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The benefits of MicroLactin in treating osteoarthritis

Q. I'm interested in taking a new product called MicroLactin for my osteoarthritis. I have read that it is more effective and cheaper than glucosamine. Are there studies to support this claim? How does it work and is it safe? What else can you tell me about it?

A. MicroLactin is the trademark name given to a whey concentrate derived from the milk of cows that have been immunized against specific diseases. Unique proteins are found in the milk of these cows that appear to temporarily decrease joint pain and stiffness and thus improve mobility. The manufacturer of MicroLactin sponsors virtually all of the research done with it, and although some of this research is published in peer-reviewed journals, it is difficult to rule out bias.

The active ingredients found in MicroLactin are also found in normal cows' milk but apparently in concentrations that are much too low to be effective. MicroLactin was first marketed in capsule form in 2001 as a whey concentrate specifically intended to relieve joint pain and stiffness by reducing the migration of inflammatory substances into joints. It was originally known as "immune milk," and it consists of antibody proteins, anti-inflammatory substances, and nutrients. No one disputes its safety for people who are not allergic to milk protein, so it is probably safe to try it for a few weeks.

Interest in "immune milk" began in the 1950s with Ralph Stolle's attempts to improve on the ability of colostrum to strengthen immune function. Stolle formed a partnership with the New Zealand Dairy Board to inoculate cows with a wide variety of vaccines designed to produce a whey product with disease-specific antibodies as well as nonspecific anti-inflammatory substances.

Clinical studies using either Stolle milk or MicroLactin for treatment of osteoarthritis indicate that both are somewhat more effective than glucosamine in alleviating symptoms. There have also been published clinical trials on the benefit of MicroLactin in lowering blood pressure, presumably related to its ability to reduce pain, and there is hope that MicroLactin will improve recovery times in long-distance runners.

Considerably more independent research is needed on MicroLactin before we can really judge its value. Until a few years ago, mainstream medicine would have rejected the idea that consuming large proteins such as those in MicroLactin could possibly have any benefit, because it was believed that they were too large to be absorbed. Now we know that our digestive systems are able to keep rather large molecules intact and preserve their biological activity. However, absorption of large protein molecules is not always to our advantage, since this may also be the way that food allergies develop.

By tailoring the vaccines used to stimulate the cows' immune systems, it may be possible to pass on immunity to humans against a lot of different infectious diseases such as Lyme disease, or even autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. The technology already exists to create an abundance of extremely cheap, antigen-specific immune milk, which may represent an innovation in health care.

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