Milk from nontraditional animal species (i.e., donkey, camel, and buffalo) are recently gaining momentum mainly due to the fact that they are considered suitable to supplement the needs of special population groups (i.e., infants, elderly). Donkey milk is considered an ideal substitute for human milk. Donkey milk has recently been considered to be a good alternative to infant formulas, since its nutrient composition, particularly the proteins, are very similar to those of human milk. Some components in donkey milk possess unique characteristics such as bactericidal properties, which makes donkey milk different from other types of mammalian milk. Donkey milk has been considered an elixir of life for centuries. Legend Queen of Ancient Egypt, Cleopatra bathed in donkey milk to preserve the beauty and youth of her skin. Milk from at least 700 donkeys were used for her daily bath!
Recognizing the benefits of donkey milk, India is soon going to get a donkey milk dairy, being developed by the National Research Centre on Equines (NRCE) in Hisar, Haryana!
Many pieces of researches report that the milk components possessed biological properties beyond their nutritional significance. Biological functions of milk are mainly due to milk peptides and proteins. Milk proteins include approximately 20% whey and 80% casein. Whey contains five major proteins, including α-lactalbumin, glycomacropeptide, β-lactoglobulin, immunoglobulins, and serum albumin. Casein contains αs1, αs2, β, and κ casein. There have been several reports of antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and antioxidant activities of casein and whey proteins. The immunomodulatory function of milk and casein peptides and whey proteins have been also reported. Several studies have indicated that whey proteins such as lysozyme, lactoferrin, and bovine serum albumin possess effective anti-tumour activities.
Research on donkey milk has dramatically increased over the past few years. Donkey milk has been reported to have stronger microbial inhibitory activity than other types of milk because of its high level of lysozyme and lactoferrin. Lysozyme is an enzyme that catalyzes the hydrolysis of glycosidic bonds, present in peptidoglycan heteropolymers of the prokaryotic cell wall. Previous studies have shown that lysozyme in donkey milk could contribute to its anti-inﬂammatory and anti-microbial activity. In addition, lysozyme has other physiological functions, including inactivation of certain viruses, immuno-regulatory activity, anti-inﬂammatory, and anti-tumour activity.
Cancer is one of the most common malignancies worldwide. Therefore, the discovery and development of novel anti-cancer agents with new modes of action is greatly needed!
The study suggests that there is a striking correlation between the anti-cancer activity of milk caseins and their physicochemical properties such as alpha-helix structure and positive and negative charges. Five different casomorphins and morphiceptin in donkey milk were also reported to inhibit cell proliferation of the human breast cancer cell line. In conclusion, the results indicated that mare, camel, and donkey milk might be good candidates against breast cancer cells.
The anti-proliferative and anti-tumour effects of donkey milk on A549 human lung cancer cells were investigated in vitro, and its effects on cell cycle progression, apoptosis, and cytokine production were examined. Donkey milk active fractions reduced the viability of A549 cells in dose-dependent and time-dependent manners. Fraction-IV, a fraction of whey protein, was the most effective fraction (P<0.05) in inducing accumulation of A549 cells in the G0/G1 and G2/M phases, indicating potent cytotoxicity and causing cell death by apoptosis. The anti-proliferative activity of conditioned medium, prepared with fraction-IV-stimulated murine splenocytes, was signiﬁcantly higher than that of fraction-IV alone (P<0.05). Moreover, it could increase the secretion of Interleukin-2 (IL-2), Interferon-(IFN-), Interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumour necrosis factor(TNF-) and Interleukin 1(IL-1) . The active components of donkey milk not only could directly suppress tumour proliferation in vitro but may also indirectly kill tumours through the activation of lymphocytes and macrophages. High content of lysozyme in fraction-IV may contribute to its anti-tumour activity. It has been reported that whey proteins of donkey milk have potent antiproliferative activity against lung cancer.
It has been observed that many young children are allergic to cow or buffalo milk but are never allergic to the milk of the Halari breed. While the donkey milk has little fat, the antioxidant and anti-ageing ingredients are found in this milk. The milk also plays an especially important role in correcting the immune system of the body.
The donkey of the Halari breed is found in Gujarat, whose milk is considered a treasure of medicines. Beauty products made from this milk include soap, lip balm, body lotion and are quite expensive.
The National Horse Research Center (NRCE) in the country is going to start Halari donkey milk dairy in Hisar. For this, the NRCE had already ordered 10 halari breed donkeys. They are currently being bred. Halari dairy work will start soon after breeding. In the market, milk of Halari breed donkey is sold from 2000 to 7000 rupees per litre. Scientists from the Central Buffalo Research Center of NRCE Hisar and National Dairy Research Institute of Karnal are also being sought to start a dairy.
Let us hope and wish for a brighter future ahead!
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About the author
Prof. Ashok Kumar is former Vice-Chancellor of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya University, Gorakhpur (U.P.) & CSJM University, Kanpur, (U.P.), Nirwan University, Jaipur, Rajasthan, and Shri Kallaji Vedic University, Nimbahera, Rajasthan.