Last month, this column focused on the nutritional aspects of dairy foods and non-dairy alternatives. If you missed that article, you can find it on Cooperative Extension’s website at https://rutherford.ces.ncsu.edu. As mentioned, there are options available in the market for people who find it difficult to digest milk. In addition to non-dairy alternatives, there is now a dairy option available.
You may have noticed this new milk in the grocery store or seen television ads for A2 milk. This is not one of the non-dairy alternatives to milk, like almond or soy, but rather it is an alternative type of cow’s milk.
A2 milk comes from cows with a natural genetic variation that gives their milk a slightly different protein ratio than conventional milk. All milk contains proteins, including whey and casein, and about 80% of the proteins in cow’s milk are caseins. The particular protein, beta casein, has two forms: A1 beta casein and A2 beta casein. Regular cow’s milk has a close 50/50 distribution of A1 and A2, depending on the breed of cow. However, A2 milk is produced from a cow whose gene mutation has resulted in only producing A2 beta casein.
Cow breeds that have predominantly A2 in their milk include Guernsey, Jersey, Charolais, and Limousin breeds. Other animals, such as sheep, goats, buffalo, camels, donkeys, and yaks, also produce milk that mostly contains A2 beta casein. Holstein, Friesian, Ayrshire, and British Shorthorn cows produce milk with roughly equal amounts of A1 and A2 beta casein.
The health claim is that A2 milk is “easier on digestion.” Suppliers of A2 milk products state that people who experience discomfort when drinking conventional cow’s milk may be able to drink A2 milk “without the downsides.” A2 milk supporters recommend it for those who think they are lactose intolerant. They believe that for some people, it may not be the lactose in the milk that is giving them gastrointestinal distress, but rather the protein A1 beta casein found in regular and lactose-free milk.
Whether or not digestive discomfort stems from protein intolerance rather than lactose intolerance is up for debate. There is very little scientific data to support the claim that A1 beta casein is the cause of gastrointestinal distress. The few studies that compare the effects of A1 and A2 are limited and mostly done on rats rather than humans. More large-scale human studies are needed to support this protein intolerance theory. Though the existing scientific evidence is inconclusive, research investigating the effects and potential benefits of A2 milk is ongoing.
With that said, A2 milk could be worth a try if you struggle to digest regular milk. The look, taste, and nutrition of A2 milk are the same as regular milk, so if you experience discomfort with regular and lactose-free milk, it won’t hurt to try A2 milk. It just isn’t necessary for the mainstream population.
Health debate aside, “designer milks” like A2 milk could be the beginning of something big for the dairy industry. These new products could be a source of renewed growth and differentiation. Through advanced breeding techniques and other new technologies, farmers could produce milks with express characteristics, such as fewer allergens and specific nutrient profiles. We are already seeing this trend with the rise of milk from grass-fed cows.