Does it actually do a body good? By: Julie R. Thomson
If you already thought the milk aisle was confusing with all the options between regular, organic and plant-based milks, get ready because it’s about to get a little more perplexing with a product called A2 milk.
This milk has been on the market in Australia and New Zealand for a number of years already, and it’s just recently entered U.S. markets.
What on earth is A2 milk?
A2 milk is cow’s milk that only contains the A2 beta-casein protein.
You see, most cow’s milk that we drink contains a mix of two types of beta-casein proteins: A1 and A2 (the two types differ by just one amino acid). But A2 milk is produced from cows that naturally only contain the A2 protein. Western cattle is more likely to contain a mix of the two proteins ― approximately 60 percent of its beta casein is A2, and 40 percent is A1. Asian and African dairy herds are more likely to produce milk that only contains A2.
It’s believed that A2 was the original variety of protein found in cow’s milk, and that the A1 mutation came about around 8,000 years ago when cows started being bred for higher milk output (and possibly their cute black and white markings).
The difference between the two is small, but notable: A1 has the amino acid histidine at position 67 in the protein chain, while A2 has the amino acid proline there instead. This small variation is apparently enough to make A2 a product folks are seeking out, because it’s thought that the body reacts to the two proteins differently.
Why do some people believe A2 milk is better?
Some studies indicate that A2 milk is easier to digest for people who typically experience discomfort with traditional milk. That’s why it’s being marketed as a solution for those people.
Don’t get too excited. This will not be true for people with milk protein sensitivities, because protein is still present in the milk. Nor will it be true for those who are lactose intolerant. But it could be true for those who experience general discomfort after consuming dairy.
You see, in order for food and drink to be absorbed by the body, they have to be broken down by digestive proteins. When it comes to the A1 protein, the body’s enzymes break it at the histidine, which then creates a protein fragment called beta-casomorphin-7 (BCM-7). It’s this fragment that’s been blamed for dairy discomfort. And with A2 milk, there’s no BCM-7 because the histidine amino acid is not present.
But those aren’t the only health claims being attributed to A2 milk. And this is where it starts to get murky. Some proponents of A2 milk claim that the BCM-7 that results after consuming the A1 protein can cause Type 1 diabetes in susceptible individuals. Some even make claim that it can lead to schizophrenia and autism. But neither of those claims are proven.
Many more studies need to be done.
Not nearly enough independent studies have been done to back up the health claims of A2 milk. The A2 Milk Company claims that it is a viable option for those of traditional milk sensitivities, and has focused its marketing strategy on this point. (They cite a European Safety Authority paper to back up their claim.)
There has been push back from dairy community, which feels that A2 is just another marketing ploy. Only time will tell if this milk product will gain support from those with dairy sensitivities, and how this product will affect our current dairy market.