Ever heard of an A1 or A2 cow? I doubt it. That’s OK, neither had I until about a year ago. I stumbled upon a couple of blogs from the Paleo community which alluded to milk being either healthy or not depending if the milk came from what was referred to as an A1 or A2 cow. More recently I’ve been reading a lot of work from agricultural scientist Keith Woodford from New Zealand, author of the book “Devil in the milk”.
First pasteurized versus raw and now A1 versus A2?
Backing up a bit, cow’s milk is made up of fat, protein, carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals and water. The protein is primarily made up of two proteins: casein (about 80%) and whey (20%). There are different types of casein proteins, and within one type is a particular form called beta-casein. Where once there was only one type, A2, there are now two variations, A1 and A2.
You see, once upon a time, all cow’s milk was A2 but a mutation occurred a couple of hundred of years ago in some of the breeds where, for the molecular genetic nerds out there, histidine was substituted for proline at position number 67 in a 209 amino acid protein. So what you might say? Turns out, when this new A1 protein is metabolized by the body, it releases a protein called beta-caso-morphin-7 or BCM-7, what Woodford refers to as the ‘devil’ in the milk.
BCM-7 has a lot of negative effects on the body. It is an opioid and has morphine-like properties and if it passes through the gut into the blood it can cause all sorts of problems. The body recognizes it as a foreign protein, not unlike invading bacteria or viruses, and launches an attack by the immune system.
Is A1 the missing link in Type 1 diabetes?
What’s interesting is that the islet cells of the pancreas, which are responsible for producing insulin, have a protein make-up similar to BCM-7, which may be the missing link in the development of Type 1 diabetes, a well-understood auto-immune disease – the body’s immune system attacks the islet cells leading to their destruction.
Milk has long been implicated in the development of Type 1 diabetes but not surprisingly the results have been contradictory. In countries where the population only drinks A2 milk, like in Kenya, there are significantly lower rates. Even within the same genetic pool, like Samoan children, there were huge discrepancies in the rates of Type 1 diabetes between those living in New Zealand drinking lots of A1 milk (BCM-7 producing milk) to those children living in Samoa (not drinking A1 milk) – remember that Type 1 diabetes typically develops within the first few years of life so many other confounding variables for diabetes development are minimized.
The ‘type’ of milk, A1 or A2 cow, may turn out to be the explanation for the conflicting research results in the etiology, or development, of Type 1 diabetes.
Countries that have high levels of A1 beta-casein intake also have higher rates of cancers and heart disease, perhaps explaining another discrepancy in research literature. Of note, heart disease is now being seen as an auto-immune disease as well caused by inflammation of the arteries as a result of oxidized LDL cholesterol which the body sees as a foreign invader which the white blood cells in turn attack.
How can you avoid A1 beta-casein and BCM-7?
The dairy breeds used in North America and Europe are about a 50-50 mix depending on whether they produce A1 beta-casein or A2 beta-casein. The consumer cannot tell the difference. This is very different in New Zealand, the leaders on this issue, where A2 exclusive milk can be found and labelled as such in the supermarket.
This should be of concern for the consumer as there’s a growing body of reseaercg with robust evidence to suggest that it’s the A1 type of milk that increases the risk for Type 1 diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
For those who might want to avoid A1 milk as much as possible or drink milk that they can be sure is A2, choose goat or sheep milk. Dairy products such as yogurt, cottage cheese and most commercial cheeses will be made from cow’s milk so those products will contain a mix of A1 and A2. Choosing goat or sheep’s yogurt and cheese will avoid this problem. Most supermarkets carry goat’s milk and goat’s milk cheese, goat yogurt and sheep milk and yogurt tend to be found at specialty shops, at least that’s been my experience.
Who may benefit from avoiding commercial dairy products and cow’s milk?
For those with autoimmune diseases like arthritis, lupus, gluten sensitivity, Celiac, Crohn’s and colitis, eczema, psoriasis and acne, switching to sheep or goat’s milk might be prudent. Research has also shown a benefit for those with autism as well, especially when coupled with a gluten avoidance as those with autism often have digestive issues including a leaky gut.