Thank you to Fussy Eater’s Mum for asking about A2 milk, which has been expertly marketed in Australia as the solution to everything from autism through to digestive discomfort.
First, what is a2 milk? A trademark owned by A2 Dairy Products Australia, a2 milk is a brand of milk sourced from cows that only produce one particular type of protein. As the company explains on its website:
“Most dairy milk today contains 2 main types of beta-casein protein, A2 and A1, while originally all dairy cows produced milk containing only the A2 type of beta-casein protein. a2 Milk™ comes from cows specially selected to produce A2 beta-casein protein rather than A1. Because a2 Milk™ is rich in A2 beta-casein protein, it may assist with your digestive wellbeing.”
Regular milk is about 60 per cent A2 beta-casein protein and 40 per cent A1 beta-casein protein.
Dairy Australia, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, and the European Food Safety Authority reject the claims that milk containing A1 beta-casein protein poses any cause for concern.
Unfortunately, there is also a perception that milk containing only A2 proteins can be tolerated by those with cows milk allergies. Not so, according to a study by AllergySA reported in the Medical Journal of Australia. To be fair, even A2 Dairy Products Australia warns on its site that: “If you have been diagnosed with lactose intolerance by your doctor, a2 Milk™ will not resolve any digestion problems.”
It seems milk containing only A2 beta-casein protein is no silver bullet for those missing out on a refreshing glass of milk due to allergy. If you do suspect an intolerance or allergic reaction to dairy products, I really recommend taking a look at the very informative fact sheets on cows milk allergy by the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) and Dairy Australia.
9 thoughts on “About A2 milk”
Great post Marian – really enjoyed reading it… Thanks!
Thank you for that reply. I did wonder if A2 wasn’t just a good ‘point of difference’ marketing tool.
Also, thank you for the link on lactose intolerance as I know a few people who will want to read that!
Well, A2 is NOT really being expertly marketed as a cure for lots of complaints as you suggest, because it would be illegal to do so. But scientific as well as anecdotal evidence of the link between A1 milk and certain diseases (coronary heart disease, type 1 diabetes, autism, schizophrenia) is becoming very strong.
No one is suggesting that A2 milk “cures” anything – it is NOT a remedy for a condition already acquired. But drinking A2 milk and thus avoiding A1 milk would appear to reduce the risk of acquiring these diseases in the first place among those genetically or physically susceptible to them. And there are lots of anecdotal reports that autistic children who are put on to A2-only milk have much reduced symptoms of the autism spectrum, and also that SOME of those with an apparent lactose allergy are much improved when given only A2 milk.
Originally the claims made for A2 milk were based only on the fact that countries where the milk is predominantly A2 have much lower rates of certain diseases (coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes), and scientists were not sure why. They have gradually been uncovering the reasons, and the evidence is getting very strong. It hinges on the fact that in the human digestive process, A1 milk produces a potentially harmful peptide called BCM7 that is not produced by A2 milk. Originally all cows produced pure A2 milk (as do human mothers), but a genetic mutation several thousand years ago introduced the flawed A1 gene now found in some western breeds of cows. Scientists do not dispute this, but as was the case for many years with the suggested tobacco-cancer link, the producers of standard milk which contains a proportion of A1 protein say there’s no absolute proof yet that BCM7 from A1 milk actually CAUSES diseases, and they’re right.
The Food Standards Authority in NZ is responsible for guaranteeing the safety of NZ dairy exports, so it obviously isn’t going to wreck the NZ dairy industry by warning people that A1 milk is unsafe until this is completely proved. But in 2004 it was sufficiently concerned to commission a scientific study on the issue, and that study did not “reject” that there was any cause for concern, as you affirm. In fact the NZFSA deleted a key part of the report’s findings, but in the end was forced to publish it in full including a “lay summary”
which said the A1-A2 issue is an important one that needs more research. That was seven years ago, since when the NZFSA has not commissioned any more research, but a lot is being done by scientists elsewhere.
