You're drinking the wrong milk

Researchers have been making alarming discoveries about dairy products.

When my in-laws moved from India to the United States 35 years ago, they couldnt believe the low cost and abundance of milk until they developed digestive problems. Theyll now tell you the same thing Ive heard a lot of immigrants say: American milk will make you sick.

It turns out that they could have been on to something. An emerging body of research suggests that many of the 1-in-4 Americans who exhibit symptoms of lactose intolerance [as do many South Africans] could instead be unable to digest A1, a protein most often found in milk from the high-producing Holstein cows favoured by American and South African industrial dairies. The A1 protein is much less prevalent in milk from Jersey, Guernsey, and most Asian and African cow breeds, where, instead, the A2 protein predominates.

“We’ve got a huge amount of observational evidence that a lot of people can digest the A2 but not the A1,” says Keith Woodford, a professor of farm management and agribusiness at New Zealand’s Lincoln University who wrote the 2007 book Devil in the Milk: Illness, Health, and the Politics of A1 and A2 Milk. “More than 100 studies suggest links between the A1 protein and a whole range of health conditions – from heart disease to diabetes, to autism”, Woodford says, although the evidence is far from conclusive.

Friesland cow

Holsteins (also known as Friesland or Friesians), the most common dairy-cow breed in the US and South Africa, typically produce A1 milk.

For more than a decade, an Auckland company called A2 Corporation has been selling a brand of A2 milk in New Zealand and Australia; it now accounts for 8% of Australia’s dairy market. In 2012, A2 Corporation introduced its milk in the United Kingdom through the Tesco chain, where a two-litre bottle sells for about 18% more than conventional milk.

But critics write off the success of A2 Corporation as a victory of marketing over science. Indeed, a 2009 review by the European Food Safety Authority found no link between the consumption of A1 milk and health and digestive problems. So far, much of the research on the matter is funded by A2 Corporation, which holds a patent for the only genetic test that can separate A1 from A2 cows.

And in 2004, the same year that A2 Corporation went public on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, Australia’s Queensland Health Department fined its marketers AU$15,000 for making false and misleading claims about the health benefits of its milk.

The A1/A2 debate has raged for years in Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Europe, but it is still virtually unheard of across the pond. That could soon change: A2 Corporation recently announced plans to offer its milk in the United States in coming months. In a letter to investors, the company claims that “consumer research [in Los Angeles] confirms the attractiveness of the A2 proposition.”

Jersey cow

The difference between A1 and A2 proteins is subtle: they are different forms of beta-casein, a part of the curds (ie milk solids) that make up about 30% of the protein content in milk. The A2 variety of beta-casein mutated into the A1 version several thousand years ago in some European dairy herds. Two genes code for beta-casein, so modern cows can either be purely A2, A1/A2 hybrids, or purely A1. Milk from goats and humans contains only the A2 beta-casein, yet not everyone likes the flavour of goat’s milk, which also contains comparatively less vitaminB-12 essential for creating red blood cells.

The A1 milk hypothesis was devised in 1993 by Bob Elliott, a professor of child health research at the University of Auckland. Elliott believed that consumption of A1 milk could account for the unusually high incidence of type-1 diabetes among Samoan children growing up in New Zealand. He and a colleague, Corran McLachlan, later compared the per capita consumption of A1 milk to the prevalence of diabetes and heart disease in 20 countries and came up with strong correlations.

  Guernsey cow

Critics argued that the relationships could be explained away by other factors, such as diet, lifestyle, and latitude-dependent exposure to vitamin D in sunlight – and in any case started to fall apart when more countries were included. Yet a 1997 study by Elliott, published by the International Dairy Federation, showed that A1 beta-casein caused mice to develop diabetes, lending support to the hypothesis, and McLachlan remained convinced. In 2000, he partnered with entrepreneur Howard Paterson, then regarded as the wealthiest man on New Zealand’s South Island, to found the A2 Corporation (since renamed a2 Milk Company Limited).

Starting in 2003, A2 Corporation sold milk in the United States through a licensing agreement, but pulled out in 2007 after it failed to catch on. Susan Massasso, A2 Corporation’s chief marketing officer, blamed mistakes by the company’s US partner, though declined to elaborate. But now the market dynamics may be changing in A2 Corporation’s favour as compelling new research on the A1/A2 debate grabs headlines in Australia and UK.

When digested, A1 beta-casein (but not the A2 variety) releases beta-casomorphin7 (BCM7), an opioid with a structure similar to that of morphine.  Studies increasingly point to BCM7 as a troublemaker. Numerous recent tests, for example, have shown that blood from people with autism and schizophrenia contains higher-than-average amounts of BCM7.

