What if you could still drink real milk, without acne, eczema or digestive issues? What if a switch in the milk you drink could lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease, schizophrenia or autism?
Well, early research suggests beta-casein A2 milk just might do all that! What?!
I tried A2 milk myself. My kids tried it too. In this article I will explain what A2 milk is, the benefits and risks, and our review of A2 milk.
What is A2 milk?
A2 milk refers to a type of protein in milk, called beta-casein, that doesn’t cause bloating, cramping, or cognitive problems and is easier to digest for many people that don’t tolerate milk well.
And don’t worry, it is a completely natural milk made by the cow. Only the cow’s genetics decide whether it makes milk with A2 beta caseins, or a different type.
A2 Milk Nutrition
The nutrition profile of A2 milk is exactly the same as “regular” milk, except that the beta-casein proteins are different.
Milk is made up of mainly water, fats, sugar (called lactose), proteins (mostly caseins and whey), and many different vitamins and minerals.
I love real milk because it has many advantages over dairy-free, plant-based alternative milks:
- It is rich in many minerals that we need to be healthy like calcium, phosphorus, selenium, and zinc. Americans don’t usually eat other food sources of calcium, so milk is important for that reason.
- Milk is a great source of vitamin D, which most people are deficient in. It is also a great source of many B vitamins like B12, also a common deficiency.
- Milk is a pretty good source of high quality proteins, with 8 grams per cup. Caseins and whey make up the majority of proteins in milk.
- It is a rare source of a special fat called “Heptadecanoic acid,” which is really important for your cell membranes to be strong and healthy. Only dairy and some marine animals have this special fat. This is why we think full fat milk drinkers have a much lower risk of stroke (Bagnulo, 2018 [Webinar]).
- Raw milk also contains really helpful bacteria for our digestive systems, though these are killed during pasteurization.
About 30% of the protein in milk is beta-casein, and it’s the second most abundant protein in milk (1).
There are different types of beta-casein (actually 15 different types that we know of right now), but MOST cows make only TWO types: beta casein A1 or beta casein A2 (2).
A1 VS A2 Milk
Pretty much all of the milk you buy in grocery stores is going to contain mostly the A1 form of beta-casein. It will actually contain a mix of A1 and A2, but it will be mostly A1.
You’d think from the name that the A1 beta-casein form was the “original” form, but actually it’s the new kid on the block. Scientists think a mutation in Holstein cows a thousand years or so ago resulted in the A1 form of beta-casein.
Before that, milk cows made only A2 beta-casein.
Milk from a cow can actually come in 3 forms: A1/A1, A1/A2, or A2/A2.
To understand this, let’s do a crash course in genetics. I will keep this painless, I promise.
So…every cow inherits the beta-casein gene from both her father and her mother, right? (My husband insists I say “sire” and “dame”.) So there are three possible types of milk you can end up with:
The A1/A1 cow inherits the A1 gene from both father and mother, and produces only beta-casein A1 proteins in her milk.
Holsteins (your stereotypical, black and white dairy cow) are the most likely breed to be A1/A1. Ayrshire and Reds have lots of A1/A1 genetics too. European breeds are more likely to contain this genetic mutation (3).
Most dairies in America get their milk from Holsteins because they produce huge volumes of milk pretty efficiently. So most grocery store milk will have mainly A1 beta-caseins (though every batch of milk contains milk mixed from hundreds of cows in the dairy, so it is going to have a variety of proteins.)
It is possible to have an A2/A2 Holstein cow though. Especially as more and more dairies are breeding for these genetics.
The A1/A2 cow inherited the A1 gene from one parent, and the A2 gene from the other parent, so she will produce milk that contains both beta-casein A1 and beta-casein A2.
Jerseys, and Guernseys, both popular breeds in America, are likely to contain these genetics, although they can also easily be A1/A1 or A2/A2. The only way to know for sure is by testing (read on to learn how to get A2 Genetic Testing).
The milk you buy at the grocery store is going to contain a mix of A1 and A2 beta-casein, but mostly A1.
A2/A2 Milk Cow
The A2/A2 cow inherited the A2 gene from both parents, and produces only beta-casein A2 proteins in her milk..
Jerseys, Guernseys, and any breeds from Asia or Africa are more likely to be A2/A2. Again the only way to know for sure is to get genetic testing done. I have a section about that below.
