Modern Science Validates our Scriptures on Nutritive Value of Cow-Milk

Sh. I. K. Narang

Milk has been recognized as a complete food by nutritionists all over the world. It has all the ingredients and nutrients necessary for growth and maintenance of a healthy human body.  Modern science as well ancient Indian texts and scriptures are full of references eulogizing the virtues of milk as a complete food. Indian scriptures have described milk as the elixir of life or Amṛta.  

अमृतं वै गवां क्षीरमित्याह त्रिदशाधिप:।

तस्माद् ददाति यो धेनुममृतं स प्रयच्छति॥

(Mahābhārata 65-46)

Similar reference which means ‘Cow-milk is Amṛta, It protects us (from disease). Therefore, if someone donates a cow, he actually donates the Amṛta.

Goshu priyamamrutam rakshmana

(ṚgVeda 1-71-9)

ṚgVeda in another Mantra (5-19-4) describes Cow-milk as the most desirable and likeable drink. There are several similar descriptions in other scriptures, which enumerate the health-providing, prophylactic and curative properties of milk. Milk has been described as a drink providing vitality, immunity, (the inner strength to fight diseases), a complete balanced diet, which gives ‘Subudhi’ or the right thinking power or wisdom. Charak has described milk as:

स्वादुशीतं मृदु स्निग्धं बहलं श्लक्ष्णपिच्छिलम्।

गुरू मन्दं प्रसन्नं च गव्यं दशगुणं पयः॥

(Charka-Samhita 27-217)

This describes the Organoleptic and nutritional properties of milk. It says Cow’s milk is tasteful, sweet, has a fine/subtle flavor, is dense, and contains good fat, but light, easily digestible, and not easily spoiled. It gives us tranquility and cheerfulness. Charka 27-214 states ‘kshiryojaskar pusam’ which means milk increases the vitality and Virility in man. Dhanvantri another ancient Indian physician has described cow’s milk is a desirable and preferred diet in all types of ailments and that its regular use protects the human body from Vātta, Pitta, Kafa. ‘Raj Nighantu’, another authoritative treatise on ‘Ayurveda’ also describes milk as Amṛta or Piyush. Similar properties of milk as provider of vitality and strength are –

यूयं गावो मेद्यथाम कृशं चिद्श्रीरं चित कृणुथाम सुप्रतीकम

भद्र गृहम कृणुथ भद्रवाचो बृहद वो उच्यते सुभासु

(Atharv Veda 4-21-6)

The Cow, through its milk, transforms a weak and sick person into an energetic person, provides vitality to those without it and by doing so, makes the family prosperous and respectable in the ‘civilized society’.

The curative value of cow milk in heart diseases and Jaundice like diseases (Hriday Rog and Pāndu Rog), milk from cows of red colour was considered to be the only remedy for this.  

अनु सुर्यमुदयतां हृदयोतो हरिमा च ते।

गो रोहितस्य वर्णेन तेन त्वा परिदध्मसि॥

(Atharv Veda 1-22-1)

Validation of the above claims by Modern Science:

What is for consideration here is whether Cow-milk has been compared with or described as ‘Amṛta’ only on sentimental/emotional or religious grounds or whether there is any description of certain specific qualities or properties of milk and milk products which enhance the longevity or vitality of life to the extent of making the regular consumer of milk a healthy person with a long life and help cure certain ailments.  Let  us therefore have a look at the findings of modern science to validate what our scriptures have stated.

 Source: National Institute of Nutrition – Hyderabad

In modern science Cow-milk occupies a special position among foods as it is an animal food that has a vegetarian connotation. The above table shows the various nutrients found in milk. All these make the milk a complete food. It carries almost all nutrients needed by any human being for growth and development be it children, adolescent, elderly people, pregnant and nursing mothers. It is considered as a protective food. Milk helps to balance human diet by supplementing good quality fat, protein, calcium and vitamins particularly, vitamin A, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid. In addition milk contains several bio-protective molecules that ensure health security to humans. Component wise discussion is given below:

  1. Milk fat
  • The average cholesterol content in cow- milk is only 2.8 mg/g fat. Moreover, humans absorb 10-14% of dietary cholesterol, thus only 20-40 mg cholesterol will be absorbed from 50g of dietary milk fat. On the other hand, the body itself synthesizes cholesterol (1-4g daily) in much higher amounts than what is absorbed from the diet.
  • Milk fat has high proportion of short and medium-chain saturated fatty acids, which do not raise serum cholesterol levels. Experiments with volunteers have shown that cholesterol levels do not rise when as much as 2 litters of milk is consumed daily. On the contrary, the cholesterol level is reduced. It has been suggested that the regular intake of milk keeps blood vessels healthy.
  • Compared to other fats and oils, milk fat is easily digestible. The digestibility of milk fat is 99%. The excellent digestibility of milk fat is due to dispersion of fat globules in the aqueous phase of milk forming an emulsion. They are absorbed directly unlike other dietary fats that have to be emulsified by bile, pancreatic enzymes and intestinal lipases before they can pass through intestinal well. The easy digestibility of milk fat makes it a valuable dietary constituent in diseases of stomach, intestine, liver, gall bladder, kidney and disorders of fat digestion. Milk fat has a protective effect against human tooth decay.
  • Protective effect of milk fat against some types of cancer (colon, breast and skin) has recently been reported. A specific fatty acid (a cis-trans isomer of linoleic acid) has been identified in milk fat, which appears to be an inhibitor of cancerous growth.

