Why a2 milk gives me nightmares

Ever heard of A2 milk? Those of you in the allergy and dairy intolerant community may well have come across it. It is a new type of milk created in New Zealand where the A1 milk protein has been bred out of the milk to make it safer for some people to drink and easier to digest.

That’s the general gist. There is a whole lot of science behind this milk; why, how and what it is. I’m still slightly baffled but then that’s nothing new hey? Visit the a2 milk website to find out more.

I have been approached by a2 milk to blog about the product and interview their scientists but since I have a dairy allergy which causes me anaphylaxis this product isn’t suitable for me. I would rather only feature products on here that will help you guys and this a2 milk is probably not one of them.

Here is a picture from an invitation to their latest PR event where someone famous would be there and some scientists to explain the science behind this amazing new innovative milk.

Who doesn't love a topless hunk but really? This product is for people with health issues

Who doesn’t love a topless hunk but really? This product is for people with health issues. Who are they aiming at?

So why am I blogging about this milk?

I think it’s the confusing messaging that worries me.

What if someone who hasn’t yet managed to get allergy tests done and suspects they have a dairy allergy tries this milk?

If I’m slightly nonplussed I’m sure others who have not yet delved into the world of dairy allergy and the milk ladder will also find it somewhat bemusing.

This is what some of their blurb says:

a2 Milk™ is a cows’ milk for people with an intolerance to a protein called A1 beta casein, which is in regular cows’ milk. a2 Milk™ doesn’t contain A1 beta casein. Some people believe themselves to be lactose intolerant when it’s actually A1 beta casein that they are reacting to. Scroll down to see our flowchart which is designed to help you distinguish between the conditions.

OK so where do I start…

  1. a2 milk is cows milk for people with an intolerance to a protein… – First of all, it was always my understanding that an allergic reaction occurred when the body identified protein in a food as a danger and that an intolerance was when sugars in a certain food couldn’t be digested properly. So is this milk suitable for those with a lactose intolerance if it’s just the protein that’s been removed and not the sugars? If you have a lactose intolerance you lack the enzyme lactase which is needed to digest lactose. How on earth does anyone know which bit of the milk they react to? Do a2 offer a test? Do the people who buy this milk get tested before buying it? If you’re crazy enough to experiment be very careful. I wouldn’t recommend it.
  2. What is A1 beta casein? – apparently it’s a new mutated type of protein in cow’s milk which some people may or may not be reacting to. Sounds too vague for me and just such a confusing concept. People may be reacting to any of the many proteins in cow’s milk, of which are are more than juts 2. Whilst A1 may be the most common one to cause an allergy it’s not the only one.
  3. People who ‘believe’ themselves to lactose intolerant – Believe themselves to be? Lots of people really are, the don’t just believe they are. Then there are loads more people who have not done an elimination diet to ascertain whether they are truly intolerant. Perhaps they ‘believe’ themselves to be intolerant? The wording just gets me a little on edge. But we’ll move on. If this products is marketed to lactose intolerant people it would have little or no beneficial effect and would possibly make them ill in the trying. Is this wise? If however you suspect lactose intolerance but in fact have a problem with the a1 protein then you’ll be fine! How would you you know without trying it?
  4. What is in the milk? – it’s still just milk with one type of protein removed.

The only real way to diagnose a lactose intolerance is to do an elimination diet. Speak to your doctor to find out how to go about this, there is a science behind what to cut out, how to do it and which kinds of dairy to reintroduce and in which order.

I cannot fathom what the benefits of this milk are.

It’s not suitable for those with a cow’s milk allergy
It’s probably not suitable for people who are lactose intolerant as it still contains lactose

But if you just ‘believe’ you’re lactose intolerant then this might be for you? I’d still be wary.

But seriously fit hunky men pour it down themselves and Dannii Minogue loves it so who am I argue?

Be warned though, this is just milk. It contains milk protein and lactose so could very well make those with a milk allergy and lactose intolerance ill. Treat it like you would any other milk and stick to the completely safe and not baffling rice, oat, coconut, hemp, flax and other plant milks.

If you can drink normal milk then you might love it. You might feel much healthier and have less tummy trouble. Who knows. It costs about £1 in Waitrose if you fancy a punt.

