December 19, 2011

A2 milk

Most of us have heard of it or seen it in the fridge in the supermarket, but what actually is A2 milk and who is it suitable for? I asked guest blogger Shae Rickards to do some research for me and come back with the answers. Here they are!


Shae Rickards

Shae Rickards has successfully completed a Bachelor of Food Science and Nutrition and will undertake the Masters of Dietetics at Deakin University in 2012. She is interested in nutrition and its association with the prevention of diseases and general wellbeing. With the ever increasing incidence of obesity rates amongst Australians, Shae is passionate about empowering others to make healthy life choices.

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Most of us agree that milk is good for us – right? After all, it’s a well known fact that cow’s milk is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, particularly calcium, and many nutrition professionals recommend that milk is consumed daily, as part of a balanced diet.

But lately, some have started to question which milk is best for optimising health and well being, following the release of findings from scientific studies about the effect of different milk proteins on human health. The focus of some recent scientific debate has been on the milk protein called beta-casein, which is described below.



What is milk made up from?

Cow's milk is made up of water, the milk sugar called lactose, milk fat, milk protein and various vitamins and minerals. In fact, milk is one of the richest sources of the mineral calcium, which we all know is needed for healthy bones, teeth and muscle function.

Cow’s milk has 2 main types of protein. The first is casein, which makes up around 80% of all the protein in milk and the rest is whey protein. Most people involved in the health and fitness industry know a lot about whey protein, but casein protein remains a mystery to many. Casein protein can be broken down further into 4 groups, but the one of interest in the current debate is beta-casein. Beta-casein makes up about 30% of the total protein in cow’s milk, or around ½ a teaspoon per glass. Beta-casein itself is further broken down into two main forms: A1 and A2 beta-casein.


What’s the difference between regular milk and A2 Milk?

The main difference between regular milk and A2 Milk is that A2 Milk contains A2 beta-casein rather than A1 beta-casein. It’s an important difference because these 2 types of beta-casein are digested differently. The A1 beta-casein type can produce a morphine-like compound called beta-casomorphin-7 (BCM-7) during digestion, whereas A2 beta-casein does not seem to produce BCM-7 on digestion. Some scientific evidence has linked the A1 beta-casein protein and its digestion product, BCM-7, with an increased risk of type 1 diabetes in children, heart disease in older men and aggravating symptoms in some neurological conditions like autism. So, it would seem that one of the benefits of A2 Milk is avoiding A1 beta-casein and so limiting exposure to BCM-7.


How did A2 Milk come about?

A2 beta-casein is the original form of the beta-casein protein found in milk. Around 5 to 10 thousand years ago, a mutation in the A2 genes caused the appearance of the A1 type in some European cows. Eventually, A1 beta-casein distribution spread and many cows with the genes to produce A1 beta-casein were bred for milk production. Today, some dairy farmers in Australia, New Zealand and in the UK want to produce milk with the original A2 beta-casein protein, and so are choosing and breeding cows with genes to produce A2 beta-casein.

How is A2 Milk produced?

A2 cows are specially selected to produce A2 Milk because they have the specific genes in their DNA to allow them to produce milk containing only the A2 variant of beta-casein. Farmers can identify cows that produce the A2 type of beta-casein by a simple and non-invasive DNA test which analyses hair from each cow. These cows are then milked separately to manufacture A2 Milk.



Is it healthier to drink A2 Milk?

All dairy milk is good for nutrition and health and so the National Health and Medical Research Council recommend that milk be consumed daily as part of a well balanced diet. Drinking A2 Milk offers the benefit of avoiding the A1 beta-casein and this could be important for some people. This could be because some scientific studies published in science journals show associations between A1 beta-casein and the development or aggravation of certain medical conditions such as type 1 diabetes and coronary heart disease. Another reason could be that the European Food Safety Authority in 2009 published a report on beta-casomorphins (which includes BCM-7) and health, which suggested BCM-7 can have negative effects in the body. More recently, 2 other studies (a, b) have found cow's BCM-7 in the blood of both breast and formula fed babies, suggesting that BCM-7 can be transferred to an infant by a mother.



Should I be drinking A2 Milk or who is this milk suitable for?

A2 Milk can be consumed by almost everybody apart from those with cow’s milk protein allergy or lactose intolerance. A2 Milk contains just as much lactose as a regular glass of milk. But, for people who have an intolerance to milk unrelated to lactose intolerance and those prone to certain medical conditions, there may be some benefit from A2 Milk. A2 milk also contains just as much calcium as A1 milk.

In conclusion, most milk brands sold in supermarkets contain a combination of the A1 and A2 type beta-casein proteins, whereas A2 Milk contains only the A2 type. A2 Milk is available in all major Australian supermarkets. Drinking A2 Milk can help avoid possible reactions allied with BCM-7. Research demonstrates that there may be benefits for heart, immune and digestive health associated with reducing consumption of A1 beta-casein.

Further reading

Editor's note:

Thanks Shae. What an interesting topic, and one that I'm sure we will continue to see more and more research on. I also came across this Jalna A2 yoghurt in Coles so good to see more and more A2 products out there for people that prefer them. 

