Goat Milk in the Golden Years
Editor’s Note: This is the third installment of a trilogy of articles relating to the benefits of goat milk and goat milk products. The first installment examined the nutritional benefits of this healthy food in infants and children. The second looked at how goat milk can play a major role in the nutritional lives of the general population. This final article will study how goat milk can be the perfect food for those in their golden years.
I want to introduce you to someone. Let’s call her “Mrs. B.”
Mrs. B is 74 years old. Her husband died four years ago and she lives alone. Though she has two kids and several grandchildren she sees at least once a week, she eats most of her meals alone. Her appetite is waning and, along with it, her interest in food. After maintaining her weight consistently for the past four years she is starting to lose weight and feels weak and tired constantly. More than anything, she wants to regain the energy and vitality she had in her younger years.
Does this sound familiar? Though the specifics vary widely, seniors are the most nutritionally vulnerable individuals in our society. Infants and very small children are also nutritionally helpless, but they usually have caregivers watching out for their health. Few seniors have people watching out for their nutritional well-being—couple this with the physiologic changes that occur as a natural part of the aging process and the likelihood of malnutrition is high.
Malnutrition has many sources in the elderly. Often it stems from loss of taste and appetite, depression, reduced digestive function, reduced absorption capacity, or an unfulfilled need for an increase in nutrients. Some experts estimate that 35 percent of seniors have some degree of malnutrition.
In the past decade alone, malnutrition has been conclusively linked to conditions like cancer, dementia, and heart disease in those 65-plus. Malnutrition is accompanied by involuntary weight loss, specific and general vitamin/mineral deficiencies, and abnormal body mass index (BMI). Unfortunately malnutrition is often overlooked—the specific symptoms may be treated, but the cause ignored.
Thankfully, conditions like this do not have to be treated with drugs or medicine—as Hippocrates famously said, “Let your food be your medicine, and let your medicine be your food.” I want to examine three major causes of malnutrition in the senior population and make a case for how goat milk and goat milk products are nature’s perfect food for health and wellness in the golden years.
Seniors have reduced digestive function
As our bodies age the digestive process often slows down and functions at a lower capacity. This can be a result of simple aging or from maladies like osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, and neurological disorders. As a result, nutrients that are consumed are often not digested. The National Institute of Aging recommends that women over 65 need 1,600 to 2,000 calories per day, depending on activity level. Likewise, men over 65 need 2,000 to 2,800 calories per day, depending on activity level. Now we know that increased age often is accompanied by a loss of appetite. If a senior is already struggling to eat enough, this will be compounded by not being able to absorb what has already been ingested.
This is easily seen with vitamin B12. As we age, our stomachs produce less gastric acid, inhibiting the absorption of B12. Because vitamin B12 is needed to give us lasting energy, those who are deficient in this essential nutrient will feel tired and lethargic.
Absorption of vitamins is not the only area where digestive function can suffer in old age. Protein and fat are more difficult to digest than carbohydrates and yet far more important to long-term wellness. Goat milk—specifically goat milk protein—has been documented to digest and absorb in 20 minutes, whereas cow milk can take four hours. This is because goat milk proteins are microscopic and much closer to human milk protein than cow milk. Because our bodies readily “recognize” this nutrient, it is absorbed faster and more completely than other proteins.
Likewise, the fat globules in goat milk are on average 78 percent smaller than cow milk—as a result, the surface-to-volume ratio is much smaller and the nutrient is absorbed more completely. Fat is a vital nutrient in all individuals, but especially the elderly, because it contains the highest energy (calories) per gram as well as providing an avenue for absorbing fat-soluble vitamins.
Finally the bioorganic mineral content of goat milk is superior to almost any other form of minerals. Unlike minerals mined from the earth or synthesized in a manufacturing process, goat milk contains over 20 bioorganic, food-based minerals that are in their natural ratios, unbound to other minerals. For example, sodium in the saltshaker is bound to chloride. Sodium in goat milk is not and does not have the negative health impact that salt does. In fact, bioorganic sodium (found especially in goat milk) can soothe and relax joints and tendons, particularly in the elderly.
