Devil in the Milk Illness, Health, and the Politics of A1 and A2 Milk
Chelsea Green Publishing, 2009
I have thought about the medicinal aspects of cow’s milk for virtually my entire medical career. As one four-year-old child pointed out to me many years ago, “Mommy, I know why he always talks about milk, his name is Cow—-an.” So, I guess this milk “obsession” is no surprise.
The obsession started in earnest about twenty-five years ago when I read the book The Milk of Human Kindness Is Not Pasteurized by maverick physician William Campbell Douglass, MD. This was one of the most influential books I have ever read. I became convinced that a large part of the disease in this country is related to the way we handle, or rather mishandle, milk and milk products. Raw and cultured dairy products from healthy grass-fed cows are one of the healthiest foods people have ever eaten; in fact, they are the very foundation of western civilization. On the other hand, pasteurized, and particularly low-fat, milk products have caused more disease than perhaps any other substance people are generally in contact with. This view was reinforced when I met and joined up with Sally Fallon and learned the principles of the Weston A. Price Foundation. End of story, I assumed; but I could stop thinking about milk.
Over the years, however, every once in a while Sally would say to me, “You know, we have the wrong cows here.” I had also heard this comment from assorted bio-dynamic farmers but didn’t really know what to make of it or whether this was a medical issue I should be tackling. All along, though, I felt that something was not quite right. It remained unmistakably true that many of my patients, in spite of eating only the proper dairy products, still had illness and still seemed not to tolerate milk. Truth be told, for most of my adult life I myself couldn’t drink any kind of raw milk without feeling a bit sick and congested. Somehow my story with milk wasn’t quite finished.
Along came the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet, and my discovery of the use of low dose naltrexone, both of which I have described in previous writings, but the relevance here is that many patients only improved and recovered when they eliminated milk (but not other dairy products) from their diets and took a medication that stimulated endogenous (one’s own) endorphin production.
Then, a further nudge in the direction of this topic showed up about a month ago. I was asked to consider writing the foreword to a book called Devil in the Milk, written by agribusiness professor and farm-management consultant Keith Woodford. In this book Dr. Woodford lays out the theory that there is a devil in some of our milk, and this is something we need to come to grips with. Here is a brief synopsis of the main thesis of his book.
Milk consists of three parts: 1) butterfat, 2) whey and 3) milk solids. For this story we are only concerned about the milk solids part, as the fat and whey don’t have this “devil.” The milk solids part is composed of many different proteins, along with lactose and other sugars. It is the protein part of the solids we’re interested in. One of these proteins is called casein, of which there are many different types, but the one casein we are interested in is the predominant protein called beta-casein.
All proteins are long chains of amino acids that have many “branches” coming off different parts of the main chain. Beta-casein is a chain of 229 amino acids with proline at postion 67—at least the proline is there in “old-fashioned” cows. These cows with proline at number 67 are called A2 cows, and are the older breeds of cows (such as Jerseys, Asian and African cows). Some five thousand years ago, a mutation occurred in this proline amino acid, converting it to histidine. Cows that have this mutated beta-casein are called A1 cows, which include more modern breeds like Holsteins.
The side chain that comes off amino acid 67 is called BCM 7. BCM 7 is a small protein (called a peptide) that is a very powerful opiate and which has some undesirable effects on animals and humans. What’s important here is the fact that proline has a strong bond to BCM 7 which helps keep it from getting into the milk, so that essentially no BCM 7 is found in the urine, blood or GI tract of old-fashioned A2 cows.
On the other hand, histidine, the mutated protein, only weakly holds on to BCM 7, so it is liberated in the GI tract of animals and humans who drink A1 cow milk, and it is found in significant quantity in the blood and urine of these animals.
Woodford describes research showing that the opiate BCM 7 can cause neurological impairment in animals and people exposed to it, especially autistic and schizophrenic changes. BCM 7 interferes with the immune response, and injecting BCM 7 into animal models has been shown to provoke Type 1 diabetes. Dr. Woodford presents research showing a direct correlation between a population’s exposure to A1 cow’s milk and the incidence of auto-immune disease, heart disease (BCM 7 has a pro-inflammatory effect on the blood vessels), type-1 diabetes, autism, and schizophrenia. What really caught my eye is the finding that BCM 7 selectively binds to the epithelial cells in the mucous membranes (such as in the nose) and stimulates mucus secretion.
For reasons that are unclear historically, once this mutation occurred many thousands of years ago, the A1 beta-casein gene spread rapidly in many countries in the western world. Some have speculated that the reason for this wide spread of A1 cows is that the calves drinking A1 milk and exposed to the opiate BCM 7 are more docile than their traditional brethren (in effect, they were stoned). This theory is only speculation, of course. But what is true is that basically all American dairy cows have this mutated betacasein and are predominantly A1 cows.