I’m not the only one who is concerned. Here are some blogs from others:

For more on the science behind why it may or may not work, read a2 milk, what’s all the fuss about?
Dairy free Baby and me blogged about this, “Is A2 milk suitable for someone with a milk allergy or milk intolerance?”

On the plus side – people who find a2 milk beneficial

There are those who are strong advocates of a2 milk, including a blogger friend who is drinking it for 4 weeks to see if it eases her IBS symptoms. Read “My 4 week a2 challenge” here and you’ll hear how quickly Nathalie’s irritable bowel improved in just one week of substituting normal dairy milk for a2 milk.

Drink a2 milk to ease irritable bowels?

Would slightly more helpful marketing for this product be to talk about digestion, irritable bowel etc. rather than allergies and intolerance? This does make sense to me and it’s clear it is already helping some people who drink it. It’s just the fear of allergic reactions that worries me if mistakes are made with this product. The makers of a2 milk make it clear it’s not suitable for anyone with a cow’s milk protein allergy but is the branding clear enough? I’m being picky here but is an intolerance caused by sugars or protein or both?

Do you drink it? Does it work for you? I’d love to hear from anyone who has tried it. Have you had an allergic reaction to it?

So why does a2 milk give me nightmares? Because one day someone may unwittingly serve this to a person with a dairy allergy and it might just be me. It might be you. It might be your mum, or nan, or friend who sees the marketing and thinks, hey my friend is lactose intolerant, she can drink this.

It looks just like any other milk… so please be careful and err on the side of extreme caution if you’re thinking of trying it.

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About Ruth

Ruth works freelance as a copywriter and writes the What Allergy blog to share information with people who have allergies, eczema, asthma and food intolerances. http://www.whatallergy.com was voted in the top 5 allergy blogs and Ruth also judges regularly for the FreeFrom Food Awards and FreeFrom Skincare Awards. She also won the Foods You Can People's choice Best FreeFrom blogger award 2014.

Comments

  1. Hmm….in your description it did say the a1 casein protein was removed. I am very wary though – would love to know others’ experiences before I would even try. At the same time, I have been off of dairy for so long that i don’t like the taste of it anymore anyway (I don’t get as severe reactions as you do so have, in the past, cheated -*do as I say and not as I do*)….except good cheese. I miss that.

    • Hi Bewildered Bug, check out the Intolerant Ghourmand’s experience above (since writing this original blog I have found her blog about her trial using a2 milk and how much it eased her IBS. She has found it helps her in just one week but I suppose cutting out dairy has had the same effect for you. I guess you’d have to try it to see but not if you get anaphylactic or severe allergic reactions. And I agree, milk tastes rancid to me, always had but I think that’s my body alerting me to something it wants nothing to do with. Let me know if you do try it.

  2. And a response from a2 milk: Thank you for getting in touch, we really appreciate you taking the time to learn more about a2 Milk™.

    You’re absolutely right, a2 Milk™ would not be an option for you or anyone else with a cows’ milk protein allergy. We do try and make that message as clear as we possibly can and we write it at the bottom of all our marketing correspondence.

    The milk sugars have not been removed, it has the same amount of lactose in it that any regular cows’ milk would have. We therefore also always specify that a2 Milk™ is not suitable for people with a lactose intolerance.

    It’s not just sugars that people can have an intolerance to, proteins can also be the cause of a food intolerance. Indeed gluten is a protein and one of the highest reported food intolerances. We had an independent expert write us a guest blog on the difference between an allergy and an intolerance – you may find it useful? http://a2milk.co.uk/the-difference-between-a-food-allergy-and-intolerance/

    So here’s why some people have a problem with the A1 protein. The A1 protein in regular cows’ milk releases beta-casomorphin 7 (BCM7) when it’s digested, (the A2 protein does not). It’s the BCM7 that’s released that causes the inflammation in the gut as it binds to the gut cells making it difficult to digest (actually in a very similar way to gluten). Some people can break down the BCM7 without any problems, other people can’t – and the ones that can’t are the ones that will benefit from a2 Milk™.

    Unfortunately, there is no formal test for A1 protein intolerance yet (research teams are looking into this). However, no diagnostic test (even for lactose intolerance) is completely accurate. To be sure of what is causing intolerance symptoms, it requires careful elimination, food challenge and monitoring your symptoms and we always recommend to seek medical support if people are unsure.

