FEB 08, 2018 02:05 PM PST

Cows Need Vitamin A to Reduce Cow's Milk Allergies

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

Proteins in cow’s milk can cause an allergic reaction different from lactose intolerance, but these proteins also hold the key to suppressing those reactions. A new study from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna shows how a metabolite of vitamin A could reduce the severity of rare milk allergies.

Cattle fodder enriched with vitamin A can prevent an allergic reaction against milk proteins. Credit: Georg Mair/Vetmeduni Vienna

Unlike a case of lactose intolerance where an inadequate amount of lactase prevents the breakdown of lactose, a sugar found in milk, a milk allergy affects just two to three percent of children younger than three years old. Lactose intolerance affects about 65 percent of the human population in some form or another.

A true milk allergy is characterized by an immune response against milk proteins: the immune system produces Th2 immune cells, and they produce antibodies that trigger an allergic reaction. Antibodies target milk proteins as if they were harmful pathogens, the hallmark of any autoimmune disease.

One milk protein called Bos d 5, also known as beta-lactoglobulin, is part of the protein family lipocalins. It activates Th2 immune cells and initiates the autoimmune response, which becomes evident with swelling of the mouth or mucous membranes, diarrhea, aggravated atopic dermatitis, or - worst case scenario - allergic shock. However, beta-lactoglobulin is also capable of countering the immune response.

"This special protein family is characterized by molecular pockets that can take in small molecules like retinoic acid, which is a metabolite of vitamin A," explained first author Karin Hufnagl.

By “pocketing” retinoic acid, beta-lactoglobulin reduces the immune response to a moderate level and prevents those affected by milk allergies from becoming sensitized to milk proteins and expressing an allergy. For beta-lactoglobulin to have a real effect on people with milk allergies, cows would need a significant supply of vitamin A.

Researchers are unsure if vitamin A supplementation would elicit the same response as natural vitamin A, but they believe it’s likely supplements won’t have the same beneficial effect on reducing allergic reactions to milk proteins. Instead, they suggest cattle fodder with natural sources of vitamin A: liver, fish oils, leafy green vegetables, orange and yellow vegetables, tomato products, fruits, and some vegetables oils.

The present study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Sources: Genetics Home Reference, American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, University of Veterinary Medicine - Vienna

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
JUN 01, 2018
Immunology
JUN 01, 2018
How does estrogen increase the risk of autoimmunity for women?
The unique activity of estrogen hormones and their cell receptors in the female body may explain why women are more likely than men to develop autoimmune d...
JUN 02, 2018
Immunology
JUN 02, 2018
New Test Predicts Lupus Onset
Based on several different factors, scientists have a new risk index for predicting who will develop lupus. From the Feinstein Institute for Medical Resear...
JUN 12, 2018
Immunology
JUN 12, 2018
Auto-antibody Detection for Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients
No case of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease, is the same. Now, researchers want RA diagnostic approaches to match its pathological diversit...
JUL 23, 2018
Immunology
JUL 23, 2018
Obesity Associated Inflammation Leads to Chronic Health Issues
Inflammation caused by harmful oxidized lipids increases in individuals with obesity and may contribute to chronic disease development....
AUG 08, 2018
Immunology
AUG 08, 2018
Doxorubicin Causes Heart Toxicity by Immune System Disruption
Chemotherapy drug Doxorubicin disrupts metabolism that controls immune responses in the heart leading to heart toxicity....
SEP 04, 2018
Immunology
SEP 04, 2018
Development of Damaging Immune Cells in Tuberculosis Infection
Development of damaging white blood cells occurs during Tuberculosis infection leading to a maladaptive immune response....
Loading Comments...