2. Milk proteins

  • Milk proteins are rich in essential amino acids. The digestibility of milk proteins is rated higher (96%) much more than that of plant proteins (74-78%).
  • The milk proteins are useful in the diet of patients suffering from liver and gall bladder diseases, hyperlipidemia and diabetes. Patients with impaired kidney functions rely on protein with high BV for relieving strain on the excretory function of the kidney.
  • Modern medical science tells us that milk helps in curing uric acid problems and acidity conditions in stomach, treatment of inflammation of mucous lining of stomach and of stomach ulcers, preventing hyperacidity. This due to buffering effect of protein in milk.  Drinking milk is, therefore, advised in case of hyper acidity or peptic ulcer formation.  
  • Immunoglobulin, lactoferrin, lysozyme, lactoperoxidase and vitamin B12-binding protein have antimicrobial effect also. They not only act against the microorganisms in the intestine but also prevent the absorption of foreign proteins.
  • Lactoferrin is an iron binding glycoprotein that occurs in cow milk at a level of 0.2 mg/ml. It plays an important role in the resistance against intestinal infection, particularly Escherichia coli.
  • The milk proteins are used in slimming diets also.

3. Milk sugar

  • Lactose, the principal milk sugar, is slowly metabolised and therefore, a considerable portion of it passes into the large intestine where it promotes the growth of lactic acid producing bacteria. lactose promotes the utilization of calcium, magnesium and phosphorus.
  • The blood glucose does not rise rapidly on lactose diet.
  • Milk consumption, therefore, enables the diabetic person to obtain the biologically highly valuable milk proteins without running the risk of rise in blood glucose levels.

4. Minerals in Milk 

  • Milk and dairy products are the most important source of calcium in readily available form. A 250 ml serving of cow milk contains calcium equivalent to 60% of ICMR’s Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults. Incorporation of milk in the diet also improves the bioavailability of calcium from vegetable foods.
  • Recent research has shown that poor nutritional status with respect to calcium is related to diseases like osteoporosis, hypertension and colon cancer.
  • The hypertensive patients have shown significant reduction in blood pressure in response to increased calcium intake.
  • Introduction of increased dietary calcium through dairy products has been shown to reduce incidences in colon cancer and hyper-proliferation in the colonic mucosa in rodents.
  • Milk is rich in phosphorus that reduces urinary calcium excretion. Milk and most dairy products,  have a near 1:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio considered to be ideal for retention of calcium in the body

5. Rich source of vitamins

  • Milk is a rich source of vitamins not only in terms of their contents but also their better bioavailability.
  • Milk is one of the richest natural sources of riboflavin (vitamin B2). A 250 ml serving of cow milk contains riboflavin equivalent to 50% of the daily requirement of a pre-school child.
  • It is a very good source of niacin (Vitamin B3) though in small amounts. Indeed, milk is used as dietary ingredient for patient suffering from pellagra, a niacin deficiency disease.
  • For vegetarians, milk is sole natural source of vitamin B12, as this vitamin is present only in animal foods.
  • Milk is also a good source of folic acid. / Vitamin A.  

6. Enzymes :

A number of enzymes in milk are involved in the milk immune system. These are lactoperoxidase, xanthin oxidase and lysozyme. The lactoperoxidase-thiocyanate-system  destroys the harmful  microorganisms.

 It is because of these qualities of cow’s milk that cow has been treated as “Gau Mātā”, a provider of Amṛta, provider of health, wealth, prosperity, fame and respect. This also made the cow an object of worship and reverence. While praying for freedom and prosperity for nation, the Aryans, prayed for high yielding milk cows –

दोग्ध्री धेनु

(Yajurveda 22-22)

OUR ANCESTORS WERE DAIRY SCIENTISTS  :

This analysis is a pointer to believe that our Ṛṣis were Dairy Scientists They understood the:

  • The nutritive value of various components of milk & milk products
  • The Curative – preventive and therapeutic  properties of milk,
  • Therapeutic and Immunological  properties and extra-nutritional role of milk constituents
  • Immunological aspects of proteins

NEED FOR FURTHER RESEARCH

This   discussion provides a lead to further investigate and validate the claims like producing medicated milks and research in to medicinal effects of milk drawn from different colour cows through modern methods of diagnostic medicine.

Mr. I. K. Narang, Former Assistant Commissioner (Dairy Development) Government of India

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