Natural Protection of Milk

Public Summary

Principal Investigator: Dr Ali Hodgkinson, AgResearch

Allergies are on the rise across the world. So too is concern amongst parents around their children developing allergies. 

Additionally, consumer demand is on the rise for food products that reduce the risk of allergy development, with a pull away from processed foods. 

Epidemiological studies show a clear association between the consumption of raw, unprocessed farm milk and the reduced incidence of allergy. However, drinking raw milk is not always safe and to date, no ‘safe’ milk product is available to fill this market need.

Māori-owned dairy working with AgResearch to develop safe unprocessed milk

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 the risk of allergy development. This model was used to evaluate prototype products.

Using raw milk to reduce the onset of allergies

This project also researches the mechanisms by which unprocessed milks elicit a 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 clearly demonstrates that drinking 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 the future development of speciality 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.

Research Team

Dr Alison Hodgkinson

Alison 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.

Alison studied for her PhD in Biological Sciences at 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.

Alison’s current research programmes focus on:

  • characterising the nutrition and health benefits of goat milk-based nutritional formulations
  • the role milk plays in allergy development
  • understanding how milk-processing affects the natural health benefits of milk.