Benefits of sheep milk to be tested in ground-breaking trial


In what is believed to be a world first, AgResearch has begun a clinical trial to test the benefits of sheep milk for human digestion

The trial, which sees AgResearch scientists working alongside those at the Auckland University’s Liggins Institute, with support from Spring Sheep Milk Co. and Blue River Dairy, comes at a time of rapid growth for the dairy sheep industry in New Zealand.

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Results from the trial should be available early next year

With some people suffering from digestive issues with milk, work to date by AgResearch has demonstrated that sheep milk could offer advantages for some in terms of easier digestion and improved nutrition.

"Based on the literature we have seen, there has been no human clinical trial like this before measuring the digestibility of sheep milk," AgResearch senior scientist Dr Linda Samuelsson says. "We will be working with people who say they have some difficulty digesting milk. They will be asked to consume a specified amount, and we’ll be looking at how they feel after drinking, and measuring their digestion using blood and breath tests."

Andrea Wilkins, marketing and innovation director at Spring Sheep Milk Co., says one recent study compared the protein digestibility of sheep and cow milk with results suggesting sheep milk proteins are more readily digested and are a better source of essential amino acids.

"Taking into account the research to date along with consumer feedback we’ve received, we know that sheep’s milk is great for those who are sensitive to cow’s milk. So, we’re really excited about what this clinical trial means for us and for the New Zealand sheep milk industry as a whole."

Liggins Institute Research fellow Dr Amber Milan says the trial subjects will be asked to drink both sheep and cow milk.

"Sheep milk is very different from cow milk. We know that it has more nutrients per glass: more protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. For example, sheep milk has almost twice the level of calcium and zinc when compared to cow milk. There are also differences in the protein and fat types which we think will alter the digestive properties of sheep milk."

Results from the trial, which began in July, should be available early next year. 

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