- Many consumers have become aware of at least some of
these compelling statistics regarding prion-related diseases. This has
naturally prompted questions as to which animal products present risk to
humans. Most of the focus of late has been on beef, which is warranted.
Although organ tissue carries the greatest risk, animal studies do suggest
that meat (from animal muscle alone) can transmit prion-related diseases.47
This is not surprising since muscle is interlaced with lymph and nervous
tissue--two tissues known to be infected with BSE.48 However, we cannot
exclude the possibility that milk may also carry disease-inducing prions.
Many may recall how some years ago assurances were given that a mother
could not pass HIV to her child by nursing.49 Of course, we now know that
HIV can be transmitted in breast milk.50
- Granted, prion diseases are vastly different from HIV.
The risk from milk does appear to be much smaller than from eating beef
or cattle organ tissues. Nonetheless, a British BSE expert has pointed
out that at least one human case suggests passage of prions in milk. A
Japanese woman dying of CJD was found to have the infectious agent in her
colostrum (the type of breast milk made in the initial days following delivery).51
Milk has been under suspicion in established medical circles. It was one
of the products targeted when the United Kingdom was beginning to recognize
the magnitude of the mad cow problem. The action taken against milk by
the British government is explained in Figure 11: Milk from BSE Infected
Cattle is Banned.52
- Both humans and animals were banned from consuming an
infected cow's milk. Unfortunately, as we have already noted, animals are
infected with the BSE prion long before they manifest any symptoms. When
infected symptom-free cows are milked, their milk is mixed in collection
tanks with milk from healthy cows. If the prion is present in milk, it
could theoretically contaminate the whole collection tank. Pasteurization
cannot destroy prions, so that process provides no consolation. Although
at this time it cannot be stated for certain that milk can transmit a prion-related
disease, many are wondering: is it worth taking the chance?
- Eating the flesh of animals other than cows or drinking
their milk may not be safe either. These other animals may also be infected
with prion-related diseases. As already mentioned, some 20 animal species,
including sheep and goats, can become infected with the transmissible spongiform
encephalopathies. Suspicions are also raised concerning products made from
animal glands. Health food stores often feature a variety of supplements
that include glandular extracts. These agents appear to have a higher risk
of prion contamination and thus I think it is prudent to avoid them.
- 47 Dealler S, Lacey R. Beef and bovine spongiform encephalopathy:
the risk persists. Nutr Health 1991;7(3):117-133.
- 48 Groschup MH, Weiland F, Pfaff E "Detection of
scrapie agent in the peripheral nervous system of diseased sheep."
Goettingen prion meeting November 1995 http://www.airtime.co.uk/bse/intm.htm
- 49 Jelliffe DB, Jelliffe EF. HIV and breastmilk: non-proven
alarmism. J Trop Pediatr 1988 Aug;34(4):142.
- 50 US Dept. Of Health and Human Services. Managing Early
HIV Infection Quick Reference Guide for Clinicians: Number 7. AHCPR Publication
No. 94-0573, January 1994 p. 14.
- 51 Tamai Y, Kojima H, et al. Demonstration of the transmissible
agent in tissue from a pregnant woman with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. N
Engl J Med 1992 Aug 27;327(9):649.
- 52 Pratt K. Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy. Fact sheet.
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS). U.S. Department of
Agriculture, 1991Jul p. 1.
- Notice of Credit
- The article above is compliments of the Uchee Pines Institute,
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