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Gavamrita: Cow Milk

In the Anushasana par­va of the Mahab­hara­ta, when King Yud­hishthi­ra ques­tions his grand­sire Bheesh­ma on the sub­ject of cows, the lat­ter says,”Cows are the fore­most of all things. Them­selves sacred, they are the best of cleansers and sanc­ti­fiers. Peo­ple should cher­ish cows for obtain­ing pros­per­i­ty and even peace. The milk, curds, and ghee that cows yield are capa­ble of cleans­ing one from every kind of sin. Cows are said to rep­re­sent the high­est ener­gy both in this world and the world that is above. There is noth­ing that is more sacred or sanc­ti­fy­ing than cows, O chief of Bharata’s race.” [1]

Cow milk — the essence of the shadrasa

Surab­hi, the Divine cow

He goes on to nar­rate the ancient his­to­ry of cows and the severe aus­ter­i­ties they under­took to attain this pre­em­i­nent sta­tus, where every part of them would be sacred, puri­fy­ing and pros­per­i­ty-giv­ing. Owing to this, they are even high­er than the devas resid­ing in deval­o­ka. In the Udyo­ga par­va, Surab­hi (or Kamad­henu), the moth­er of cows is described as yield­ing milk which is the essence of the six tastes. In Ayurve­da, the Indi­an sci­ence of health and longevi­ty, the six tastes are known as the shadrasa — mad­hu­ra (sweet), amla (sour), lavana (salty), katu (pun­gent), tik­ta (bit­ter) and kashaya (astrin­gent). Food that has a bal­ance of all the six tastes is con­sid­ered to be a whole­some, bal­anced diet. Since milk from an Indi­an cow has the essence of the shadrasa, it is con­sid­ered to be a com­plete food in itself. In the Mahab­hara­ta, one finds sev­er­al sto­ries where rishis and brah­manas sus­tain them­selves on just milk and milk prod­ucts from their fam­i­ly cow. [2]

Ayurve­da describes health as a bal­ance of three dynam­ic prin­ci­ples called doshas that gov­ern the phys­i­ol­o­gy of the body and mind: vata, prin­ci­ple of move­ment (blood flow, air flow etc); pit­ta, prin­ci­ple of trans­for­ma­tion (diges­tion of food, pro­cess­ing of sen­so­ry infor­ma­tion to knowl­edge, etc), and kapha, prin­ci­ple of sta­bil­i­ty and ‘hold­ing togeth­er’ (build­ing up tis­sues, sta­bil­i­ty of joints, accu­mu­la­tion of fats etc). If one of the doshas is aggra­vat­ed, health gets imbal­anced. One can regain health by bal­anc­ing the viti­at­ed dosha.

Accord­ing to the Ayurvedic and Yog­ic view, the key to good health and a strong immune sys­tem is good diges­tion and metab­o­lism, which is indi­cat­ed by a robust agni, the diges­tive fire. The food that is con­sumed is digest­ed and trans­formed into the sev­en pri­ma­ry dhatu or tis­sues of the body. In sequen­tial order of trans­for­ma­tion, the sev­en dhatu are rasa (blood plas­ma), rak­ta (blood), mam­sa (mus­cle), meda (fat), asti (bone), maj­ja (bone mar­row) and shukra (repro­duc­tive flu­id). Rasa dhatu is trans­formed into rak­ta dhatu, which is trans­formed into mam­sa and so on. The superfine essence at the end of the dhatu trans­for­ma­tion is called Ojah; it is the essence relat­ed to vital­i­ty and nat­ur­al immu­ni­ty. Ojah cir­cu­lates via the heart and the cir­cu­la­to­ry sys­tem to all the bod­i­ly tis­sues to main­tain their nat­ur­al resis­tance. It fights against aging, decay and dis­ease. On the sub­tle cel­lu­lar lev­el, Ojah, is the innate immu­ni­ty of the cell that pro­tects the life ener­gy of the cell, called prana. There­fore, Ojah is influ­enced by the pow­er of agni, which deter­mines diges­tion and the qual­i­ty of assim­i­la­tion and nutrition.[3]

Improves Ojah and nour­ish­es the dhatu

Ayurve­da states that milk from a native cow improves Ojah and the nat­ur­al immu­ni­ty of the body and nour­ish­es the dhatu, tis­sues. In fact, in Ayurvedic reju­ve­na­tion pro­grams, milk is cen­tral to tis­sue regen­er­a­tion as it con­tains many ben­e­fi­cial pro­teins, hor­mones, growth fac­tors, vit­a­mins and min­er­als. It improves intel­li­gence and strength. Cow milk calms vata and pit­ta and increas­es kapha. It is described as guru, heavy to digest. There­fore, it is not rec­om­mend­ed for those with kapha imbal­ance or low diges­tive pow­er. As med­i­cine, it is used in the treat­ment of phys­i­cal weak­ness, tired­ness, fever, uri­nary dis­or­ders and bleed­ing dis­or­ders like nasal bleed­ing, ulcer­a­tive col­i­tis and men­or­rha­gia. Milk is often admin­is­tered along with herbs since it serves as a fat and water sol­u­ble media for the active prin­ci­ples in herbs, enhanc­ing their phar­ma­co­ki­net­ic ben­e­fits. [4]

