26 June 2009
“The Devil in the Milk” — Dr. Thomas Cowan on how the A1 – A2 factor explains why even raw milk sometimes does not seem to be enough of an improvement
The trouble is that we have “the wrong kind of cows”. It seems the black and white cows — Holsteins and Friesians — generally give milk that contains a small but significant amount of beta-casein type A1, which behaves like an opiate and which epidemiological studies have implicated in heart disease, Type 1 diabetes, autism and schizophrenia. This is big news, folks. Heart disease is the leading cause of death. This is like cigarettes and cancer. Dr. Thomas Cowan, co-founder of the Weston A. Price Foundation has published this fascinating introduction to the subject in his email newsletter:
“I have been involved in thinking about the medicinal aspects of cow’s milk virtually my entire 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 25 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. It is the very foundation of western civilization (not that this is necessarily so good). On the other hand, pasteurized, particularly low-fat, milk products have caused more disease than perhaps any other substance people are generally in contact with. This view was re- enforced when I met and joined up with Sally Fallon and learned the principles of the Weston A. Price Foundation. End of story, I thought – I could stop thinking about milk.
Over the years, every once in a while Sally would say to me, “You know we have the wrong cows here.” I had also heard this from assorted bio-dynamic farmers but didn’t really know what to make of this or whether this was a medical issue I should be tackling. All along, though, 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 diet (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) and the use of low dose naltrexone, both of which I have described in previous Fourfold newsletters, 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 medicine that stimulated endogenous (one’s own) endorphin production. Then, a further nudge on this topic showed up about a month ago. I was asked to consider writing the foreword to a book called The 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) fat or cream, 2) whey, and 3) milk solids. For this story we are only concerned about the milk solid part, as the fat and whey don’t have this “devil”. The milk solid part is composed of many different proteins which have their own names, lactose, and other sugars. It is the protein part of the solid 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 is the predominant protein called beta- casein.
As you may or may not know, all proteins are long chains of amino acids that have many “branches” coming off different parts of the main chain. Beta casein is a 229 chain of amino acids with a proline at number 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 (e.g. 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, and include breeds like Holstein.
The side chain that comes off this amino acid is called BCM 7. BCM 7 is a small protein (called a peptide) that is a very powerful opiate and has some undesirable effects on animals and humans. What’s important here is 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.
This opiate BCM 7 has been shown in the research outlined in the book to 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 in 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 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 that BCM 7 selectively binds to the epithelial cells in the mucus membranes (i.e. the nose) and stimulates mucus secretion.
For reasons which are unclear historically, once this mutation occurred many thousand 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 cows milk and exposed to the opiate BCM7 are more docile than their traditional brethren (in effect, they were stoned). This is only speculation, of course. But what is true is that basically all American dairy cows have this mutated beta-casein and are predominantly A1 cows.
The amazing thing for me is that all these years Sally was right: it’s not the fat, it’s not the whey, and it’s not raw milk. Consider French cheese – mostly due to culinary snobbery, the French never accepted these A1 breeds of cow, claiming they have lousy milk. Voila, they have good 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 endorphins instead of the toxic opiate of BCM 7, some amazing health benefits ensue.
So what are we all to do with this? Does this mean no one should drink US raw cow’s milk? One saving grace, as expressed in The Devil in the Milk, is that the absorption of BCM 7 is much less in people with a healthy GI tract. This also parallels the ideas of GAPS theory which talks a lot about this. BCM 7 is also not found in goat’s or sheep’s milk, so these types of milk might be better tolerated.
One 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. Hopefully, when this becomes widespread we will end up with a truly safe and healthy milk supply. Then maybe I should just change my name. ”