  3. Ruth has kindly posted into the comments our a2 Milk™response to the blog post. But it is quite a complicated subject so if anyone has any questions, concerns or just wants a chat about a2 Milk™, we’re here and we want to help. Just email me on sarah.shakespeare@a2milk.co.uk

  4. I’ve been approached by A2 which made me very annoyed since I have milk allergy and believe the milk industry is full of cruelty. The fact that they don’t research who they contact is just laziness. Aside from this personal issue, I really don’t see the point of this milk and their marketing smells of bullshit!

    • Thanks for the comment Sarah. As CarlyB commented on Twitter, it’s more about raising awareness of their product on a blog that may have some people following it who might be interested. Most of my followers probably would be allergic to dairy though and it they’re not they are unlikely to limit their diet to another special diet food if they don’t need to. I do still find a little confusing. It does however seem to help some people with IBS and problems digesting milk. I’m still confused also about the different between protein and sugar and allergy and intolerance. Can you be intolerant to the protein in milk? or would this be a very mild allergy? or actually just IBS? Who knows. I understand raw milk and I get lactose free milk but I’ll stick with my rice, oat, hemp, flax, coconut combo thanks.

  5. Hi Ruth,

    As Sarah Shakespeare said many thanks for taking the time to post this blog. Allergy and intolerance is a complicated subject, made more difficult by the fact that diagnosis is not a 100% objective science, particularly for intolerance and requires the support of professional.

    This our company and my personal aim at a2 milk to provide that education to healthcare professionals so that they can better support their patients who may struggle with dairy.

    You are correct in that one can be intolerant to the protein found in milk (termed a non-IgE mediated allergic reaction), as well as other components of the milk (whey or lactose).

    We believe this can be further categorised into A1 protein (casein) intolerance, as Sarah mentioned. mediated by the release of bovine casomorphin-7 (BCM-7) from the breakdown of A1 containing cows milk. There is huge amounts that can be read on BCMs, I’d point you to this link on our website that summarises its effects: http://a2milk.co.uk/about-a2-milk/

    Indeed, you are also correct that there may also be crossover with other functional bowel disorders (such as IBS, IBD, coeliac disease, crohns disease) or in the case of some individuals their symptoms are not gastrointestinal in origin at all! and it could be dermatological, respiratory or behavioural. However, it does start with digestion and we are currently undertaking enormous research projects at various higher education institutions in Australia, UK and China to help solidify the effects of BCM-7 on various aspects of gastrointestinal health.

    As a final note, intolerances can be non-specific and multiple, therefore you can be intolerant to the protein found in plant based foods. Simply switching to plant alternatives such as: soya, hemp, flax, coconut, rice etc. does not always clear up symptoms. From my perspective as a dietitian, since cow’s milk is such a nutritious food for those that may be able to keep it in their diet it’s a worthwhile swap to a2 for those that are appropriate.

    I would disagree with the blanket comment that the dairy industry is ‘cruel’ and that is a reason to not drink a2 milk. We have some of the highest standards of support and care for our farmers and the cows they look after. The ethical standpoint of consuming animal products is a completely separate issue to that of whether they are necessary for human health and the two issues shouldn’t be mixed.

    • RE:cruelty – I merely explained my personal viewpoint of why I felt pissed at A2 contacting me looking for free promotion of their product!

    • Thanks for the reply. I will study this in more detail. I do want to understand the science behind this product. But I still think the words intolerance and allergy are getting confused here. You are either allergic or intolerant. Allergies can be tested for, intolerances are harder to pinpoint. Proteins cause allergic reactions and sugars e.g. lactose causes intolerant reactions. The words are interchangeable in your marketing and explanations. YOu say you can be intolerant to a protein – shouldn’t that be ‘allergic to a protein?’ still confused.

      So many with a food intolerance say they have an allergy and this just gets so confusing… with an intolerance people can often eat small quantities.