Cow milk is com­posed of 87% water, 4.8% lac­tose which is a car­bo­hy­drate, 4% fat, 3.4% pro­tein (main­ly casein and whey), 0.8% min­er­als and vit­a­mins A, B2 and B12. Casein forms about 80% and whey pro­tein con­sti­tutes about 20% of the total pro­tein con­tent of milk. [5] Casein is a source of almost all essen­tial amino acids and also func­tions as antivi­ral and immune reg­u­la­to­ry fac­tors by reg­u­lat­ing the innate immune response. [6]

Why the Indi­an cow is supe­ri­or

Why is the native Indi­an cow supe­ri­or? From a spir­i­tu­al evo­lu­tion­ary per­spec­tive, they are con­sid­ered to be the earth­ly descen­dants of Surab­hi, the divine cow, and hence high­ly blessed. Their prod­ucts are health pro­mot­ing and of very high qual­i­ty. Even from a mod­ern sci­ence per­spec­tive, there are key dif­fer­ences found in the prod­ucts from Indi­an cows and for­eign breeds.

More favourable nutri­ent pro­file

Shar­ma et al. (2018) [7] did a com­pre­hen­sive study com­par­ing milk metabo­lite com­po­si­tion of native Indi­an, exot­ic (Hol­stein-Friesian) and cross breed cows. The type of man­age­ment sys­tem was also tak­en into account for com­par­i­son. In the inten­sive sys­tem of man­age­ment, high inputs such as feed and water were used with the aim of max­i­miz­ing yield, while the exten­sive sys­tem involved zero input and nat­ur­al graz­ing, so as to mim­ic the man­age­ment sys­tem of ancient India which pro­duced milk and milk prod­ucts with very favourable qual­i­ties. Ten cows each of Sahi­w­al (native), Hol­stein-Friesian and cross breed under the inten­sive sys­tem were select­ed for the study, togeth­er with ten of the native Indi­an cows under the exten­sive sys­tem which were reared tra­di­tion­al­ly with­out any effort to improve them for com­mer­cial milk pro­duc­tion. From the milk sam­ple analy­sis, it was found that Hol­stein had a sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er amount of sat­u­rat­ed fat­ty acids as com­pared to the cross­breed and Sahi­w­al. Hol­stein had the high­est con­cen­tra­tion of hyper­c­hole­strolemic fat­ty acids. Sat­u­rat­ed fat­ty acids and hyper­c­hole­strolemic fat­ty acids lead to the for­ma­tion of fat­ty plaque in the arter­ies, there­by impair­ing blood flow to tis­sue, lead­ing to heart dis­ease.

On the oth­er hand, Sahi­w­al had the high­est pro­por­tion of total unsat­u­rat­ed fat­ty acids, min­er­als, vit­a­mins and omega‑3 fat­ty acids. While sat­u­rat­ed fats increase lev­els of LDL (”bad”) cho­les­terol and increase a person’s risk of heart dis­ease, unsat­u­rat­ed fats low­er a person’s LDL cho­les­terol lev­els, reduce inflam­ma­tion and build stronger cell mem­branes in the body. Omega‑3 and omega‑6 are two main types of polyun­sat­u­rat­ed fats. The pro­por­tion of Omega‑3 and Omega‑6 fat­ty acids is impor­tant for health. A high­er ratio of Omega‑3 to Omega 6 is con­sid­ered to be ben­e­fi­cial for health [8].

Sat­u­rat­ed vs unsat­u­rat­ed fat­ty acid (pres­ence of a dou­ble bond)

Milk of native cows main­tained only on graz­ing had a very favourable nutri­ent pro­file with low sat­u­rat­ed fat­ty acids, high unsat­u­rat­ed fat­ty acids and high Omega‑3/Omega‑6 ratio. The analy­sis showed sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er con­cen­tra­tions of vit­a­mins and min­er­als such as zinc, iron, phos­pho­rus and cop­per. In the Indi­an tra­di­tion, cows were not revered for high milk yield but the health-giv­ing qual­i­ty of milk that they pro­duced. Pas­ture graz­ing and diver­si­ty in the plants eat­en by cows is one of the rea­sons for the high qual­i­ty of milk.

Bhat et al (2020) did a study on the analy­sis of milk pro­teomes (set of expressed pro­teins in an organ­ism) of Kash­miri and Jer­sey cows. It was found that pro­teins involved in immune sys­tem reg­u­la­tion such as lacto­fer­rin, a whey pro­tein known for anti-viral prop­er­ties and drug metab­o­liz­ing enzymes such as FMO3 (that oxi­dizes pes­ti­cides and for­eign sub­stances in body flu­ids) were abun­dant­ly expressed in Kash­miri cow milk when com­pared to the milk of Jer­sey cows.[9]

The A1/A2 gene muta­tion – health haz­ards of A1 beta casein

The casein micelle is com­posed of four main types of pro­teins: αS1-casein, αS2-casein, β-casein, and k-casein. Among these, beta casein is the sec­ond most abun­dant pro­tein. Dif­fer­ent muta­tions in the beta casein gene have led to 12 genet­ic vari­ants, of which A1 and A2 are the most com­mon. The beta casein is a chain of 209 amino acids (the build­ing blocks of a pro­tein). The dif­fer­ence between A1 and A2 occurs at the 67th posi­tion in that chain: while A2 has the amino acid pro­line, A1 has his­ti­dine at the loca­tion.