One factor that might be an important differentiator for some is the cost. According to Coles online, 2L reduced fat milk costs $2 whereas the equivalent A2 milk costs $4.99. Ouch!

I want to reassure everyone that although A2 milk may be associated with some health benefits, we still need more concrete evidence. And even if A2 milk is linked with a reduced risk of heart disease, we know today that certain lifestyle changes (such as eating good fats and being physically active) can have a significant impact on our health and reduce our risk of chronic disease.

The important message is that regardless of A1 or A2, drinking milk is good for you! 3 glasses gives most adults the calcium they need each day.



9 comments:

  1. I suffered IBS for years until I started drinking A2. I can tolerate it without any issues. Thank you for a great, informative post!

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  2. Thanks Lizzy! Great to hear a real life example of A2 milk helping with symptoms!

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  3. Hi Jemma, Did write an earlier post, not sure if it went thro.
    My son has various mental and physical disabilities, and high Autism Spectrum disorder. He was showing fairly severe behaviour difficulties, with 4 hour tantrums, head banging and self harm. we resorted to medication try to calm him down, but that didn't really work either. It was suggested that due to the large amount of milk he drinks, it might help to swap to A2, 12 months later, there are NO tantrums, I have been able to reduce his medication by 50%. There are no other variables, interesting??
    Mary Ann

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  4. Hi Mary Ann,

    Wow, thanks so much for sharing! What an amazing achievement for you and your son.

    Jem x

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  5. Hi Jem

    If I have removed milk from my diet entirely, what are alternatives to ensure I fulfill all my calcium requirements?

    There is no such product as A2 in Denmark.

    Angela :)

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  6. Hey Ange,

    If you've removed milk from your diet entirely I would be looking at other calcium rich options such as yoghurt (200g) or cheese (2 slices), 3 x daily to get your calcium requirements.

    Is it dairy or milk that you are unable to have? Soy, rice and almond milks are also an option however make sure you choose the ones that state they are "fortified with calcium" as without the added calcium they will contain very low levels on their own.

    Green leafy vegetables and nuts like almonds also contain calcium, however I would not be relying on these foods to meet your calcium requirements as it's harder for our bodies to get enough calcium from eating these foods only.

    Another option would be to speak to a dietitian over in Denmark to find out the best options for you.

    Hope that helps!

    Jem x

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  7. Hi Guys,

    Great article, very well researched. Plenty of studies have been carried out on the effects of A1 and A2 milks.One of which was by Dr Jeremy Hill who performed a series of intensive tests on lab mice, determining the effects of those fed on A1 milk and those on A2 milk. The results where quite startling as his work showed that nearly 50% of the mice fed A1 developed diabetes, whilst the mice who where fed A2 showed no signs of the disease.

    If only A2 milk wasn't so expensive in comparison to other alternatives!

    Emma

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  8. What is the difference between normal Cows Milk and A2 Milk ?

    Most cows’ milk contains different types of protein, of which one group is known as caseins. The main types of the beta-casein fraction are A2 and A1. All natural a2 Milk comes from British dairy cows that produce milk containing only the A2 protein.

    A1 Protein digests differently to A2 protein and has been linked to discomfort after drinking milk. Some people may, in fact, be reacting to this specific A1 protein, rather than lactose or other general milk proteins, as is often assumed.

    Cows’ milk contains different types of protein, one group of which are caseins – the main types of the beta-casein fraction are A2 and A1.

    A2 Milk is not suitable for anyone medically diagnosed with galactosaemia, lactose intolerance, a milk allergy or other milk protein intolerance.

    I have now tried A2 milk for a couple of weeks. Both myself and my family agree that it tastes very creamy and really you cant tell the difference between this and normal cows milk.

    Even though I do think that A2 Milk is good on the digestive system, with the present climate is it really worth paying 1.99 Gbp for this milk when you can go and buy other items which are probably more importantly needed in the family. Even though I do feel this is a good product I do feel that the price does let it down a little.

    Also since this trial has started, I have found that there is less and less A2 Milk available in store, I can put this down to two reasons really.

    1. There is a lot of BZZ Agents in St Helens
    2. The Tesco promotion is working by offering people 2 Bottles for 3.00 Gbp instead of 4.00 Gbp

    I have now tried A2 Milk in my tea/coffee and to be honest, it dosen’t taste any different, however, I did notice a difference when eating on cereal.

    Although I have noticed that my stomach/digestive problems have improved slightly, I think, for the amount of milk I drink, it would cost me too much money which I would rather spend on the kids, so for that reason I would not change to A2 milk.

    It is a shame because I have really enjoyed trying this milk and if the price was to be changed to a reasonable figure then sure I would start to buy A2 Milk again

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  9. I've just purchased the a2 follow on formula for my one year old - she's had hard stools and constipation since I weaned her off breast milk at 8 months. I'm not sure if this will help but I will try it and see if it helps. I will keep you posted as there aren't many reviews or comments on the infant formula

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