Consider French cheese—mostly due to culinary snobbery, the French never accepted these A1 breeds of cow, claiming they have lousy milk. Voilà, the French enjoy superlative milk and cheese. Our issue in America is that we have the wrong cows. When you take A1 cow milk away, and stimulate our own endorphin production instead of via the toxic opiate BCM 7, some amazing health benefits ensue.
So what are we all to do with this knowledge? Does this mean no one should drink raw cow’s milk in the U.S.? One saving grace, as expressed in Devil in the Milk, is that the absorption of BCM 7 is much lower in people with a healthy GI tract. This also parallels the ideas of the GAPS theory which expounds upon this topic. BCM 7 is also not found in goat’s or sheep’s milk, so these types of milk might be better tolerated by those with a compromised digestive system.
A final point: we now have one more thing to put on our activism to-do list. Dr. Woodford explains that it is fairly straightforward to switch a herd to become an all A2 herd. No genetic engineering is needed, no fancy tests, just one simple test of the beta-casein and it can be done via breeding with A2 sires and selective culling of A1 individuals. Hopefully, when this practice becomes widespread we will end up with a truly safe and healthy milk supply. Then maybe I should just change my name.
(This review was first published at www.foufoldhealing.com)
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2009.🖨️ Print post
Let’s say, “Yay!” for goats’ milk!
I liked the review, thank you.
Past experience tells me that I have difficulty digesting dairy products. I have East Asian ancestry so, theoretically speaking, do not digest dairy as well as my European chums. However, I do like consuming dairy products from time to time, and put up with the ensuing sniffles.
Recent experiments with raw milk from Holstein cows (A1 type milk) and Guernsey cows (A2 type milk) has led me to realize that I am intolerant to cows’ milk of any kind, even if it is raw & A2.
Raw water buffalo milk proves more digestible for me, perhaps due to it being an A2 milk, and with more homogenization within the milk than cows’ milk.
Raw goats’ milk has proved the easiest of all for me to digest. In fact, it seems to be repairing the ailments that pasteurised cows’ milk brought on in the first place!
I have read that donkeys’ and camels’ milk are well tolerated by those unsuited to other dairy milks, even more so than goats’ milk. Apparently goats’ and camels’ milk do not coagulate well when heated to make yogurt, thereby producing a much thinner yogurt than cows’ milk. Perhaps this ‘thinness’ in the milk in part explains why they are quite easily digested.
Nourishing Traditions first brought me to consider adding raw milk to my diet. I look forward to the time when raw goats’ milk gains greater recognition as being more easily digested than raw cows’ milk, and is promoted as the first port of call for those with dairy intolerance.
By the way, you wrote, “Consider French cheese — mostly due to culinary snobbery, the French never accepted these A1 breeds of cow, claiming they have lousy milk.”
Could it be possible the French, in their natural, intuitive wisdom, knew that A1 milk was less healthy for you than their indigenous A2 milk, simply by taste alone? Or perhaps they found the milk of other breeds lacking a certain, “je ne sais quoi” compared to the rich, creamy, yellow milk that say, Normandy breeds are famous for?
Either way, it seems a bit harsh to say the French exhibited “culinary snobbery”! Why put them down for having good taste? It would appear that keeping true to their native nutrition & native wisdom has held them in good stead.
Will Quesnel says
Wow! This article is illuminating…
It describes the use of naltrexone and that elimination of milk but not other dairy products. Does that mean the process of fermentation alters either the levels of BCM 7 or creates some sort of preventative barrier which makes it less absorbable when in our intestines?
I am going to buy this book as soon as I have the funds!
Can some consideration be given to the animals? Cows have been bred to produce far more milk than a calf needs and apart from the strain they are under due to unrelenting lactation year in year out (won’t most mothers feel for them?) the veterinary consequences of this have implications for the quality of the milk, leaving aside the ethical considerations, which never seem to bother anyone. My impression is that A1 cows produce greater quantities of milk.
