Dairy: A Surprising and Delightful Find in the Dairy World

Well, at least I was happily surprised, and optimistic of the guilt-free possibilities of consuming cheese!  This finding could very well explain the French Paradox and some aspect of the Mediterranean diet, discussed later.

As a naturopathic physician I am constantly identifying food allergies. As you may guess, dairy and all of its forms, is one of the most, shall I say, controversial. You have the vegans who do not eat any of it, and a fair amount of people considering themselves vegetarians who eat some form of it, usually cheese or yogurt. Then there are some who have lactose intolerance (they lack the enzyme that breaks down lactose, the sugar found in milk). And of course there are those who are out-right allergic to all forms of dairy due to the casein molecule, which incidentally is a little different in goats’ milk, hence why some who cannot handle cows’ milk can tolerate goats milk. I previously wrote about the blood type diet, where O blood types have a particularly weak tolerance of cow’s milk but some goats milk cheese is fine. And then there are those who can consume dairy products till the cows come home with no problems at all. (These people are more likely to have B type blood by the way). And lastly there is my cat who will nibble on only the stinkiest cheese, obviously intending to inoculate his gut with some good bacteria.

And overlying our wonderful passion for all things gourmet and delicious, of which cheese is at the top right up there with a fine wine, is John Robbins, the vegan king. He is big proponent of eliminating dairy as a means to avoid arterial plaque and some do actually feel guilty about consuming dairy, for that very reason thanks to him. But the formation of arterial blockages is way too complex of a development to simply blame it on consuming milk. It is also highly dependent on genetics, lifestyle, and diet, but probably not the dietary things you would think (and there is the French Paradox which I discuss below).

Whether you consume dairy or not, like it or hate it, it is here to stay and a force to be reckoned with. For one, if you do eat dairy and intend to be on this planet for another twenty or more years, you owe it to yourself to figure out if you have a dairy intolerance. <Click here for instructions on how to do that>

And there is support for dairy being needed to actually feed the world, as it is one of the top five ecologically friendly protein sources that exist, having one of the lowest carbon footprints per gram of protein supplied. 1

But what if we found dairy to actually not cause arteriosclerosis? Would that have you thinking differently about it? It could literally re-write the Ornish and Pritikin protocols, and have many consuming dairy once more with less guilt, knowing that they are not creating one of those horrible blockages. Hence my excitement when I discovered just this.

I was listening to a conference recently where it was mentioned in passing that there was a dairy source that was not implicated in arterial blocking. I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t this be huge news? Wouldn’t the whole world be jumping on this?” So I sent my friends Brook and Rose Levan at Sustainable Settings (my heroes for raw milk and all things farming) an email asking if they heard of this cow thing that I couldn’t even explain because I knew so little about it. They, of course knew all about it for years now, and had created their entire dairy heard to be of these arterial-friendly cows.

The Find

The particular gem that I am talking about here is an “A2 beta casein” molecule found in some milk, verses an “A1 beta casein” molecule found in other milk.

When I was doing my pre-med, we did some chemistry lab hocus pocus that isolated the casein molecule. What we were left with was this very hard piece of white rubber, not unlike hardened chewing gum. That was casein. That experiment alone should have had me clutching my heart, but the gourmand in me won out.

Casein is the very molecule that causes some immune systems to go into attack mode on their lunch.

So, this research is finding that there is a strong correlation to consumption of A1 beta casein and the incidence of ischemic heart disease (arterial blockage).2 But not only that, there is a finger pointing to the development of type 1 diabetes3, as well as autism and schizophrenia. It is very difficult to prove a true cause and effect relationship in any study, as we humans have so many different factors playing roles in our health. The studies merely point to higher incidences of these diseases among populations consuming more of the A1 beta casein milk (“correlations”), and almost no increase of these diseases in populations consuming the A2 beta casein molecule.

So how could a food, like milk, potentially cause diabetes? Well, in children who react to the casein molecule, their immune systems create an antibody against casein. This antibody can cross react with the beta cells of the pancreas that produce insulin, destroying them, and create a life-long need for insulin. I want to point out that this has not been proven to be a true cause and effect relationship, and never will be proven as such, as that would be impossible. Also, type 1 diabetic children are predisposed to more allergies and autoimmunity in general, so please read carefully: not all children consuming cows milk are at risk of developing type1 diabetes.

So why has the American Dairy Association been so hush hush over the discovery and potential benefit of A2 casein over A1 casein? I am sure it is due to the hundreds of dairies out there who do not have these particular cows and would be at risk of losing business if the consumer got too curious. But since you are reading this, you can take it upon yourself to contact the ADA or your local dairy on the endangered species list.

The French Paradox and the Mediterranean Diet

Guernsey cows, from the same named island in Great Britain, are A2 beta casein producers. And there must be many more, as they were imported from French lineages in the 1700’s. Perhaps this is the sole reason for the “French Paradox” which is that France has a lower incidence of heart disease than the US, despite a higher saturated fat diet. There are over 800 breeds of cow by the way and France is postulated to have mostly A2 producing cows whereas the U.S. may have more like only 50% A2 producing cows. (how could we know- surely the ADA is not going to take on this testing). I wonder how much of the Mediterranean diets are consuming A2 over A1 dairy? Have you noticed all this talk of the Mediterranean diet being so healthy never mentions the Caprese salad?! I would be willing to bet those water buffalo are A2 secreters, as are goats apparently.

So what are we to do?

Consume “the other white milk”(!)

For now that may be only goats’ milk products, unless you have a local dairy in the know with certified A2 cows.

And before you ask, yes, I am a proponent of raw milk and cheese made with raw milk…all those wonderful enzymes.


1   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eatingwell/best-and-worst-proteins-health-environment_b_903613.html

2 N Z Med J. 2003 Jan 24;116(1168):U295. Ischaemic heart disease, Type 1 diabetes, and cow milk A1 betacasein.

3 Thorsdottir I, Birgisdottir BE, Johannsdottir IM, et al. Different beta-casein fractions in Icelandic versus Scandinavian cow’s milk may influence diabetogenicity of cow’s milk in infancy and explain low incidence of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in Iceland. Pediatrics. 2000;106(4):719-24