The compositional features of goat milk give rise to a number of potential benefits, when compared with cow milk:
Goat milk proteins are digested more completely than cow milk proteins. For example, trypsin, an enzyme present in the stomach, breaks down 96% of goat casein, compared with only 76-90% of cow casein. Similarly, nearly three times more beta-lactoglobulin in goat milk is digested by human digestive juices compared to cow milk.
One reason for this is the differences in the way caseins coagulate in the stomach to form a sponge-like curd. Goat milk formula behaves more like breast milk, forming a looser curd structure than standard cow milk formulas. When in the baby’s stomach, this softer type of curd allows digestive enzymes easier access to the milk proteins, assisting with digestion.
As shown by a study in children with digestive disorders due to gluten intolerance, goat milk fat, with a higher proportion of medium chain fatty acids, is absorbed more efficiently than cow milk.
A number of studies have shown that micronutrients in goat milk can be absorbed more efficiently than cow milk, especially during anaemia or when the absorption capacity of the intestine is compromised. These studies point to a greater bioavailability of minerals from goat compared to cow milk, rather than the quantity of minerals in the milks.
Development and maintenance of the protective barrier function in the intestine is important in health. An animal study showed that goat milk prevented the loss of intestinal barrier function following heat stress, indicating the presence of factors that help to maintain intestinal health.
Reduced allergenic burden
Goat milk is widely used by people with digestive problems and sensitivities to cow milk. While goat milk cannot be considered hypoallergenic, it does have a different allergenic burden compared to cow milk. On average, five times more goat milk than cow milk is required to trigger an adverse reaction in children allergic to cow milk.
The key attributes contributing to the reduced allergenic burden of goat formula are:
- Less allergenic proteins in goat milk. Animal studies show less severe reactions at the low levels of alphas1-casein in goat milk. Use of whole milk when making formula, keeps another allergenic protein, beta-lactoglobulin, at low levels.
- More efficient digestion of goat milk proteins. Allergenic proteins are commonly resistant to digestion.
- The development and maintenance of the protective barrier function in the intestinal epithelium that reduces the exposure of the immune system to allergens in food.
Based on scientific evidence and experience of use, the effectiveness of goat milk to alleviate allergy-related sensitivities to cow milk depends on the type of reactions. Symptoms of dermatitis were reduced in 59 of 67 infants aged 1-9 months and 33 of 41 children aged 12-36 months when treatment was combined with introduction of goat milk formula. Goat milk can sometimes help to reduce digestive symptoms or colic. These symptoms all result from delayed or slow-onset allergy reactions to cow milk.
In contrast, goat milk is less able to relieve severe reactions such as redness and swelling of the face that may occur immediately following contact with a small amount of cow milk. Individuals who are highly sensitive to cow milk proteins are therefore advised to consult their allergy specialist prior to consuming goat milk.