You can actually find some milk in grocery stores these days that is certified A2/A2 only. Check out the section about “where to buy A2 milk”.
Symptoms of A1 Milk Intolerance
“Regular” (A1) milk causes problems for many people, especially digestive, skin and cognitive symptoms, such as (4):
- Stomach pain or cramping
- Flatulence or gas
- Brain fog
- Runny nose
- Flem in your throat
If you have these symptoms, you might assume you have lactose intolerance. (Lactose is a sugar in milk that some people don’t digest well after childhood.)
Or you might not relate these symptoms to milk at all.
Your doctor might have assumed it too. There is a breath test to diagnose it, but few people get the test.
Or you might assume you have a milk sensitivity or milk allergy. If you truly are lactose intolerant, or have a milk sensitivity or allergy, A2 milk still will not be good for you.
(Read the Ultimate Guide to Food Sensitivity Tests to learn the best way to know if food sensitivities to milk or other foods are making you sick.)
But it turns out far fewer people suffer from lactose intolerance than we once thought! The problem could be a beta-casein A1 intolerance instead! This is great news for dairy-lovers like me!
Benefits of A2 Milk
So why is A2 milk gaining popularity? Because many people that cannot tolerate regular cow milk (A1/A2 milk) CAN tolerate A2/A2 cow milk with no problems.
Here are just a few of the advantages of A2 versus A1 milk.
No BCM-7 Opioid Peptides
This is important to understand if you really want to understand the difference between A1 and A2 milk.
Proteins are made of long, twisted up chains of amino acids. Your body breaks down proteins you eat, like beta-caseins, to form smaller chains of amino acids, called peptides. Peptides are like little baby proteins that have all sorts of active functions in the body.
What is really interesting is that the big, twisty chains of amino acids that make up beta-casein A1 and beta-casein A2 have only ONE SINGLE DIFFERENCE between them: in the amino acid at the 67th position.
That one different amino acid among hundreds in the chain makes a big difference in how your body processes A1 versus A2 milk proteins.
A1 proteins are broken up to form a highly inflammatory opioid peptide called BCM-7 (and others like BCM-5 and BCM-4). BCM-7 can inflame your gut and cause lots of unpleasant symptoms like gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, etc (3, 5).
BCM-7 also seems to affect your brain, since A1 milk drinkers showed significantly slower processing times and made more mistakes on a “cognitive impairment” test in one study (5)! Crazy that milk can do all that, right!?
One study observed that the inflammation caused by BCM-7 from A1 milk seemed to make lactose intolerance worse. This makes sense since the enzyme that digests lactose sugar in milk (lactase), is made in the lining of your small intestine. If it is inflamed, it can’t produce lactase as well (8).
Easier to Digest
Another reason A2 milk seems to be easier to digest is because BCM-7 from A1 milk slows down digestion. This means your food sits in your digestive system longer, giving the bacteria in your gut more time to breakdown FODMAPS (resistant starches and fiber in your food that bacteria love) and cause lots of gas, bloating, and other unwanted problems (6).
Many Disease Associations
- Ischemic heart disease rates are associated with A1 milk consumption in New Zealand (3). This type of data does not prove A1 milk causes heart disease, but it’s very interesting.
- Nations that have higher A1 protein intakes have MORE Type 1 diabetes (10).
- Meanwhile, A2 milk drinkers have LESS heart disease and Type 1 diabetes (3).
- BCM-7 is a suggested cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) (3).
- Milk and BCM-7 are associated with neurological disorders like autism and schizophrenia.
- In my own experience, A1 milk was the cause of my daughter’s eczema, and my own belly bloat, adult acne and anxiety.
How to Test If You Have A1 Milk Intolerance
Do we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that A1 milk is a problem? No. Do we have pretty good evidence though? Yes! Look for yourself at the studies I’ve linked to so far.
Finding out for yourself if you tolerate A2 milk better than A1 is a simple experiment.
How to test if you have A1 milk intolerance:
- Go off all dairy for a 2 week washout period.
This is a common amount of time used in research studies.
- Take careful note of how you feel during this time.
Keep a simple symptom record each day, scoring common symptoms you experience, and observing how they improve or worsen.
- Begin drinking A2/A2 beta-casein milk.
See the “Where to Buy A2 Milk” section. Drink at least one serving of A2 milk daily for at least 2 weeks to see how you react.
