Camel milk and health

Publication by: Dr. M.G. Smits*, Dr. A. Alting** , Dr. T. Huppertz**, Dr. J. Kiers**
*Coordinator of camel milk research in the Netherlands Gelderse Vallei Hospital, Ede. P.O. Box 9025, 6710 HN Ede.
**The Netherlands Institute for Dairy Research

Summary

Camel milk contains high concentrations of lactoferrin, immunoglobulins, lysozyme and lactoperoxidase. These inflammation-inhibiting proteins may explain why, from way back, camel milk has been used to combat intestinal diseases. Camel milk also contains a protein with characteristics similar to insulin. This explains the results of epidemiological, animal experimental and clinical research which reveal that camel milk can help to prevent and treat diabetes. Furthermore, like human milk, camel milk does not contain β lactoglobulin, the protein present in cow’s, goat’s and horse’s milk that is the main cause of cow’s milk allergy.
Camel milk has been available in the Netherlands since 2007. Investigation of this Dutch camel milk has shown that its composition is the same as the composition of camel milk in Africa and the Middle East. Camel milk powder dissolves well. The composition of the caseins and whey proteins is different in camel milk than in cow’s milk.

Health-promoting properties

From way back, camel milk has been known for its health-promoting properties1. The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, the FAO, has therefore also recommended that the production of camel milk be increased2.
Camel milk has been available in the Netherlands since 2007. Since that time, various exploratory investigations have been performed as a basis for extensive research into the health claims. The results are summarised below.

Cow’s milk allergy

The cow’s milk protein β-lactoglobulin is the main cause of cow’s milk allergy. Goat’s milk and horse’s milk also contain that protein. Like human milk, camel milk does not contain any β-lactoglobulin.
Cow’s milk allergy can also be caused by hypersensitivity to beta-casein. Camel milk also contains beta-casein, but the structure of this protein in camel milk is very different to the structure of this protein in cow’s milk.

Gastrointestinal complaints

Camel milk contains high levels of lactoferrin, immunoglobulins, lysozyme, and lactoperoxydase4. These inflammation-inhibiting proteins occur in cow’s milk to a much lesser degree. Camel milk proteins find their way more easily and undamaged into the bloodstream than cow’s milk proteins, because camel milk can coagulate much less easily in an acidic environment than cow’s milk.
Inflammation and food hypersensitivity are the main causes of gastrointestinal complaints. On account of the inflammation-inhibiting constituents and because camel milk is hypoallergenic, camel milk can help to prevent and treat gastrointestinal complaints.

Camel milk in diabetes

Insulin, produced by the β cells of the pancreas, plays a key role in sugar metabolism. In type I diabetes, no insulin is produced, in type II diabetes, insulin is produced, but the body’s cells are less sensitive to the effects of insulin. Insufficient insulin results in an increased blood sugar level.
Camel milk contains a protein that is similar to insulin5,6. Camel milk also has an inflammation-inhibiting effect on the β cells of the pancreas. The insulin-like protein and the inflammation-inhibiting properties can explain the results of animal experimental7, epidemiological8,7 and clinical research6, which show that camel milk is good for people with diabetes.

Dutch camel milk

Unprocessed camel milk is available in the Netherlands. The camel milk originates from one-humped camels (Dromedary Camels). They are milked using a milking machine that has been especially developed for Dromedary Camels, without this affecting the animals’ welfare.
The quality of the milk is carefully monitored in accordance with the dairy farm hygiene legislation relating to preparation.
The happier the animals are, the better the milk production. The welfare of the Dromedary Camels is therefore of prime importance. Partially because of that, the Berlicum camel dairy is the only one in Europe to have been granted permission to produce milk.

Research of Dutch camel milk

Research into Dutch camel milk is intended to determine the shelf life of unprocessed camel milk and to find out to what extent methods, which extend the shelf life, affect the composition. Using the results of this research, it is possible to assess whether research into the significance of camel milk for people with diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases and cow’s milk allergy is worthwhile.

Shelf life of camel milk

Unprocessed camel milk will keep at 7oC for 5 days9. As from the sixth day, the amount of bacteria starts to increase. Camel milk, pasteurised for 20 minutes at 65oC, can be kept for at least 22 days at 7oC. Raw milk can therefore be stored in the refrigerator for 5 days and pasteurised milk for 3 weeks.
During pasteurisation, the amount of lactoferrin in the camel milk seems to reduce a little, as does the amount of immunoglobulin. The differences are only small.

