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Are There Health Benefits to Donkey Milk?

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on May 28, 2021

Donkey milk has been mentioned as a health supplement and beauty product since ancient times. Cleopatra was famously rumored to bathe in donkey milk as a skin care treatment.

Nowadays donkey milk is a trendy ingredient in some yogurts or cheeses. It also shows up in skin care products thanks to its reputation for skin hydration. There is a lot of hype around the health benefits of donkey milk for a good reason. Recent research shows that donkey milk may have actual health benefits.

Donkey milk is considered a "pharma food" because it has such notable health effects. Research has shown that it can boost immune function, improve circulation, and reduce inflammation in lab studies. It may even reduce symptoms of type II diabetes.

Health Benefits of Donkey Milk

Donkey milk has properties that make it a high-quality addition to a healthy diet. It's very nutritious and people who can't tolerate cow's milk can often drink it. It can't replace prescribed medicines but it may reduce certain symptoms like inflammation or uncontrolled blood sugar.

Here are some of donkey milk’s health benefits. 

Low allergy risk. One benefit of donkey milk is how similar it is to human milk. It is a better substitute for human milk than cow's milk. It has been used to feed infants for centuries. 

Donkey milk is also less allergenic than cow’s milk. People who cannot tolerate cow's milk due to allergy or lactose intolerance can often drink donkey milk without problems.

Antimicrobial. Donkey milk doesn't usually contain the foodborne pathogens you might find in other kinds of milk. That means it has a longer shelf life before it starts to spoil. 

Scientists believe that the protein content of donkey milk gives it antimicrobial effects. Some studies have shown that it can help reduce stomach illnesses caused by both viruses and bacteria.

Donkey milk may also help promote the growth of bacteria that are good for your gut. It has been used in some countries as a folk medicine for viruses like whooping cough. But there is not yet any scientific research to prove this.

Immune system benefits. Donkey milk contains proteins that can have a positive effect on your health. In the lab, it can stimulate the release of powerful immune response cells called macrophages, natural killer cells, and cytotoxic T cells. These cells can reduce your body’s inflammatory reactions

Donkey milk can also prompt the release of nitric oxide. This chemical can open your blood vessels up to improve circulation and prevent the build-up of plaque in your arteries. Researchers have suggested that donkey milk could improve overall immune function among older adults.

Anti-diabetic. Some researchers believe that donkey milk might help treat Type II diabetes. Donkey milk has a high whey protein content. So it might improve glucose metabolism and insulin resistance. 

There is not yet any medical research to prove this. More study is necessary before scientists can clearly identify all of donkey milk’s health benefits.

Donkey Milk in Cosmetics

The story about Cleopatra and her donkey milk baths may be an ancient urban legend. But there is evidence that donkey milk is good for your skin

Research shows that proteins in donkey milk attract and retain water. That makes skin care products that contain donkey milk extra hydrating. The anti-inflammatory effects may also be soothing to irritated skin.

Where to Buy Donkey Milk

You probably won't be able to find donkey milk in the dairy case at your local grocery store. Donkey milk is hard to produce since donkeys don't yield much milk. There are more producers in Europe than in the United States at the moment.

Some specialty stores may carry cheese, yogurt, or beverages that contain donkey milk. It is also available in powdered form. You can typically find it from online retailers. Donkey milk may be listed as an ingredient in certain cosmetics. Sometimes it’s even in the name of a product.

If you are considering adding donkey milk to your diet, talk to your doctor first. They can tell you whether donkey milk is the right choice for you.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Cosentino, C., Paolino, R., Musto, M., Freschi, P. The Sustainability of Agro-Food and Natural Resource Systems in the Mediterranean Basin, Springer, Cham, 2015.

Dairy Science & Technology: "Whey proteins and their antimicrobial properties in donkey milk: a brief review."

Foods: "Insights on Health and Food Applications of Equus asinus (Donkey) Milk Bioactive Proteins and Peptides—An Overview."

McGill University: “Why did Cleopatra supposedly bathe in sour donkey milk?”

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