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Trouble with dairy? A new type of milk could provide a solution

By: ELLIE KRIEGER, The Washington Post
September 5, 2017 Updated: September 5, 2017 at 8:43 am
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photo - Gazette file photo.
Gazette file photo. 

Maria Elena Sullivan could tell that daughter Sofia had trouble digesting milk from the moment she offered it to her at a year old. Sofia spit it up. By the time she was 2, Sofa's intolerance for milk was clear from her "serious reaction," which included abdominal pain and vomiting. Then the Lakewood, Colo., mother came across a coupon for a free half-gallon of A2 milk, did a little research and decided to give it a try. Sofia "did just fine with it" and now requests "A2 milk, please."

You might think this is a quasi-natural, tinkered-with version of real milk, but it's not. It's pure cow's milk with no additives. But instead of containing A1 and A2 beta-casein proteins, as ordinary cow's milk does, this milk comes from cows that produce only the A2 variation of the protein. Because A1 can be hard for many people to digest, milk that contains only A2 is a helpful option, allowing people like Sofia to enjoy milk again. The milk has been sold in Australia for more than a decade, was introduced to the United States in 2015 by the A2 Milk Co.and is now available in grocery stores nationwide.

Goat, sheep, water buffalo and human breast milks all contain only A2-like proteins, and thousands of years ago, cow's milk also had only A2. But with modern farming methods, European cow herds evolved to produce A1 as well. Today, some cows produce only A1, some only A2 and some both proteins. In regular milk production, all the cow's milks typically are blended together so you get a mix of proteins in the carton. To get A2 milk, a simple genetic test is used to determine which cows make only that protein variation, and their milk is used exclusively.

Several animal and human studies show that A2 milk is more easily digested than A1 milk. Scientists are just beginning to understand how the protein affects people, but we do know that during the breakdown of A1 in the gut, a peptide fragment (a chain of amino acids) called BCM-7 is formed. This fragment can slow digestion, trigger inflammation and cause symptoms such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation. No such fragment is formed with A2 digestion.

Those also are the symptoms of lactose intolerance. Many people may be misdiagnosing themselves when it's A1 they need to avoid. That was the case for Manuel Villacorta, a registered dietitian nutritionist in the San Francisco Bay area. "I always thought I was lactose intolerant but was never officially diagnosed," he said. He was skeptical about A2 milk and was taken aback when he tolerated it. "It really changed my life when it comes to milk." Now when clients tell him they are lactose intolerant, he advises them to try it.

Scientists have long questioned why so many more people say they are lactose intolerant those with lactose malabsorption when tested. A sensitivity to A1 might explain that gap. Even people officially diagnosed with lactose intolerance may do better with A1 milk because the inflammatory response caused by the BCM-7 fragment in the gut has been shown to worsen lactose intolerance.

With all the nondairy milks on the market (almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, hemp milk . . . the list goes on), a person who has trouble digesting dairy has more options than ever, and you can certainly have a healthy diet without cow's milk. But unlike those alternative milks, cow's milk naturally provides a multitude of important nutrients such as protein, calcium, B vitamins and potassium. Plus it is a cornerstone of many wonderful dishes. If you are fine with regular cow's milk, there's no reason to switch to A2. But if you have difficulty digesting dairy and want it in your life, A2 milk might be the solution.

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