  6. Wow! A2 have certainly made sure they’re represented on here! To be clear ‘Rick’ is their dietitian – however, sports and nutrition are his specialism NOT allergies/intolerance. Please be aware that the term ‘milk intolerance,’ in terms of a specific condition (as A2 uses it, time and again), is now outdated. ‘Milk Intolerance’ merely an overarching term pertaining to all conditions which cause a reaction to milk. What used to be referred to as ‘milk intolerance’ is now more correctly referred to as Non-Ige mediated milk allergy. A2 milk is not suitable for any form of milk allergy. Just try Googling ‘Milk Intolerance’ (on recognised medical websites such as NHS Choices or on Patient.co.uk – which my GP friend uses as an information base to pass on to patients when explaining medical conditions) and you will see that there are three conditions which are recognised in relation to milk: Lactose Intolerance, Non-Ige Mediated Milk Allergy and Ige Mediated Milk Allergy.

    Furthermore, ‘Sense About Science’s’ recent document on Allergy has the full backing and was written with the full co-operation of top allergy professionals in the UK and on p. 22 completely discredits any claims of A2’s claims about A1 proteins, to quote:
    “Except that the best scientific
    evidence suggests that A1 protein
    intolerance does not exist. The position of
    the Dietitians Association of Australia is
    that “there is no solid scientific evidence
    demonstrating that a2 milk is better for
    you than regular milk.39” This company is
    marketing a product for a condition that
    the best scientific evidence suggests does not exist.”

    Follow this link for the complete document (free to view online) http://www.senseaboutscience.org/data/files/resources/189/Making-Sense-of-Allergies.pdf

  7. dairyfreebabyandme,

    Thank you for your comment.

    To be very clear on my background, aside from working in the NHS and private practice as a dietitian for nearly 6 years, I have a number of years of lecturing in Nutrition and Dietetics at undergraduate and postgraduate level; food hypersensitivity is part of the syllabus of both of these groups. Whilst sports nutrition is my specialism, food hypersensitivity features amongst this group too (exercise induced anaphylaxis just one example) and amongst my current caseload of patients. I am not a direct specialist in food hypersensitivity but I am qualified to comment on this topic.

    You correctly identify that milk intolerance is an outdated term, but haven’t described accurately what non-IgE mediated food allergy is?

    From what I can see Ruth was asking for clarification of.

    Non-IgE mediated food allergy is occasionally (possibly wrongly) termed food intolerance, when the more up to date term is food hypersensitivity. The use of the word ‘allergy’ makes this confusing as individuals attach themselves to the word, but it is not diagnosable through support of a biochemical assessment alike ‘true’ allergies (IgE-mediated allergy) due to its non-innate immune system propagation.

    However, consumers (and healthcare professionals) use the terms non-IgE food allergy/hypersensitivity/intolerance interchangeably and it does cause confusion, I completely agree with what Ruth says. The example of Lactose intolerance is a good example, another is non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, which is not well categorised diagnostically at present (due to a lack of research) but is very much a debilitating condition for suffers that follows a similar treatment pattern to other forms of food hypersensitivity. Identify the food component of issue (in this case gluten) and exclude carefully to tolerable level (which may be total elimination but could involve some reintroduction).

    So as you can see, the non-IgE mediated food hypersensitivity can be to the protein, sugar or even another component in food (e.g. salicylates). I refer you to the World Allergy Organisation if you’d like to read more: http://www.worldallergy.org/professional/allergic_diseases_center/foodallergy/ or Allergy UK: https://www.allergyuk.org/food-intolerance/allergy-or-intolerance

    I want to be clear that a2 milk does not make the claim that it is a treatment for IgE-mediated cow’s milk protein hypersensitivity or non-IgE mediated cow’s milk hypersensitivity, especially in paediatrics. However, it is very clear that one can be sensitive to cow’s milk outside of the common food intolerance spectrum.

    This is where A1 protein intolerance comes in, individuals with a sensitivity to the byproduct of A1 protein digestion (the exorphin, BCM-7) fall into this category of suffers. In the future there could well be a diagnostic test that aids formal diagnosis but not at present.

    There are independent researchers in the UK and across the world conducting further trials into the mechanisms that underpin the aetiology of A1 protein intolerance. The Sense about Science report based their consensus on the EFSA 2009 report, so it is 6 years out of date. There has been further research since then and in the light of new evidence being presented to them, their consensus could well change. So in effect, watch this space.

    I hope this clears things up, if either of you would like to talk about this further I can be reached via the a2 milk UK website and always happy to chat.

    Best

    Rick

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