From all the headlines over the last few weeks, dairy allergics could not be blamed for thinking that all their problems had been solved – if Australian A2 milk did not do it for them, then Daisy, the hypo-allergenic New Zealand cow certainly would… But, alas, beyond the hype, the real news is less encouraging.
Both stories have been covered in more depths on the FoodsMatter site. See Frances Dale on the A2 milk story here; I have covered the Daisy story here. But to bring you up to speed, at speed….
The milk from A2 cows, which include Jerseys and Guernseys, does not include the A1 beta-casein protein that breaks down in the digestion into a protein fragment, BCM7/beta-casomorphin-7, that behaves like an opiate, and has been blamed for much cow’s milk allergy as well cardiovascular disease, type 1 diabetes and autism.
Daisy, the New Zealand cow, has been genetically modified not to produce beta-lactoglobulin, the protein in whey which is thought to be responsible for much cow’s milk allergy especially amongst babies and small children.
But the sad fact is that, even if available and on the market – and whatever about A2, there is no chance that Daisy’s milk would be on the market for years, if ever – neither milk would solve ‘the problem’ of cow’s milk allergy/sensitivity, as there really is no such thing as ‘cow’s milk allergy/sensitivity’.
What is, in fact, relatively common (especially, among babies and small children) are a whole range of different sensitivities (whether immediate, IgE mediated or delayed) to a number of different cow’s milk proteins and their components parts or ‘epitopes’. (There are over 30 proteins in cow’s milk and each one includes many ‘epitopes’ so the options are almost endless.) In other words, which protein or fraction of a protein you react to is entirely individual to you, your reactions may be caused by a series of different immune activities and those reactions may vary according to your age!
So although, given the numbers that we are talking about, there will be a significant number of people who do react to A1 milk, so would be fine with A2, and another signficant group who do react to beta-lactoglobulin (the protein that has been genetically engineered out of Daisy) so will be fine with Daisy’s milk, there will still be very signifcant groups who will not be fine with either.
Not only does this rather dent the ‘dairy allergy is no more’ headlines but it creates yet greater confusion in an area which is already horrendously confused. Very few cow’s milk allergy/sensitivity sufferers will really understand the science or have any kind of handle on which group they fall into, or whether the new milks will actually help them. It also significantly raises the risk of serious allergic reactions amongst those who do suffer from IgE mediated allergies to a cow’s milk protein other than A1 but get carried away by the hype and end up by drinking, for example, A2 milk on the assumption that it is safe for them – which it most certainly will not be.
And that is totally ignoring the whole question of lactose intolerance on which neither milk would have any effect at all.
There is already massive confusion between lactose intolerance (an inability to digest the lactose sugar in milk because you do not make enough of the enzyme lactase needed to process it) and cow’s milk intolerance (a reaction to one or several of the proteins in milk). Claims by A2 milk supporters that it may improve lactose intolerance are nonsense – unless the supposed lactose intolerance symptoms have not been caused by lactose intolerance at all but by an intolerance to the A1 proteins in the milk, in which case, moving to A2 milk might indeed resolve the symptoms. But try explaining that to someone who understands nothing of the mechanics of either….
It is great that the research is going forward – and yes please, more, more….. but a sad fact of life that, in the understandable rush to publish results (which may help to raise money to fund more research), unrealistic hopes are raised which are more likely to hinder than to help the cause.