A1 beta casein and A2 beta casein are digest­ed dif­fer­ent­ly. Diges­tion of A1 beta casein leads to the gen­er­a­tion of a bioac­tive pep­tide (chain of 2–50 amino acids) called beta caso­mor­phin 7 or BCM7 which affects the opi­oid recep­tors. Opi­oid recep­tors are pro­teins that extend onto the sur­face of cell mem­branes and are impor­tant reg­u­la­tors of cell sig­nalling and com­mu­ni­ca­tion process­es through­out the body, includ­ing the gas­troin­testi­nal tract, immune sys­tem, and the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem. If BCM‑7 gets released through the intesti­nal lin­ing into the blood­stream, it could trig­ger an inflam­ma­to­ry immune response which over time pro­gress­es to degen­er­a­tive dis­eases. Epi­demi­o­log­i­cal evi­dences show that con­sump­tion of beta-casein A1 milk is a risk fac­tor for type‑1 dia­betes, coro­nary heart dis­ease, arte­rioscle­ro­sis, sud­den infant death syn­drome, autism, schiz­o­phre­nia etc.[10]

Dif­fer­ence between A1 and A2 Beta Casein (Source: Demirel et al. 2018)

Since ancient times, cows all over the world had only the A2 gene. Some 8000 years ago, muta­tion from A2 to A1 occurred in Hol­stein cows in Europe, result­ing in pro­duc­tion of the A1 beta casein in the milk of this breed. It is the­o­rized that some­thing in the man­ner of breed­ing, care and feed­ing with the goal of high milk out­put lead to this muta­tion. Fur­ther, since Hol­steins were used to genet­i­cal­ly improve the pro­duc­tion of oth­er breeds, the muta­tion was passed on to many oth­er breeds. Over a peri­od of time, the A1 beta casein vari­ant became dom­i­nant in milk.

While cows in much of Asia, Africa, and part of South­ern Europe most­ly have the A2 gene, the West­ern world (includ­ing the Unit­ed States, north­ern Europe and Aus­tralia), herds with the A1 gene pro­duc­ing A1 beta casein in their milk are more com­mon [11,12].

Research on cow ghee to be con­tin­ued in the next arti­cle….


[1] The Mahab­hara­ta, Book 13: Anusasana Par­va: Sec­tion LXXXIII n.d. (accessed June 14, 2020).

[2] The Mahab­hara­ta, Book 5: Udyo­ga Par­va: Bhag­wat Yana Par­va: Sec­tion CII n.d. (accessed June 14, 2020).

[3] Lad V. Text­book of Ayurve­da: Fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples: Vol. 1 2002.

[4] Cow Milk Ben­e­fits Accord­ing To Ayurve­da n.d. (accessed June 14, 2020).

[5] De S, Parad­kar P, Vaidya A. Indi­an Breed Cow Milk — Pow­er­house of Health. FnBnews­Com 2015.

[6] Sun H, Jenssen H. Milk Derived Pep­tides with Immune Stim­u­lat­ing Antivi­ral Prop­er­ties, 2012, p. 45–82.

[7] Shar­ma R, Ahlawat S, Aggar­w­al RAK, Dua A, Shar­ma V, Tan­tia MS. Com­par­a­tive milk metabo­lite pro­fil­ing for explor­ing supe­ri­or­i­ty of indige­nous Indi­an cow milk over exot­ic and cross­bred coun­ter­parts. J Food Sci Tech­nol 2018;55:4232–43.‑3360‑2.

[8] Simopou­los AP. The impor­tance of the ratio of omega‑6/omega‑3 essen­tial fat­ty acids. Bio­med Phar­ma­cother 2002;56:365–79.–6.

[9] Bhat SA, Ahmad SM, Ibeagha-Awe­mu EM, Mobashir M, Dar MA, Mum­taz PT, et al. Com­par­a­tive milk pro­teome analy­sis of Kash­miri and Jer­sey cat­tle iden­ti­fies dif­fer­en­tial expres­sion of key pro­teins involved in immune sys­tem reg­u­la­tion and milk qual­i­ty. BMC Genomics 2020;21:161.‑6574‑4.

[10] Sod­hi M, Mukesh M, Kataria RS, Mishra BP, Joshii BK. Milk pro­teins and human health: A1/A2 milk hypoth­e­sis. Indi­an J Endocrinol Metab 2012;16:856.–8210.100685.

[11] Bos Indi­cus Cat­tle & A2 Milk – The Brah­man Jour­nal n.d. (accessed June 14, 2020).

[12] A2 Milk Facts — Cal­i­for­nia Dairy Research Foun­da­tion n.d. (accessed June 14, 2020).

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