with Otago University, a PhD project has been successfully completed, investigating the effect of raw and processed bovine milk consumption on immune responses in allergy and health. Our research has clearly demonstrated that consuming raw farm milk modulates local and systemic immune responses differently compared with consuming standard commercially processed milk. A proposed model of mechanism is that raw milk, in contrast to standard processed milk, establishes a tolerogenic environment in the gastrointestinal tract by inducing suppressor functions that restrain allergic sensitisation and other inflammatory responses.

Scientific data and capability development gained through this HVN funded project will support future development of specialty dairy food products with added health benefits. These products will be produced and marketed by New Zealand food and beverage industries and contribute to increased economic returns from New Zealand high-value food and beverage exports for the international marketplace.

Infant Health highlights