A good source on this topic is the blogsite of Professor Keith Woodford of Lincoln University, an adviser to the NZ agriculture sector, who has been following the issue very closely and explaining it in terms that non-scientists can understand, including in a book called “The Devil in Milk”. The latest entry on his site
discusses newly discovered evidence of a link between A1 milk and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. He now says that “for parents of young children in particular, the time has come for them to be made aware of the emerging evidence: BCM7, and hence milk that contains A1 beta-casein, is an evidence-based risk factor for a range of childhood health conditions. SIDS has now moved up that list of conditions. There are options to reduce those risks.”
In my earlier reply I referred to the A1 milk link with type 2 diabetes. This was wrong of course – it should be type 1. I’d appreciatwe if you can change this to avoid confusion.
Thanks for your comments, Nick. Just for the record, what’s your association (if any) with A2 milk?
I have contacted Food Standards Australia New Zealand to get their side of the story but my post was correct in stating that FSANZ is not concerned about milk containing A1 proteins (see the fact sheet at http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/scienceandeducation/factsheets/factsheets2007/a1anda2milk14septemb3706.cfm) and has no interest in the dairy industry. Are you instead referring to the New Zealand Food Safety Authority?
Yes Marian, the NZ Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) is the one that commissioned a study on A2, and part of its role is to guarantee that NZ food exports are safe for use. I referred to it incorrectly as the Food Standards Authority – sorry.
I have no direct association with A2 Corporation or its affiliates, but I have some shares in A2 Corp because I am interested in new biotech companies with good ideas and the science behind A2, although still incomplete, is very convincing.
Thanks for the clarification, Nick.
The strength of the science seems to be in dispute by most health organisations. Diabetes Australia says there’s no connection (they pointed me to this study http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15867940), as do all the food safety authorities who’ve examined the issue.
I contacted the nutrition scientists at Dairy Australia to shed some more light on the science surrounding A2 milk – here is their response.
“Milk, whether regular milk or A2 milk, is an important part of a balanced, healthy diet and provides 10 essential nutrients for people in all stages of life. There is mounting evidence indicating that milk and dairy’s benefits extend beyond good nutrition and may reduce risk of several major chronic diseases.”
“As Nick mentioned, much of the research on A2 milk has been spurred by reports of an association between the consumption of milk containing A1 beta casein and the incidence of some diseases such as type 1 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in several countries. However, scientists around the world, point out that these kinds of studies cannot prove a direct link between the two.
“Despite these suggested associations for A1 beta casein, studies in animals have not demonstrated that A1 beta casein causes diseases such as type 1 diabetes. Even in animals genetically predisposed to the disease. Scientific reviews published by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority and, more recently, the European Food Safety Authority, conclude that “there is no convincing evidence that A1 beta casein is has any adverse effects.””
To date, there is no solid scientific evidence demonstrating that A2 milk is better for you than regular milk. As there is no food safety issue with either type of milk people are encouraged to keep drinking either A1 or A2 milk as a nutritious food.
As a matter of fact the scientific evidence is very strong and is mounting. It’s just that the food safety authorities, who understandably act very cautiously in these matters, are not yet willing to say that the evidence is “proof”. They don’t want to scare people off drinking milk, which certainly is a nutritious and important food, and not everyone who drinks A1 (which is present in almost all the milk you buy in the shops) is going to suffer harmful effects. But remember that although there was strong evidence for decades that smoking could cause cancer in some people, it took a long time for authorities to accept this evidence as “proof”.
According to A2 Corporation’s latest halfyear report, a paper is to be published shortly in a leading international scientific journal providing insights into the biochemical mechanisms underpinning a range of digestive benefits to consumers of A2 milk and corroborating the findings from other studies. Such research papers appear fairly frequently but you don’t read about them in the mainstream media, or on food safety websites. and you don’t see them being disputed by the dairy industry.