Is the hype surrounding A2 milk real?
We might be a little biased since we produce New Zealand’s best A2 Jersey milk (100% certified organic we might add!) but the discussion around the health benefits of A2 milk rages on so we wanted to help shed some light on the topic and look at what the research actually says.
First, the Basics - What is A2 Milk?
When we talk about A2 milk we are referring to the form of protein that is found in the milk. Most milk contains both the A1 and A2 protein, while some milk, like ours, contains only the A2 protein.
Ok so let’s go a bit deeper. Within all milk, around 3-4% is protein, and 80% of that protein is casein protein with the other 20% being whey protein. Casein is slow-digesting, while whey can usually be absorbed quickly by your body.
You may find yourself feeling full after drinking a glass of milk, and this is thanks to the casein, and casein is also where we start talking about A1 and A2, the two most common forms of casein.
Now, at a molecular level, A1 and A2 are pretty much the same except for one small difference in a single amino acid. But this small change makes all the difference, thanks to how our bodies break down the amino acids, which leads us to the benefits of A2 milk.
The Benefits of A2 Milk
When our bodies break down this amino acid in A1 milk it releases a peptide called BCM-7. This has been the focus of much of the research, some of which we’ll cover in this blog, and appears to be the reason why A2 milk may provide health benefits that A1 doesn’t since the peptide BCM-7 is only found in A1.
Less Digestive Pain and Bloating
This is perhaps the most commonly used benefit of A2 milk, and quite possibly the most common reason people make the switch to A2 milk.
More than a few studies have looked at the relationship between lactose intolerance and A2 milk to see if A2 milk really is better for those with dairy sensitivity and intolerance.
Lactose intolerance is an inability to process lactose, the sugar found in dairy products. For many sufferers of lactose intolerance, consuming dairy is simply too difficult and leads to problems and we don’t suggest consuming milk if this is you.
For people with dairy sensitivity, there is a growing body of research that suggests A2 milk may be suitable and safe for you to consume.
In 2014, at Curtin University in Australia, researchers undertook the first-ever human study of A2 milk consumption and found that participants reported less bloating and gut discomfort when they consumed A2 milk, compared with when they drank regular milk. The researchers did note that the sample size was small and more research was needed.
In 2017, Chinese researchers studied lactose intolerant adults and the effects of A2 milk The results supported the idea that the A2 milk is suitable for those with dairy intolerance and sensitivity based on the results reported by participants.
In 2019, a different group of Chinese researchers found that replacing regular milk with A2 milk reduced gastrointestinal symptoms associated with dairy intolerance, supporting the conclusions of the 2014 and 2017 studies.
A 2020 study also found that A2 milk caused fewer symptoms and gas production in lactose-intolerant individuals.
There are also a couple of studies (here and here) that have come to the conclusion that digestive issues caused by milk in those with lactose intolerance is actually because of something else in milk, not lactose.
When we compare A1 and A2 milk, both have the same amount of lactose, yet research participants who drink A2 milk report fewer issues, meaning it can’t be the lactose causing the problems and is more likely a result of the protein differences.
Decreased Risk of Diabetes
Some studies have observed a link between high consumption of A1 protein and an increased risk of type 1 diabetes. One study suggests the peptide BCM-7 is behind this observed increased risk as it has immunosuppression qualities.
Decreased Risk of Heart Disease
Another study observed a link between heart disease and A1 milk consumption It has been suggested that the BCM-7 peptide causes an increase in oxidation of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (aka the ‘bad’ cholesterol), which has been shown to increase your risk of heart disease and conditions.
Improved Muscle Function and Recovery
A study found that consumption of 500mL of A2 milk improved recovery time within a group of male sprinters, and reduced the amount of exercise-induced muscle damage. They also found that A2 milk consumption can reduce the decreased performance that comes from repetition, such as during training.
As noted by the researchers, “perhaps A2 milk could offer an anabolic advantage for muscle recovery through enhanced digestion of protein and absorption rates of AA leucine to the muscle for protein synthesis.”
Put simply, A2 milk gets protein into your muscles quicker, boosting recovery times.
Improved Cognitive Function
In an interesting 2016 study, researchers found that A1 protein in milk consumption was not only responsible for gastrointestinal complaints, but also showed a decrease in cognitive function amongst participants in terms of processing speed and accuracy. They have suggested that removing A1 protein can not only reduce digestive problems but also improve brain function!
Reduced Symptoms of Autism and Schizophrenia
You may have heard the argument that A1 milk causes autism and other neurological issues, and it’s important to note that there is very little, if any, research that actually supports this claim.
What the research does show is that reducing BCM-7 (and gluten) from the diet of adolescents with autism resulted in an 81% improvement in symptoms within 3 months. Since A2 milk does not contain BCM-7 it could be theorised that A2 milk is suitable for children with autism.
The Bottom Line
There is a growing body of research that suggests the hype is real and that A2 milk does provide health benefits that regular milk can’t.