Is Camel’s Milk Paleo?

Is Camel’s Milk Paleo? | The Paleo DietA reader recently asked if camel’s milk was different from cow’s milk and if it could be considered a good Paleo alternative. He cited claims that camel’s milk is gluten free, casein free, lower in fat, and contains insulin. Periodic thePaleoDiet.com contributor Pedro Bastos dug through the research to provide a side-by-side comparison of Dromedary camels (the major breed of Arabian camels) to the standard cow’s milk we can all find in the supermarket:

  • Obviously Camel milk is gluten free, as is any milk or meat that hasn’t been in contact with gluten containing foods. Casein is the MAJOR PROTEIN in Dromedary camel’s milk, which represents 52-87% of total protein (camel’s milk is 2.15 to 4.9% protein).1 The casein fractions and their ratios are not exactly identical to cow’s milk.1
  • Fat content of Dromedary camel’s milk ranges from 1.2 to 6.4% (average: 3.5%).1 In cow’s milk, fat varies between 3,4 to 5,4%2, which is similar to camel’s milk. Nevertheless, it appears that milk from thirsty camels has a lower fat content.1
  • There is indeed some evidence that camel’s milk may decrease postprandial glucose (possibly because it might contain bioavailable insulin or insulin-like molecules).1 Although this would appear beneficial, it could also have a dark side, such as causing insulin resistance when consumed in high amounts and perhaps triggering type 1 diabetes in genetically susceptible individuals (as it appears to be the case with cow’s milk3). Molecular mimicry between camel’s insulin and human insulin may be a possible cause. To my knowledge, this hasn’t been confirmed, but it is plausible, since it occurs with bovine insulin present in cow’s milk3-7.
  • There is some preliminary evidence for the use of camel’s milk in Autism,8 possibly because if it is used to replace cow’s milk, the different protein fractions of both types of milk may affect Autism differently.8
  • Because cow’s milk and camel’s milk do not contain the exact same protein fractions, people with allergy to cow’s milk might not react to camel’s milk.1,9 
  • Dromedary camel’s milk does contain lactose, which varies between 2.4 to 5.8% (average: 4.4%),1 although pasteurization may reduce it to less than 2.4%.10 Indeed, there is a study from Brazil suggesting that camel’s milk is tolerated by people with diagnosed lactose intolerance.10 However, I am skeptical of this study, since it was not a double-blind experiment and also because only clinical symptoms were analyzed,10 which is not a very reliable method to assess lactose tolerance.11

References:

[1] haj Al OA, Kanhal Al HA. Compositional, technological and nutritional aspects of dromedary camel milk. 2010 Dec;20(12):811–21.

[2] Gall CF. Production systems around the world. In Park YW, Haenlein GFW, editors. Milk and Dairy Products in Human Nutrition: Production, Composition and Health. John Wiley & Sons; 2013: 1-30.

[3] Hoppe C, Mølgaard C, Vaag A, Barkholt V, Michaelsen KF. High intakes of milk, but not meat, increase s-insulin and insulin resistance in 8-year-old boys. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005 Mar;59(3):393-8.

[4] Vaarala O, Knip M, Paronen J, et al. Cow’s milk formula feeding induces primary immunization to insulin in infants at genetic risk for type 1 diabetes. Diabetes. 1999 Jul;48(7):1389-94.

[5] Vaarala O. Is it dietary insulin? Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2006 Oct;1079:350-9.

[6] Mäkelä M, Vaarala O, Hermann R, et al.  Enteral virus infections in early childhood and an enhanced type 1 diabetes-associated antibody response to dietary insulin. J Autoimmun. 2006 Aug;27(1):54-61.

[7] Vaarala O, Ilonen J, Ruohtula T, et al. Removal of Bovine Insulin From Cow’s Milk Formula and Early Initiation of Beta-Cell Autoimmunity in the FINDIA Pilot Study. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012 Jul 1;166(7):608-14.

[8] Zibaee S, Hosseini SMA-R, Yousefi M, Taghipour A, Kiani MA, Noras MR. Nutritional and Therapeutic Characteristics of Camel Milk in Children: A Systematic Review. Electron physician. 2015 Nov 25;7(7):1523–8. 

[9] El-Agamy EI, Nawar M, Shamsia SM, Awad S, Haenlein GFW. Are camel milk proteins convenient to the nutrition of cow milk allergic children? Small Ruminant Research. 2009 Mar;82(1):1–6. 

[10] Cardoso RRA, Santos RMDB, Cardoso CRA, Carvalho MO. Consumption of camel’s milk by patients intolerant to lactose. A preliminary study. Rev Alerg Mex. 2010 Jan;57(1):26–32.[11] Misselwitz B, Pohl D, Frühauf H, Fried M, Vavricka SR, Fox M. Lactose malabsorption and intolerance: pathogenesis, diagnosis and treatment. United European Gastroenterol J. 2013 Jun;1(3):151–9.

About Pedro Bastos, MS (PhD candidate)

Pedro Bastos, MS (PhD candidate)Pedro Carrera Bastos is a Portuguese researcher and PhD candidate in Nutrition at Lund University, Sweden (under the supervision of Dr. Staffan Lindeberg, author of the famous Kitava Study.) Pedro holds an MSc in Human Nutrition and Post-Graduate Diplomas in Functional Nutrition, Exercise and Health and Clinical Nutrition.

Professionally he is Director of Education at NutriScience (a Portuguese and Spanish nutrition education company), and lectures extensively about Nutrition and Functional Medicine in Europe, the USA and Latin America. He is best known for being an expert on the effects of Dairy in Human Health and for being the first author of the scientific paper "The Western Diet and Lifestyle and Diseases of Civilization", with Prof. Cordain as the senior author.

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