Australia's Shonky Awards have recently named and shamed this year's worst commercial products, but while their criticism is usually rightfully deserved, could we say the same for camel milk? The alternative to cow's milk has received negative media attention for apparently claiming to be a treatment for autism and other conditions, but this may be a lesson in doing your own research instead of thinking as the media tells you to.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs social and communication skills. It has also been associated with autoimmune disease, gastrointestinal issues such as dysbiosis and mental retardation. Sadly, the prevalence of autism in the USA has risen to 1 in 88 children; in comparison, Saudi Arabia only has a rate of 6 in 1000 children. It is understandable that parents often get emotional when any evidence emerges that something, usually inflammatory, could contribute to autism, but we have to find the root cause of these problems, no matter how guilt-inducing.
As there is a link between autism and immune dysfunction, there is also a link between camel milk and relief from autism. In this study, 60 autistic children were divided into three groups, where they received a different type of milk: raw camel milk, boiled camel milk or cow milk. Preference was given to children with known food allergies or intolerances. Parents were instructed to give 500mL of the assigned milk to their children every day for 2 weeks, and not add any other diet changes, supplements or drugs. Both the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS) and the Wing Subgroups Questionnaire (WSQ) were used to measure symptom severity, and blood levels of antioxidants were also measured. After two weeks, the blood levels of glutathione, one of the three antioxidants, were significantly higher in the groups drinking camel milk. However, only those drinking boiled camel milk had significantly higher levels of superoxide dismutase, another key antioxidant. Myeloperoxidase, the third antioxidant enzyme, was also significantly higher in both camel milk groups. Low levels of antioxidant enzymes have been reported many times in autistic children, and the resulting oxidative stress has been linked to metabolic issues that affect neurodevelopment. The CARS scores were also, on average, significantly improved in both camel milk groups. In another Saudi study, this time on 65 children, consumption of camel milk for 2 weeks once again significantly improved CARS scores, as well as their scores on the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) and Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC).
So what is so special about camel milk? Camel milk has a unique composition compared to the milk of other ruminants. It is lower in fat, cholesterol and lactose than cows' milk; and higher in zinc, magnesium, calcium, potassium, copper, and vitamins A, B2, E and C. It has no beta-casein or beta-lactoglobulin, which are the main allergy triggers in cows' milk. Camel milk also contains immunoglobulins and enzymes that can help to rehabilitate the immune system and prevent further allergies. With scientific and anecdotal reports of autistic children improving after starting a gluten and casein-free diet, or after reducing inflammation, maybe camel milk is right for you or your child. However, with complex, chronic conditions such as autism, it is best to seek the advice of a naturopath in a clinical setting, where they can take a full case history.