- Continue scoring your symptoms during this time too.
Keep using that symptom record so you can see if symptoms worsen or stay the same. This can also be useful to show your doctor or dietitian.
- STOP drinking A2/A2 beta-casein milk if at any point you feel worse!
Or if you feel good on it, keep drinking it! You’ve found a wholesome real food dairy source!
I have found that many of my clients and friends are able to drink A2 milk without any issues. I can also tolerate it just fine. So does my daughter.
And of course, talk to your doctor or dietitian if you aren’t sure it is safe to try!
My Review of A2 Milk
A common question I get is, “Does A2 milk taste the same as regular milk.” The answer is yes. It tastes exactly the same. Because it is regular milk.
The next thing you might want to know is did it help us?
A2 Milk & My Toddler’s Eczema and Constipation
Ever since I weaned my daughter from breast milk at 12 months old (and started giving her cow milk), she began struggling with constipation (so sad to watch), and red, itchy, scaly rashes that we assume are eczema in the folds of her knees and elbows, and stomach and back.
In retrospect, my first child also struggled with constipation and eczema, though I knew nothing of food sensitivity and functional nutrition then to help her.
But by my fourth child, I had learned a lot more. I suspected milk and after trialing her on a dairy-free diet, her eczema MOSTLY cleared up.
Her constipation also improved.
Later, I learned about the research behind A2 milk, and decided to give it a try. My sweet little toddler’s itchy skin completely cleared! Her skin remains clear today, but if she has regular A1 milk, she will begin itching again within hours.
It was a simple thing to try, and definitely worth it to see my little girl rash and itch-free!
A2 Milk & My Acne, Bloating & Anxiety
I also found some surprising benefits for myself with A2 milk. I didn’t think I had any “health issues” until I developed a program to help several family members with different chronic health problems.
Part of the program required them to go dairy-free for a few weeks since dairy worsens inflammation in many chronic diseases. I did all the steps of the program right along with them so I would know first hand what it felt like to eat that way.
Boy was I surprised when my acne cleared up for the first time since adolescence! I had tried several medications, expensive face washes, moisturizers, make-ups, birth control pills… all to no avail. I had come to accept that having “bad skin” was just part of my genetics.
(Actually there was one birth control pill that helped, but now that I know the risks of hormonal birth control, I would never recommend it.)
I also noticed my puffy, bloated tummy, always present by the end of the day, was… mostly gone! Another thing I thought was just normal for me.
After a few months on A2 milk, I realized I hadn’t had one of my “anxiety attack”, mental breakdown moments as a mother (tell me I am not the only one!) for a long time.
But if I begin drinking A1 milk again, my anxiety attacks, irritability and impatience are much more frequent.
I am still not 100% sure that it is milk bringing out the crazy in me, but if not it is a strong coincidence!
I share this personal information because as a dietitian, I talk about anxiety, depression, hormones and digestive issues with people all the time, and I know that many of you are in the same bloat *ahem, I mean boat* I was, and may or may not even realize that this doesn’t have to be your “normal”.
Just because it is “common” doesn’t mean it is “normal”. The solution is often found in the simplest changes.
Risks of A2 Milk
Not everybody can drink A2 milk. One friend with milk sensitivity tried A2 milk and didn’t feel good on it.
If you have true lactose intolerance, milk sensitivity or especially milk allergy or galactosemia, a2 milk is still dangerous for you!
And of course, talk to your doctor if you have health issues or any concerns about whether trying A2 milk would be safe for you!
Commercial A2 Milk
There is a brand of a2/a2 milk being sold in many grocery stores called, of all things, “A2 Milk”! To see which grocery stores near you carry it, visit a2milk.com.
Many larger grocery store chains like Walmart and Fred Myer will have A2 Milk. You can also talk to the manager of your local store and request they start carrying it! Two of my local grocery stores started stocking A2 Milk after customers and employees requested it!
The A2 Milk Company has patented the term A2 Milk, so other companies may sell it in your area under different names such as “A1-Free Milk”.
If you know of other companies or dairies near you, leave a comment so others can find them!
Raw A2 Milk
If it is legal in your state, you can find a local dairy, farmer, or homesteader with an A2/A2 milk cow.