African cows

In a recent study, Richard Deth, a professor of pharmacology at Northeastern University in Boston, and his postdoctoral fellow, Malav Trivedi, showed in cell cultures that the presence of similarly high amounts of BCM7 in gut cells causes a chain reaction that creates a shortage of antioxidants in neural cells, a condition that other research has tied to autism. The study, underwritten in part by A2 Corporation, is now undergoing peer review in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. The results suggest that drinking A2 milk instead of A1 milk could reduce the symptoms of autism, Trivedi says, but, he adds: “There’s a lot more research that needs to be done to support these claims.”

Researchers without ties to A2 Corporation are also lending increasing support to the A1 hypothesis. One peer-reviewed study conducted at the National Dairy Research Institute in India, published in October in the European Journal of Nutrition, found that mice fed A1 beta-casein over-produced enzymes and immune regulators that other studies have linked to heart disease and auto-immune conditions such as eczema and asthma.

The leading explanation for why some people but not others may react poorly to A1 milk implicates leaky gut syndrome – a concept that got its start in alternative medicine circles but has been gaining wider traction in the medical establishment. The idea is that loose connections in the gut, like tears in a coffee filter, allow rogue proteins such as  BCM7 to enter the body and run amok. The body brings in immune cells to fight them off, creating inflammation that manifests as swelling and pain – a telltale symptom of autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, diabetes and autism.

Though many adults may suffer from leaky guts, the condition is normal in babies under a year old, who naturally have semi-permeable intestines. This may pose a problem when they’re fed typical cow-milk formula. In a 2009 study formula-fed infants developed muscle tone and psychomotor skills more slowly than infants that were fed (A2-only) breast milk. Researchers in Russia, Poland, and the Czech Republic have suggested links between BCM7 in cow milk formula and childhood health issues.

Indian cows

A 2011 study implicates BCM7 in sudden infant death syndrome: the blood serum of some infants that experienced a “near-miss SIDS” incident contained more BCM7 than of healthy infants of the same age. Capitalising on those findings, A2 Corp also sells an A2-only infant formula, a2 Platinum.

The mainstream dairy industry in the US may be more interested in the A1/A2 debate than it lets on. For example, US companies that sell bull semen for breeding purposes maintain information on the exact A1/A2 genetics of all of their offerings. And breeders have already developed A2 Holsteins to replace the A1 varieties typically used in confined agricultural feeding operations.

“There is absolutely no problem in moving across to A2 and still having these high-production cows,” says Woodford, the Devil in the Milk author, who in more recent years has worked as a consultant for A2 Corporation.

But the transition to A2 milk would take a bit of money and probably about a decade, Woodford believes.

“The mainstream industry has always seen it as a threat,” he says, “whereas another way of looking at it is, hey, this can actually bring more people to drinking milk.”

For now, the best way to get milk with a higher-than-average A2 content in the US, is to buy it from a dairy that uses A2 cow breeds such as the Jersey, Guernsey, or the Normande. In Northern California, for example, Sonoma County’s Saint Benoit Creamery specifies on its milk labels that it uses “pastured Jersey cows”.

The heirloom A2 breeds tend to be hardy, adapted to the open range and not producing a ton of milk, but what they do produce is comparatively thicker, creamier, and – many say – a lot tastier than what you’ll typically find at the supermarket.

“People taste our milk and they say: ‘Oh my gosh, I haven’t tasted milk like this since I left home and came to America,” says Warren Taylor, the owner of Ohio’s Snowville Creamery, which has been phasing out A1 cows from its herds.

“For the time being, the switch to A2 milk is going to be for the small producers – people like us,” he adds. “It’s just a part of our responsibility.”

• Dr Cuthbert Banga of the Agricultural Research Council in Pretoria told Noseweek that the issue of A1 and A2-type cow’s milk has not been investigated by his institute but after reading this article, agreed that it should. “We have not even discussed it until now,” he said, adding that he was personally aware of children who could not tolerate cow’s milk but could digest goat’s milk – which could be linked to the A1/A2 phenomenon.

Dr Chris van Dyk of the Milk Producers’ Organisation promised to send Noseweek a statement on the subject, but never did.

This article first appeared in the US investigative magazine Mother Jones (


A1 Protein In Milk
Lactose Intolerance
Milk Producers Organisation
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Submitted by : Barry Midgley of DURBAN on 2017-05-30 16:22:21
I wrote to a friend of mine who runs a Holstein herd in the UK. She said the article is old news in the UK and the hype has died down. In addition she said most A2 milk is produced by Holstein anyway.
She recommended that I read the article:

Editor's Note
The owner of a Holstein herd would have to hope "the hype dies down". Old news or not (you and I clearly hadn't heard it), the article offers an explanation for some serious health issues and raises important questions that remain to be answered
Submitted by : Eric Mair on 2017-05-27 12:06:11
Either it's the A1 protein that is the problem or they haven't noticed that Friesland is not a cow?

Editor's Note
Neither are Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney cows. Was that a joke? If so, I missed it ...


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