Donkey milk could be a suitable alternative for children with an allergy to cow's milk.
Scientists at the University of Bari, in Italy, set out to explore the nutritional adequacy of donkey's milk in the diet of children with a cow's milk allergy, and their tolerance to it.
Riccardina Tesse, Claudia Paglialunga, Serena Braccio and Lucio Armenio, who work in the Department of Biomedicine of the Developmental Age, said the usual approach for children with a cow's milk allergy was to eliminate it from their diet.
Thirty children with a suspected cow's milk allergy, aged six months to 11 years, were enrolled in the study.
They underwent skin-prick tests and a double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenge to confirm their cow's milk allergy.
Testing confirmed the existence of an allergic response in 25 of the children.
Each was then openly given fresh donkey's milk.
Specific biomarkers were checked to evaluate the health of the children before including donkey milk in their diet. The participants were checked again 4-6 months after going on to donkey's milk.
The researchers found that 24 out of 25 subjects (96%) tolerated donkey milk, with their blood biomarkers unchanged after incorporating it in their diet.
They said the study demonstrated a high rate of tolerance to donkey's milk in children with moderate symptoms of a cow milk allergy.
They also found that it was nutritionally adequate in children eating a varied diet.
"All enrolled subjects found it acceptable due to its palatability," they said.
About 3 per cent of all children under the age of three are allergic to cow's milk, causing a variety of symptoms including dermatitis and digestive upsets.
The nutritional composition of donkey milk, they noted, is similar to that of human milk, including a very similar protein composition.
All children improved their weight and height during the study, and their body mass index remained unchanged for their weight and height at the end of the study.
The authors, whose study was reported in the Italian Journal of Pediatrics, noted that their findings related to subjects showing a mild to moderate allergy to cow's milk, as potential subjects that showed a severe reaction to cow's milk refused to take part in the study.