Composition of camel milk

The NIZO researched raw, unprocessed camel milk, camel milk frozen in a tunnel freezer, camel milk frozen in a normal freezer and milk powder made from fresh camel milk (spray dried)10.
Camel milk contains less protein, fat and lactose than cow’s milk (3.4% versus 4.2%, respectively 4.2% versus 4.7% and 4.3% versus 4.9 %) which corresponds with investigations performed elsewhere1.
Milk powder made from camel milk dissolves better than milk powder made from cow’s milk (dissolvability index 74% and 63% respectively). When making cow’s milk powder, the dissolvability is increased by all sorts of processes, which changes the composition of the cow’s milk. These processes are not required when making camel milk powder.
The composition of the milk proteins is carefully investigated using ultracentrifugation, HPLC and Electrophoresis.

Conclusions:

Dutch camel milk is no different to camel milk in Africa and the Middle East. Camel milk contains less protein and lactose than cow’s milk. Camel milk powder dissolves better than cow’s milk powder. The composition of camel milk proteins and caseins is different to those in cow’s milk. These specific camel milk proteins explain possible specific health-promoting properties. Camel milk does not contain any β lactoglobulin, and for that reason seems suitable for people who are allergic to β lactoglobulin, the most common cause of cow’s milk allergy.
Nutritional claims can be divided into (a) claims that indicate what a food contains and (b) health claims. The absence of β lactoglobulin can fall under the first claim. The significance for people with diabetes and intestinal complaints falls under the second claim.
Meanwhile, Wageningen University and Gelderse Vallei Hospital, Ede have commenced large-scale research in order to scientifically substantiate these health claims.

Reference List

  1. 1El-Agamy ESI. Camel milk. In: Y.P.Park and G.F..W.Haenlein, ed. Handbook of Milk of Non-Bovine Mammals. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing 2006: 297-344.
  2. FAO. MILKING THE CAMEL. http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/home/en/camel.html . 2006.
  3. Shabo Y, Barzel R, Margoulis M, Yagil R. Camel milk for food allergies in children. Isr.Med Assoc.J. 2005;7:796-8. 4. el Agamy EI, Ruppanner R, Ismail A, Champagne CP, Assaf R. Antibacterial and antiviral activity of camel milk protective proteins. J.Dairy Res.59:169-75. 1992;
  4. Agrawal RP, Beniwal R, Kochar DK, Tuteja FC, Ghorui SK, Sahani MS, Sharma S. Camel milk as an adjunct to insulin therapy improves long-term glycemic control and reduction in doses of insulin in patients with type-1 diabetes A 1 year randomized controlled trial. Diabetes Res.Clin.Pract. 2005;68:176-7.
  5. Agrawal RP, Saran S, Sharma P, Gupta RP, Kochar DK, Sahani MS. Effect of camel milk on residual beta-cell function in recent onset type 1 diabetes. Diabetes Res.Clin.Pract. 2007;77:494-5.
  6. Agrawal RP, Sahani MS, Tuteja FC, Ghouri SK, Sena DS, Gupta R, Kochar DK. Hypoglycaemic activity of camel milk in chemically pancreatectomized rats – an experimental study. Int.J.Diab.Dev.Countries 2005;25:75-9.
  7. Agrawal RP, Budania S, Sharma P, Gupta R, Kochar DK, Panwar RB, Sahani MS. Zero prevalence of diabetes in camel milk consuming Raica community of north-west Rajasthan, India. Diabetes Res.Clin.Pract. 2006.
  8. Verkleij, T. J. and Groneveld, T. Onderzoek naar houdbaarheid kamelenmelk (Research into the shelf life of camel milk). TNO. 031.12182, 1-10. 2007. Zeist, TNO.
  9. Huppertz, T., Alting, A. C., Adamse, M., Slangen, C. J., Meulen, E. T. H. van der, and Zoet, F. D. Camel milk: composition, constituents and properties. NIZO-REPORT E 2008/113, 1-30. 2008. Ede, NIZO food research

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