Milk is a wonderful food – to a point. When we were babies, we were completely dependent on it, we were able to digest it easily and it provided all that we needed. As we grew older, we started to eat food and from that point onwards, some of us were not able to digest it completely any more.
There are two reasons for this: lactose intolerance or milk protein allergy.
Lactose intolerance is well known. Lactose is a molecule which occurs only in milk, in which two sugars are bound together: glucose and galactose. In order to be digested and taken in through the intestinal wall, this bond needs to be broken first by an enzyme – lactase. Many adults don’t produce this enzyme any more and as a result this bond is broken down by bacteria further down in the intestine. This feeding frenzy and bacterial population explosion causes gas, bloating or diarrhoea.
The “lactose free” milk in the supermarket is simply normal milk with lactase added. In other words, it is pre-digested.
What is less known is that we can be allergic towards milk protein too. This allergy is more and more common in children who are given cow’s milk too early. It can cause diarrhoea, colic, vomiting, skin rashes or difficulty breathing. The only remedy is to avoid cow’s milk.
This allergy can be also rather low key, causing a nagging, low grade inflammation with very general symptoms. It can persist to adulthood, unrecognised, invisibly eroding health as yet another factor which is “dragging us down”. Some people go so far as to say that milk allergy contributes to development of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autism and schizophrenia.
There are several proteins in milk, but the main focus here is on β casein protein which has 2 forms: A1 and A2. When one looks at their molecules, there seems to be hardly any difference. Yet, small things matter in chemistry.
A2 form is very familiar to our immune system and does not cause any allergy because it occurs naturally in the human milk.
The more ancient breeds of cows (indian desi, zebu and some african cows) as well as buffaloes, goats, sheep, camels, yacks and donkeys produce only A2 milk. The modern cow breeds (Holstein, Friesian or Ayrshire) produce milk with both A1 and A2 protein forms in various ratios.
A New Zealand company (thea2milkcompany.com) developed a way of testing cows for A1 β cassein gene. Today it produces A2 milk in several countries and is expanding fast.
If you suspect that you have a milk allergy, it would be worth trying to leave out all milk products for a couple of weeks. See what happens. Then introduce A2 milk for a couple of weeks and again see what your symptoms are.
There are no A2 cheeses I know of. Maybe they will appear in the future.
Once you find you are OK with A2 milk, it would be worth experimenting with yogurt or fermented and cultured cheeses (e.g. Gouda, Camembert). These are pre-digested by the microorganisms, so they could be less allergenic.
If you have a health problem, there could be various reasons for it. Allergy is just one of many factors in health.
The best way is to see a holistic health practitioner to get a proper diagnosis.
Rangel, A.H. et al (2016). Lactose intolerance and cow's milk protein allergy. Food Science and Technology, 36(2).
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