Do diseases pass to humans from milk or meat consumption?
April 17, 2017 1:54 PM   Subscribe

So I guess a virus in milk is linked to breast cancer? This has me wondering about other links between human diseases and milk or meat consumption. If you know about prions, about the link between Parkinson's Disease and milk, or about any similar topics, could you please enlighten me? I'd been trying to get myself to eat more yogurt (for the calcium and the probiotics), but now I'm thinking maybe that's the wrong direction to be taking my diet. Are there good sources that explain the latest thinking on this?
posted by slidell to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Tuberculosis can be passed to humans via unpasteurized milk. It's the main reason all milk is pasteurized, and raw milk is illegal in many places.

On a happier note, I think I remember reading that all the molds that grow on cheese are benign.
posted by SemiSalt at 2:11 PM on April 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

From a scientific perspective, this is part of why we cook things. The other parts being to make nutrients more available and to render toxic compounds inert.

Unless you are consuming unpasteurized milk products or milking the cows, you are not getting exposed to bovine leukemia virus by dairy consumption. Pasteurization or cooking kills most pathogens in foods.

Diseases that can pass between animals and humans are called zoonotics, if you'd like to look up a list.

It sounds trite, but most of the problems really do only come along when you consume some particular thing to excess.
posted by zennie at 2:14 PM on April 17, 2017 [5 favorites]

From the article you linked: Buehring emphasized that this study does not identify how the virus infected the breast tissue samples in their study. The virus could have come through the consumption of unpasteurized milk or undercooked meat, or it could have been transmitted by other humans.

It's not clear how the virus got where it did and it's not certain that it got there by consuming meat or dairy.
posted by GuyZero at 2:19 PM on April 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

Trichinosis is a parasitic infection transmitted in pork. It's the reason for the traditional mandate to cook all pork to well done, i.e. no pink. However, the Trichinella has been eliminated from US commercial pork and even the gov't has relaxed the recommendation.

The most common issue nowadays in E. Coli in poultry, and the recommendation is to cook it thoroughly, and also to wash your hands after handling raw chicken or turkey. Eggs were a problem for a while, but I think that has been largely fixed. (Don't quote me, though.)

Wild rabbits are often a carrier for tularemia. I was warned about this in health class back in the 1960s.
posted by SemiSalt at 2:20 PM on April 17, 2017

According to the World Health Organization, consumption of both red meat and processed meat is linked to cancer.

There is some evidence of a connection between dairy products and prostate and ovarian cancer. This particular article is from a pro-vegan group, but they do cite some studies that support this.
posted by FencingGal at 2:22 PM on April 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, you can look up many diseases on to see how they connect to animal products. This site provides short videos, but also full information on what studies are cited so you can look at them yourself.
posted by FencingGal at 2:26 PM on April 17, 2017

Thanks for all the answers so far. I appreciate being reminded of things like pasteurization, which I've sort of filed away too deep in the science-class mental file to be able to remember. I don't mind hearing more of these, but if it helps you focus your answers, I'm most interested in emerging issues or ones that current health recommendations don't necessarily address. Thanks!
posted by slidell at 2:29 PM on April 17, 2017

Another is Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (the form of mad cow disease that occurs in humans), which can be contracted by eating meat of infected animals that contains their brain tissue.
posted by borsboom at 2:57 PM on April 17, 2017

The "classics" are listeria in milk (see Blue Bell), and salmonella and E. coli in meats. Beyond "food poisoning", you get things like milk sickness, caused by toxic white snakeroot, which killed people on the frontier in the 1800's.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 2:57 PM on April 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

HIV and ebola are both hypothesized to have been originally transmitted to humans from eating bushmeat. Leprosy can be transmitted by eating infected armadillos.

I don't think this is really a reason not to eat meat or diary as a class of food, though. You could just as easily come up with a list of diseases that are transmitted by eating plant-based foods (ergotism, e. coli, c. bacilus, shigellosis, etc.).
posted by phoenixy at 3:15 PM on April 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

There is a long-standing suspicion that cows milk consumption as an infant can lead to diabetes later.
posted by jamjam at 4:18 PM on April 17, 2017

The reason flu strains are called avian or swine is that some strains of flu may be passed to humans who handle the animals. Not on cooked foods and generally not in processed foods, as far as I know.
posted by theora55 at 4:20 PM on April 17, 2017

I'm a Parkinson's specialist (not your Parkinson's specialist). The link between PD and dairy consumption is somewhat controversial. Some studies have suggested that midlife consumption of dairy products seems to be associated with an increased risk of Parkinson disease, but it's not clear whether there is a causative effect (milk is somehow toxic to dopamine-producing cells) or whether milk consumption reflects a different lifestyle (confounder effect, where the milk is a proxy measure for something else, like pesticide exposure, that actually is toxic to dopamine-producing cells), or most provocatively, whether early pre-motor PD somehow drives the person to drink milk in order to make up for some barely-sensed deficit.

