a2 Milk™ is a type of milk developed by the a2 Milk Company from Australia. The company claims that their a2 Milk™ product contains only the A2 type beta-casein protein. This is in stark contrast to most other types of milk on the market that contain A1 type beta-casein proteins or a combination of both A1 and A2 proteins. The company, a2 Milk Company, commercialized a genetic test that determines whether a cow will produce A1 or A2 milk or a combination of both. Only farms with purely A2 milk producing cows are allowed to supply for the company.
How is it different? (Science stuff ahead)
Why does any of this matter? Well, the a2 Milk Company alleges that theirs is a healthier kind of milk. Let us explain. A1 and A2 beta-casein are genetic variants of the beta-casein protein found in cow’s milk. These two variants, named A1 and A2 because of the order in which they were discovered by researchers, differ only in one amino acid. The amino acid in position 67 in particular, in A1 beta-casein this amino acid is histidine, while it is proline that occupies this position in A2 beta-casein.
The variation in the amino acid on position 67 of the beta-casein protein is of particular importance because of how the protein cleaves relative to the amino acid present. In the A1 variation, digestive enzymes cleave to the histidine and produce a smaller 7-amino acid peptide called BCM-7 (beta-casomorphin-7). BCM-7 is a known opioid (i.e. chemicals, such as morphine, that resemble opiates in its pharmacological effects), and although most opioid peptides have a limited physiological function, proponents of the A2 variation argue that opioids can still function the way opiates do in the body. The a2 protein variation does not break down into BCM-7 when digested.
Is it available in the U.S.?
In the U.S. a2 Milk™ will soon be available in California as the a2 Milk Company plans to test the waters in the state before expanding to other U.S. territories.
Research based evidence is scanty but some researchers, like Dr. Keith Woodford, author of “The Devil in the Milk”, believe that A1 milk has been strongly linked to neurological impairments and other types of disease. In his book Dr. Woodford describes how A1 milk can possibly cause autism and schizophrenic tendencies in animals and humans that are exposed to it. This type of milk has also been linked to type 1 diabetes, heart disease and auto immune disease. A2 milk has been marketed as a better type of milk because it allows consumers to steer clear of these diseases. It also helps that quite a lot of people have reported improved digestive function and absence of discomfort ever since they switched to A2 milk.
What is the verdict on lactose intolerance though, if there is any?
According to the a2 Milk Company website, A2 milk contains the same amount of lactose as regular milk. The variation in A1 and A2 milk occurs in the proteins in the milk, not the carbohydrates (which lactose is) so you can’t expect a difference in that area. However, a study from Curtin University seems to show evidence that A2 milk is indeed healthier than A1 milk, at least in some ways. The first human study to ever be conducted regarding the subject showed that the participants, who had no known intolerance to cow’s milk, felt increased abdominal pain and observed softer stools when they drank A1 milk as compared to when they drank A2 milk. In the spirit of transparency, the study mentioned was commissioned by the a2 Milk Company.
There isn’t much information available regarding A2 milk and lactose intolerance and even the research mentioned above only noted abdominal pain and not exactly intolerance to milk. However, statistics show that only 5% of the population is medically diagnosed to have lactose intolerance and A2 advocates would argue that the discomfort you feel after you drink milk is more about your reaction to A1 milk than it is about your intolerance to lactose.
As a solution to lactose intolerance, there isn’t enough evidence to formulate opinion about the matter. What you can do is have yourself diagnosed if you really are lactose intolerant. If the results come out and you aren’t lactose intolerant but you still feel discomfort when you drink milk, maybe it’s time to consider switching to A2 milk.