Discipline: dairy and health; Key words: milk, nutraceuticals, probiotics, gut microbiome, immunomodulatory activities, soluble peptides.
We know that milk has excellent health-promoting characteristics. However, scientists over the last two decades have seen much greater possibilities and have detected amazing molecules and micro substances through ingenious techniques, some engineered. This has lead to new terminology, a collective one being nutraceuticals. In an Editorial by Dr M.W. Griffiths in the Journal of Dairy Research, Volume 83 of 2016, page 267, he describes some new developments and anticipates what are on the cards. His Editorial is titled: Milk is good for you.
I quote from the Editorial: “As with all industries, the dairy industry has embraced major technological change in the last four decades; from the introduction of robotic milking to the development of dairy foods with targeted health benefits. The opportunities for the latter are only limited by our imagination. The advances in genetic engineering have made it possible to, for instance, produce bovine milk that has greater similarity to human milk as well as being hypoallergenic. As we learn more about how the gut microbiome influences human health, including mental health, then we can further modify dairy products to beneficially alter the microbial composition of the gut.
With regard to human health, the burgeoning market in probiotics, which has been projected to reach nearly $47 billion by 2020, has seen the development of numerous dairy products as vehicles for the delivery of these organisms to the gut. The search continues for novel probiotics in unexpected places, including the milk from non-ruminants, such as donkeys. One of the more important biological consequences resulting from the presence of probiotics in dairy products and the gut is the breakdown of proteins and other compounds into bioactive moieties. The release of encrypted peptides from caseins and whey proteins has several impacts on health as these peptides have antimicrobial, antihypertensive, anti-cancer, anti-virulence and immunomodulatory activities, among others. For example, water soluble peptides obtained from Greek yoghurt modulate the expression of genes involved in the synthesis of the urokinase-plasminogen activator, which influences inflammatory and immune responses. Optimisation of the production of these peptides will allow the development of more functional dairy products using material such as cheese whey.
However, not only probiotics but the components of milk itself can have desirable health outcomes. As well as the more commonly known benefits of drinking milk such as it being an excellent source of calcium, there are emerging nutritional advantages to the consumption of milk and dairy products, such as increased satiety, which may help combat obesity, and it has been shown that components of the milk fat globule membrane may reduce cancer cell proliferation. There is also increasing evidence that dairy product consumption can alleviate the consequences of metabolic syndrome, such as type 2 diabetes. Camel milk and, to a lesser extent, goats’ milk can help reduce hyperglycaemia and oxidative damage resulting from type-1 diabetes.
There is no doubt that milk is good for you. As we learn more about the mechanisms involved in the health benefits of consuming dairy products, the opportunities to ‘design’ healthier foods through the modification of milk components or the addition of fermentative cultures become endless. This will ensure the sustainability and profitability of the dairy industry, in all its forms, for many decades to come”.
The message is clearly positive. In our own R & D Programme modification of milk and dairy products and the development of probiotics and nutraceuticals have also been identified as a priority area. As yet, nothing has come to the fore. I want to invite scientists to embark on this discipline and design appropriate projects, maybe with international participation. The South African dairy industry is advanced in many respects, but we need to become involved in health promoting research to stay abreast of developments, to remain a respected international role player, to ensure sustainability and to embrace our social responsibility.