To be clear, I’m guessing the year in & year out applies only to those producing the hige amount ? Because, they would naturally have a calf about every year anyways, thus, be milking every year. Also, I’m actually very much in favor of all these things being done in the old fashioned, natural, healthful ways, but I never feel that means miss-info along the way is ok, so : fyi it’s all up to the particular farmer & the cow’s personal genetics ( records are kept & usually m/l memorized by farmers of even 100 to 200 cow herds, like my Dad) tell a farmer what to expect as far as duration of ( a decent amount, worth keeping her being milked twice a day) production in a lactation ( still can be unpredictable, but generally it is predictable enough)so, for one cow family that we had that typically dropped off drastically – no matter how much grain they were fed, we were conventional, though ours still went out on pasture, too – after about 9 months, sometimes less. So, we learned to breed them back within a few months of calving so they wouldnt be dry too long & get too fat (which leads to ketosis problems when they calve & start producing again, OR just poor mobility )
Another cow family was similar, but also had a habit of calving at a few weeks less than a cows usual gestation length AND without uddering up as much/showing signs of, before ( calves seemed healthy). Other cow family’s ( the female line, is what we typically only kept, is what I mean by that) had nice long lactation of good production. BTW, however much (pounds per day) they peak at, that only typically lasts from about 2 to 4 months in to about maybe 6 to mayyyybe 10 at most, mo. in. From there, a “good”* cow will still produce a goodly amount for several months then a decent amount for a few more, an amazing cow can have a lactation thay lasts almost 2 years ( *considered good small to medium farmers, esp. my dad, who don’t depend so much on the streamlines breeding programs that the huge dairies do, or are so dependant on the stadard 305 & 365 day production record mattering so much (for cattle /genetics sales as in selling calves or youngstock or even embroes To other farmers) so are free to cuatomize fully, & appreciate the reduced expense & wear & tear on the porductive life of the cow, that any transitioning does, the drying up then calving again being a MAJOR transition for a cows body). Also, I highly doubt that there’s any difference in the digestability of the milk from a cow bred to milk more or one not, if what they are being fed is identical & also their breed/the A2 factor or etc.
I farmed with my family & have handled thousands of different cows, so also want to say, most purebred Holsteins even, are NOT all that docile, AT ALL. Esp. Calves & extremely especially any that were born in the pasture & disnt see a human in the 1st few hours of birth. OMG ! You’d swear some were worse than a wild animal woulda been ! Heifers that were friendly, bottle fed calves, after spending their summer on a far pasture in their “teenage” type years, often act like they’ve never seen a human, too, & have certainly never had on try to touch them !
Sarah Webb says
Where can I buy an a2 cow?
Hi I read Devil in the milk about a year ago. I swore I would get an a2 cow when I got a piece of land to keep her/ them on. So the land problem is solved but I’m having no luck on the internet actually finding a cow to buy can you help?
Angela Burton says
My bff in ( near) Bloomer, WI farms organically with her husband. They, for other reasons began transitioning their herd to an old world breed called Fleckveihs, I don’t know how to spell it, sorry. They recently learned about A2 milk & that this breed has it. This breed is atill rare but has been gaining popularity in the U.S. for last 20 yrs. , there are a lot in Canada I’m told. As all rare breeds, they are more expensive. I did not know that jerseys are A2 until this article, I want that verified ( & if they are, make sure the one you buy is, or is a purebred for sure for sure. ), if so, well, they are all over the U.S. at least in Midwest & probably north east still. Guernsies are the most ( of the 4 to 5 most common U.S. dairy breeds ) susceptible to Johnnies disease ( again, spelling?) a now extremely commonly found carried in all herds, chronic wasting type of disease. According to a eye witness story my dad told of a guys herd who had a few different breed in his herd, when Johnnies hit it hard back in the early days of farmers learning about it. The brown Swiss were the ones “left standing” btw.
Where can I find A2 Milk Cows?
If you feel it benefits your readers please post our website for the education and A2 breeding program we offer. We are breeding and selling A2 small foundation size Jerseys with grazing genetics firmly in place. We have three in our family who we thought were allergic to milk until 8 years ago. Thru Weston A Price foundation, we found out the amazing truth about raw vs’s pasterized milk. Now we have learned about the benefits of A2 and have been very much disappointed at how many Jerseys test A1/A1! We have bought and tested MANY. So we are now breeding our own A2/A2 herd.
Prabakar PRABi says
Its in India…. Especially in southern India state called Tamil nadu…. U can find country (A2) cows…
Prabakar PRABi says
We have endangered species like, Kangeyam, Pulilakulam, umbalacheri and Bargur…
By the politicians, corporate companies and social organizations like PETA and animal welfare organization these cow species are in endangered… Pls save them by supporting jallikattu…. Thanks for reading….
We are awaiting your help
Nimal Perera says
There is no doubt that the local breeds of Asian cows produce healthy milk from natural feed. But shortsighted so called animal scientist and the dumb policy makers who wanted to satisfy the brainless politicos stared cross breeding our natures assets the local cows Asian) with Holsteins and Frisians. The poor nations suffer due to ill effects of the European breeds. There is no body to salvage except the god.
One question: is A1 beta casing present in powdered milk processed from Holstein or Frisian cow milk.
Kushal Chhapariya says
Yes it is.