If selling raw milk is illegal where you live, see if herd-shares are legal, where you technically own part of the cow you are getting your milk from. Check out www.realmilk.com for more info on what is legal in your area.
If you are the homesteader type, you can also look into getting your own A2 milk cow. I have always wanted a milk cow, and plan to get a certified A2 milk cow in the near future so I can afford to keep my family of 7 supplied with raw, wholesome A2 dairy products that I feel good about giving them!
Other Animal Milks
Did you know milk from most other mammals such as goats, sheep, buffalo and even humans is always A2 milk (11)?
If you don’t have access to A2 cow milk, goat milk is in most grocery stores. Or you may be able to get milk from a local goat or sheep dairy.
A2 Genetic Testing
If the farmer isn’t sure what type of milk the cow makes, there is actually a simple, inexpensive genetic lab test that can be ordered. It only requires a few hairs from the cow and about $25.
Labs that offer A2 genetic testing include:
If you know of other companies offering testing, share the link please in the comments!
How Much Does A2 Milk Cost?
A2 milk comes with a higher price tag than “regular” A1 milk, whether you get it from the store or the farm.
At my stores, it currently costs between $5 and $6 per half gallon.
I consider this less expensive than the lost quality of life, digestive aids, doctor visits, acne medications, and skin creams I’ve invested in (multiple times) in the past.
Plus, it’s REAL, delicious, nutrient rich milk. Yummy.
A2 Milk for Babies
Human milk naturally contains A2 beta-caseins. So if you feed your baby breast milk, you are already giving her A2 milk.
Most baby formulas are made using cow milk with A1 beta-casein. But there are A2 baby formulas now in the United States! I was very excited to learn this! If your baby does not do well on other formulas, ask your doctor if these brands might be safe to try:
Casein Free Milk Alternatives
There is no such thing as casein-free animal milk, so if you find that neither A1 nor A2 beta-casien milk sits well with you, you can try a plant-based milk.
(My husband wants me to point out that plant milks are NOT true milk and are much less nutritious than true milk, which you can only get from mammals. In fact, the dairy industry is trying to get the term “milk” protected.)
These plant-based milks do not contain any type of casein:
- Rice milk
- Soy milk
- Coconut milk
- Almond milk
- Cashew milk
- Oat milk
You can probably find most of these at your local market or online from places like Amazon or Thrive Market.
Is A2 Milk Organic?
One last common question: is A2 milk organic?
A2 milk is not necessarily organic, non-GMO, or grass-fed, though it could be. You will have to check with the farm it comes from.
A2 milk comes from cows with A2/A2 genetics that naturally produce only beta-casein A2 in their milk. But these cows could be fed any type of diet that milk cows are normally fed: organic or inorganic, GMO-free or not, grass or grain.
Heart disease and diabetes afflict and kill enormous numbers of Americans today. SIDS, autism, and schizophrenia are no less serious for people who deal with them. What if the type of milk you drink could help?
Think of all the money we spend on special creams, face wash, and medications for skin issues like eczema and acne! What if clearer skin was as simple as switching milk, like it was for us?
Go to your local pharmacy and notice how stocked the isle for digestive troubles is! This is obviously an incredibly common and distressing problem! What if A2 milk was the fix for you?
And then there is depression and anxiety, which is increasing in adults and children. What if we could improve this terrible epidemic, even a little, by the milk we drink?
A2 milk contains a different type of protein called beta-casein A2 instead of beta-casein A1.
It has been shown in emerging research, in my personal experience, and in the experiences of many family members, friends and clients who have tried A2 milk, to help with bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea, and even mental performance.
A2 milk might lower the risk for certain diseases like heart disease, Type 1 diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome, autism, and heart disease, though research is not clear yet.
It is a totally natural milk and identical to regular cow milk in every way, except the type of beta-casein the cow produces.
A2 milk is becoming easier and easier to find at local grocery stores or from local farmers.
Trialing A2 milk for a couple of weeks to see if it makes any difference for you is a safe, cheap and effective experiment for most people who don’t have true milk allergy, lactose intolerance, galactosemia or other contraindications.
I think it’s worth a try. Don’t you?
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References not linked in article:
- Bagnulo, J. (2018, Nov 27). Food as Medicine: Origins, Healing Foods and Dietary Therapies [Webinar]. Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy. Retrieved from https://www.ifnacademy.com/topic/webinar-recording-3/.