Seniors need more protein
Protein is one of the most important nutrients a senior can ingest because protein is what the body is made from. Muscle, eyes, hair, fingernails, skin, and the like are composed primarily of protein. Fat has its place (stored fuel) and carbohydrates are a transient fuel (available only for a few hours before being burned, or stored either as fat or glycogen) but protein makes up the bulk of our bodies and is second only to water in our total overall weight.
The generally recognized protein intake for the normal adult population is .8 grams per kilogram of total body weight. This means if you weighed 100 pounds, you should consume 36 grams of protein per day. Part of the aging process is an increase in catabolism, the process in which the body breaks down (catabolizes) previously existing proteins to feed itself. This means that as we age, the available protein stores that we already have in our muscle, eyes, and organs are being harvested by the body because the protein needs have increased. I think the recommendation of .8 grams per kilogram is too low for everyone, but especially for seniors. I would recommend that protein intake should be 1 to 1.2 grams per kilogram based on individual circumstances. (This works out to 45 to 54 grams of protein for a 100 pound person.)
Because catabolism increases in the later years, the importance of good protein intake becomes paramount. Therefore, careful attention should be taken as to which foods are eaten because different foods have different levels of protein bioavailability. Corn is one of the worst foods to have as a staple in one’s diet as it often can pass entirely undigested through the digestive tract of even healthy adults. This is because the bioavailability of corn is extremely low. The same low bioavailability is true for soy protein, bean protein, pea and hemp protein, and most vegetable-based proteins. As a general rule, animal products (eggs, milk, meat, and so on) contain the most bioavailable protein.
As stated earlier, goat milk protein is one of the most digestible proteins. And because goat milk is easily tolerated even by the most sensitive, it is often the perfect choice to boost protein intake in the elderly.
Seniors should look for ways to boost immune health
One of the most sobering things to realize about aging is the decrease in function of the immune system. Seniors are more likely to succumb to infection than young adults and when malnourished they have an increased risk of blood poisoning.
Another aspect of aging is the decrease in T-cell response (the immune system’s fighter cells), and reduced function of phagocytes and macrophages (more immune system fighter cells). A vicious cycle begins as malnutrition leads to decreased immune function which leads to older persons not being able to eat enough to keep up with increased energy needs which then cycles back into a more disabled immune function.
I have three natural recommendations for boosting immune function safely and effectively. The first is probiotics. The second is colostrum. The third is probiotics and colostrum. Let me explain.
Whether you know it or not, probiotics are already keeping you alive. These healthy bacteria live in your gastrointestinal tract and outnumber your cells by about 10 to one. These bacterial cells are mostly good and they regulate a lot of one’s overall health including digestive health and immune health. Increasing probiotic intake is a great way to increase immune function. Raw milk, yogurt, and nutritional supplements are all sources of probiotics.
Colostrum is the thick yellow fluid that is a precursor to mother’s milk. It is found in humans, goats, and other mammals where the mother produces it for two days following birth. Colostrum is a brilliantly designed transfer system that jump starts a newborn’s undeveloped immune system with dozens of immune-related precursors such as cytokines, immunoglobulins, lactoferrin, growth factors, and naturally occurring growth hormones. These not only give newborns an increased immune function, they can boost the immune function of seniors as well.
Finally, when taken together, probiotics and colostrum have a symbiotic metabolic response, boosting the immune system more effectively than either could on their own. By supplementing with both goat milk colostrum and probiotics, you are more than doubling the immune-boosting effects.
Seniors are a vulnerable demographic, nutritionally speaking. Each individual should get a specialized assessment and specialized care to follow. Getting the right nutrients to seniors is one of the most important things doctors, caregivers, children, and friends can do for the ones they love. Guarding against malnutrition is paramount as we watch over the needs of our most exposed. Goat milk and related goat milk products are effective means to deliver these essential nutrients.
Joe Stout, MS, has written for various magazines and is the editor of The High Road to Health newsletter. A nutrition teacher and speaker, he lives with his wife and four children in Washington State.