Camel milk might not be most people’s first choice when reaching for something to put on their breakfast cereal, but new research has shown it could be worth making the switch.With triple the amount of vitamin C that cow milk has, and anti-colon cancer properties, camel milk is a healthier, locally sourced alternative, research by Dr Hosam Habib and Dr Wassim Ibrahim from UAE University shows.
Their study found the milk can also reduce hyper-tension when consumed in the form of laban, acting to inhibit the ACE enzyme which is responsible for the condition.
“It also has an insulin effect, so it is good for those with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes,” said Dr Habib, an expert in human nutrition.
“It has some protein with a molecular structure similar to insulin. People with diabetes will benefit from it.
“It can also be isolated to replicate insulin but it’s not been found in what quantities yet.”
Since 2010, the team has been analysing vitamins, minerals, fats and amino acids in camel milk.
“It has natural antibiotics like lac-toferrin, which keeps the milk fresh for longer and means bacteria cannot grow quickly like in cow milk,” said Dr Habib.
In tests, it took only one day for cow milk to go off, compared with four days for the camel milk.
“To make yogurt with cow milk takes four hours but not less than 10 to 12 hours with camel, proving it takes much longer for the milk to turn. It’s the closest thing to mothers’ milk,” said Dr Habib.
The team found that while cow milk is on average 3.5 per cent fat, camel has only 2.5 per cent.
Proponents of the paleo diet have long said humans should not drink cow milk, for reasons including its inflammatory properties.
“Because of this anti-inflammatory effect, [camel milk] can also prevent colon cancer,” Dr Habib said. “The anti-inflammatory effect is the anti-cancer effect.”
The team examined the functional properties of camel milk lactoferrin, the main iron-binding protein of the milk, which showed a 56 per cent decline in cancer growth when applied to cancer cells.
“Lactoferrin seems to have great potential in practical medicine,” Dr Ibrahim said. “The use of lactoferrin in combination with other milk components or drugs may be an increasing consideration.”
They also found that camel milk lactoferrin showed antioxidant activity and could prevent DNA damage by binding catalytic iron.
The Camel Milk Association says it can be digested by people with lactose intolerance, although Dr Habib disagrees.
“It’s still got lactose, though lower amounts, so it is still too much for someone with serious lactose intolerance.”
Camel milk has greater contents of other vitamins and minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, zinc, iron and manganese.
It has been used to treat tuberculosis and other lung ailments in Russia, and tuberculosis, dropsy, jaundice and anaemia in India.
“It is very good for boosting the immune system,” said Dr Habib. “It’s also good for anti-ageing as the high levels of vitamin C protect collagen.”
Mutasher Al Badry, deputy general manager at Emirates Industry for Camel Milk and Products responsible for the brand Camelicious, says awareness to its benefits is growing.
“Although camel milk has always been known in Middle East and African regions, the accessibility for the wider public has only been achieved in recent years,” Mr Al Badry said. Camelicious came on to the market in 2006.
“Today, camel milk enjoys increasing popularity in the UAE, not only among locals but also among health-conscious western expatriates. The benefits are quite known and the demand is higher than supply.”
Dr Ibrahim hopes more can be done to raise awareness of the milk’s benefits.
“The authorities, the industry and retailers could surely do much more to promote camel milk,” he said.
“I believe that collaborative efforts between industry, relevant authorities and academia in camel milk research – and effective promotion campaigns – will definitely enhance camel milk consumption.”