Frankly, in my mind, the risk of becoming osteopenic/osteoporotic and breaking a hip, or being vitamin D deficient (since most milk products are fortified with vit D) far outweighs the risk of getting PD from eating yogurt.
posted by basalganglia at 4:45 PM on April 17, 2017 [9 favorites]

Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, mentioned above by borsboom, is the one that's caused by prions.

Four cases of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, aka Mad Cow disease) have been reported in the US to date. Fairly technical info on what CJD and BSE are and the risks involved is available here from the CDC. That page is from 2007, when it was a bigger deal in the news, so there may have been more case reports but the basics haven't changed.

The USDA FAQ is a bit more approachable, and basically says milk and meat are absolutely not a risk, only spinal tissue can transmit the prions and that's been banned for many years in US foods and feeds.

Here is some pro-beef-industry propaganda, and here is a rather paranoid sounding anti-beef-industry counterpoint.
posted by MoTLD at 4:59 PM on April 17, 2017

Not directly linked to consumption, but factory farming practices in the US may be contributing to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
posted by shalom at 8:02 PM on April 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

My dad was a veterinary surgeon in the UK, and was very emphatic when we were kids (60+ years ago) that we should never drink unpasteurized milk because of the risk of brucellosis. According to this, it's still a major problem: "The global burden of human brucellosis remains enormous: The infection causes more than 500,000 infections per year worldwide", though few in the USA now.

Dad did a lot of bovine testing for tuberculosis (also transmissible in cow milk), but his emphasis on avoiding raw milk was always on brucellosis. I still take his advice.
posted by anadem at 8:39 PM on April 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

There is a long-standing suspicion that cows milk consumption as an infant can lead to diabetes later.

There might be, but that article does not say so. In fact, the substance of the article debunks the headline. Click bait at best, fake news at worst.
posted by GeeEmm at 12:48 AM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

"links between human diseases and milk or meat consumption."

The German Nobel Prize winner "Harald zur Hausen" claims there is a statistic link between cow meat consumption colon cancer. He suspects a virus as the cause. Since his assumption was, as far as I remember, only founded on statistics, his warnings were highly criticized.

Edit: link
posted by yoyo_nyc at 1:00 AM on April 18, 2017

Mol bio grad student here. I am not a microbiologist, I am not your microbiologist.

Everything causes cancer. Not really, but just living causes cancer. The risk to you from this virus is probably in the neighborhood of walking around outside without sunscreen most of the year at most.

We have been paranoidly screening for prion diseases for years and my colleagues will happily loudly inform the public when it is a problem. We are super-paranoid about prions in academic prion research, because they are difficult to get off of anything and will kill you eventually. Prions are not a problem if you are eating US animal products.

The encouragement to not eat red meat or dairy products more than a little bit comes vastly more from their nutritional content.

The diseases you're likely to get from meat or dairy that include a micro-organism are generally the ones you've heard about in the news already. Most of them are easily treatable, if really bad to get, and are filtered out the majority of the time by normal food sterilization and handling methods. The only one I would not be happy about is E. coli, and that's because there are pathogenic strains of it that are resistant to a growing number of drugs (and E. coli is one of the many bacteria that floats around in your gut normally, so it can bork up your intestinal balance).
posted by actionpotential at 6:39 AM on April 18, 2017

Frankly, in my mind, the risk of becoming osteopenic/osteoporotic and breaking a hip, or being vitamin D deficient (since most milk products are fortified with vit D) far outweighs the risk of getting PD from eating yogurt.

Eating yogurt is not good insurance against osteoporosis. The dairy industry is just really, really good at disguising advertising as health information. In fact, the countries with the highest rates of dairy consumption have the highest rates of osteoporosis, and the nurse's health study showed that people with higher rates of dairy consumption had more fractures. You can read about that and other information on preventing osteoporosis from the Harvard School of Public Health here.

Humans are the only animals that consume milk after weaning. Cows, elephants, and apes do not get strong bones from eating dairy products as adults. There are lots of other sources for calcium, and you can easily take a vitamin D supplement rather than relying on the supplementation manufacturers put into dairy products.
posted by FencingGal at 6:16 PM on April 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Thanks for these interesting answers. I marked a few "best answers," but I learned something from all of these. Thanks.
posted by slidell at 9:08 AM on April 22, 2017

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