Camel Milk: A Centuries Old ‘Superfood’ as Diabetes Treatment

16 Aug 2021

If asked to think of a camel, many will invariably call up the emblematic image of a humped animal crossing the horizon in a blazing desert. What they probably won’t think of is a cold glass of milk.

But that might soon change, thanks to research uncovering the surprising therapeutic potential contained within camel milk. Although this might seem unusual to many in the Western world, where camel milk remains a relatively obscure dairy product, it would hardly merit a second thought among those most acquainted with these resilient beasts of burden.

For the people of these and other regions where camels thrive, their milk has long been a staple food source, usually consumed in fresh or spontaneously fermented form. It has also been used for centuries as a traditional treatment for ailments ranging from tuberculosis to gastroenteritis.

Numerous studies have since revealed that camel milk has many of the sought-after bioactive properties of so-called “superfoods.” It’s “anti” in the most positive ways: antihypertensive, antimicrobial, antioxidative, antithrombotic, antiulcerogenic. But what has gained researchers’ attention the most are the favorable effects camel milk appears to exhibit in both animal and clinical studies on various markers of diabetes, from glycemic control to insulin resistance. Might this folk remedy have new lessons for contemporary diabetes researchers? 

What’s So Special About Camel Milk?

Camels were domesticated around 3000 to 4000 years ago, which is relatively recent among working animals (by comparison, dogs have held their status as “man’s best friend” for at least 14,000 years). Thanks to a host of unique adaptations, including the ability to store about 80 lb (36.3 kg) of fat in those signature humps, camels can walk 100 miles and survive for nearly a week in temperatures up to 120°F (49°C) without water.

Among herbivorous ruminants — the class of animals that ferment their food before digestion — camels get the most from the least. They consume the largest variety of plants and digest it more efficiently than cows. Nomadic peoples considered camels’ diverse diets a key contributor to the purported medicinal value of their milk.

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