FEB 08, 2018 2:05 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
JUL 30, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
How Are DNA Testing Companies Helping the Fight Against COVID?
JUL 30, 2020
How Are DNA Testing Companies Helping the Fight Against COVID?
One of the most puzzling characteristics of coronavirus is how some people develop severe symptoms and die from the dise ...
AUG 24, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
FDA Grants Emergency Approval for Blood Plasma to Treat COVID-19
AUG 24, 2020
FDA Grants Emergency Approval for Blood Plasma to Treat COVID-19
The US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) has given emergency approval for expanded use of antibody-rich blood plasma to help th ...
SEP 01, 2020
Immunology
Cell Atlas of Mosquito Immunology Reveals New Avenues for Eradicating Malaria
SEP 01, 2020
Cell Atlas of Mosquito Immunology Reveals New Avenues for Eradicating Malaria
Malaria is one of the biggest ongoing threats to global health — over 200 million were infected and almost half a ...
OCT 28, 2020
Microbiology
Immune Cells Link Gum Disease to Inflammatory DIsorders
OCT 28, 2020
Immune Cells Link Gum Disease to Inflammatory DIsorders
Scientists and clinicians know that oral health and inflammation, which is a part of many diseases, are connected.
OCT 29, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
How Does the Immune System Handle the Microbiome?
OCT 29, 2020
How Does the Immune System Handle the Microbiome?
The human body plays host to trillions of microbes, and many of them live in our gastrointestinal tract; these microorga ...
NOV 12, 2020
Immunology
The Enzyme That Keeps Viruses In Stealth Mode
NOV 12, 2020
The Enzyme That Keeps Viruses In Stealth Mode
Some viral infections just don’t go away. The hepatitis C virus, for instance, can result in life-long chronic inf ...
Loading Comments...