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Is dairy always bad for the gut? Is there actually a difference between A1 and A2 dairy? Are A2 milk benefits actually real?
It’s no secret that dairy has earned a poor reputation over the years. With so many people suffering from dairy intolerances, it only makes sense for dairy to take the hit. But, what if all dairy isn’t necessarily “bad?”
Although milk quality has taken a huge dip in recent years (more on this later), the real culprit is our bodies inability to digest dairy proteins. To one person, dairy could mean stomach upset, acne breakouts, bloating, and other symptoms. But for another, it could be a source of important minerals and fat-soluble vitamins. It all depends on how your body tolerates and digests dairy products!
Read on to learn more about where the issues with dairy stem from, which types are more inflammatory than others, and how to tell whether you’re actually intolerant of all dairy products.
Remember those “Got Milk?” commercials? We were told time and time again how important drinking milk and eating dairy products is for strong bones and teeth. Yet nowadays, we rarely choose cow’s milk in comparison to popular non-dairy options like oat, almond, cashew, and even macadamia. Why might this be?
Many times when people start to experience discomfort after eating dairy products, they attribute it to being lactose intolerant. But that’s not always the case! There are other culprits to tummy trouble post-dairy consumption.
Let’s start with the obvious. What does it mean to be lactose intolerant? When you’re lactose intolerant, the issue with dairy occurs because the body is unable to break down lactose sugars in milk. Lactose intolerance occurs when the small intestine is not producing the enzyme lactase. Because your body doesn’t have the means (aka the lactase) to break down the lactose, discomfort occurs during digestion. If lactose intolerant, you’ll experience symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea, and stomach upset after eating all forms of dairy.
This often occurs at a later age because the human body is initially designed to digest mother’s milk during infancy. This ability however isn’t intended to last forever.
A dairy allergy is different from lactose intolerance. A true dairy allergy is an immune reaction rather than a digestive reaction. This means you may see symptoms like hives, itching, swelling, as well as stomach discomfort. In severe cases, an allergy could lead to anaphylaxis. If you have a dairy allergy, you most definitely will know.
The most common cause of dairy trouble? Casein.
Casein is a protein we find in dairy products. The main type of casein is beta-casein and it breaks down into two subtypes, A1 and A2. Casein, particularly A1 casein can be extremely hard to digest. It can be an inflammation trigger for people with gut issues, leaky gut syndrome, IBS, and autoimmune conditions. This is oftentimes why people feel stomach upset and digestive discomfort after eating only certain types of dairy. Think milk, cream, and ice cream. Lactose intolerance isn’t always the culprit when it comes to dairy discomfort!
As we know, the most abundant protein in dairy is casein. We divide this casein into two categories: A1 and A2. Interestingly, these two forms of casein come from different breeds of cows. A1 casein is in Ayrshire, Holstein Friesian, and British Shorthorn. Alternatively, A2 casein is in Asian, Jersey, Guernsey, Limousin, and Charolais cow breeds, as well as other mammals, like: goats, sheep, buffalos, and even humans!
However, the breed of cow isn’t the only difference between A1 and A2…
In the regular conventional milk you find in the grocery store, the A1 subtype is more common. This is because most cows in the United States have casein gene mutations that have happened over thousands of years of crossbreeding different kinds of cows.
Notably, A1 dairy has been associated with common intolerance symptoms, like gastrointestinal upset. This type of casein protein increases inflammation in the body, which naturally triggers autoimmune flares and gut distress. When you digest A1 casein protein, you produce a peptide called beta-casomorphin-7 (BCM-7). This particular peptide has been linked with tummy troubles similar to those typically associated with lactose intolerance.
In most people with dairy intolerances, A1 dairy is to blame. Since this dairy is naturally inflammatory, it can wreak havoc on the gut and immune system, creating gaps in the gut lining (leaky gut) and invoking an immune response (autoimmunity). For this reason, I recommend most people, especially those with dairy intolerances or gut and autoimmune issues, avoid A1 dairy altogether.
Keep your eye out for A1 dairy in the following sources:
Luckily, not all dairy is to blame for upset stomach and indigestion. A2 dairy, as opposed to A1 dairy, is not correlated with negative health concerns. It doesn’t create the same inflammation and digestive upset in the body. As a matter of fact, high quality A2 dairy is very unlikely to cause dairy intolerance symptoms at all and has been shown to provide more health benefit than concern. A2 milk benefits are real!
A2 casein is the original dairy protein. It is more digestible and richer in vitamins. A2 dairy is actually the same beta-casein found in human breast milk, which is beneficial for building a healthy microbiome in infants!
In fact, A2 proteins and nutrients are very beneficial and can actually help support your immune system and autoimmune wellness goals! Meaning, A2 dairy products can be a great alternative for most people, even those intolerant to dairy. Some individuals are able to tolerate A2 dairy once they have healed their gut. This is great news for any dairy lovers!
Since A2 dairy is found in high fat dairy products, I recommend most people stick to the following options:
All that said, while A1 dairy might cause an emergency trip to the bathroom, A2 dairy is typically a safe bet. Better yet, A2 dairy almost always tastes better due to it’s higher fat content. Basically, it’s a win-win!
As with all other foods, quality matters. Whenever consuming A2 dairy, the best option is raw. When raw dairy isn’t an option (due to location, pregnancy, etc), always opt for grass fed, organic products. Not only are these options filled with a higher amount of fat-soluble vitamins, probiotics, and other nutrients, but they are also naturally easier to digest.
Unfortunately conventional dairy is extremely processed and the cows are often given antibiotics and hormones. The dairy is made from the milk of cows in poor health. Sadly, most cows in the dairy industry are not properly cared for, are abused, and malnourished. And if a cow is unhealthy, it only makes sense for the byproduct of that cow to be unhealthy as well. This study shows that conventional non-organic milks are more often positive for pesticides, added hormones and growth factors, and extremely high levels of antibiotics. This causes dairy to be highly inflammatory, especially to those with autoimmune conditions.
On the other hand, dairy from grass-fed cows is much healthier as it contains higher amounts of nutrients. Grass-fed cows produce higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, less omega-6 fatty acids, and more conjugated linoleic acid than conventional cows in the dairy industry!
Furthermore, A2 dairy can be a healthy and safe option for my fellow autoimmune warriors! Having worked with countless clients struggling with autoimmunity, I’ve found that most can tolerate A2 dairy well after gut imbalances are corrected. It might take some time, but by implementing a gut healing protocol and introducing dairy slowly, enjoying A2 milk benefits is possible!
For help determining whether you have a dairy sensitivity and a path to healing any gut imbalances or infections, check out my signature program Microbiome Makeover! I use quality functional medicine testing to guide you through a 7-step healing protocol so you can reverse your symptoms once and for all!
"When it comes to balancing our body, healing the gut, reversing autoimmunity, and achieving optimal health—we are a lot like a car that won’t run right. In order to fix the problem once and for all instead of relying on jumper cables, we must get underneath the hood, run the diagnostics, and replace the battery so that it runs good as new."
-Nikki Yelton, RD
If you are ready to stop wasting precious time, get off the never-ending hamster wheel, and finally surrender trying to figure things out on your own—this is your moment.
You don’t have to settle for just getting by and hoping tomorrow is a better day. We both know you are a woman who deserves better and are made for so. much. more.