I mentioned in my last post that we’re on the hunt for a second milk cow and mentioned that we’re searching for a cow with the A2/A2 gene. A friend asked me what the A2 gene was, and I thought this would be a good time to talk about some of the things we’ve learned and are trying to implement with our milking animals.
First, and most controversial is our stance on raw milk. As most of you probably know, we do not pasteurize Lucy’s milk before we drink it and as I’ve ranted about before, I trust our raw milk infinitely more times than I trust any pasteurized milk on the supermarket shelves! Having said that, however, there are some legitimate concerns to raw milk. When we thought our goats might have CL, a disease that is transmittable to humans through goats milk, I spent a lot of time researching and reconsidering my stance on raw milk and in the end felt more safe about our decision to drink raw milk than I had before! A lot of information has been written on this subject, so I’ll just hit the highlights (and you may notice that my reference numbers are all over the place… that’s because I dug up some of these references after I wrote the article, and changed other things around and was too lazy to put them back in order. I also didn’t cite references to everything, because some of this is pretty common knowledge and references are not hard to find. Thankfully, this is a blog post not a scientific journal.):
Why Raw Milk?
1.) Pasteurization lowers vitamin content and destroys enzymes. It also completely changes the structure of milk proteins and destroys the beneficial bacteria found in milk.
2.) Many enzymes in milk (the same enzymes that pasteurization kills) actually have antimicrobial effects and will destroy pathogens if they are present in milk, including Listeria and E. coli. (In a humorous twist of irony, the FDA actually approved an enzyme present in raw milk [lactoferrin] as a spray to reduce E. coli outbreaks!!!) (1) So while opponents of raw milk rely on sterilization to kill pathogens in milk, enzymes present in unpasteurized milk form healthy cows will do the same, without destroying the beneficial elements in milk. Of course, milk from a large dairy is much more likely to have a huge pathogen count and a low enzyme/healthy bacteria content present due to unsanitary conditions and unhealthy feeding practices (more on this below) so they must rely on pasteurization to make their milk safe for human consumption. Here is a fascinating link to the studies that explain this: Does Raw Milk Kill Pathogens
3.) Many studies have linked consumption of pasteurized milk with health problems such as lactose intolerance, allergies, asthma, frequent ear infections, gastro-Intestinal problems, diabetes, auto-Immune disease, attention deficit disorder and constipation. (7)
3.) Pasteurization is not a guaranteed method of protection against food-borne illness. Several people die each year from pasteurized milk and dairy products. E-coli, botulism, Listeria, parasite spores and other bacteria routinely found in pasteurized milk cause illness and death. Not a single death has been reliably reported from raw milk consumption (6).
4.) Studies show that children fed raw milk enjoy a myriad of health benefits including: more resistance to TB (2); more protection against flu, diphtheria and pneumonia (3); better growth and calcium absorption (4); and fewer allergies, skin problems and asthma (5) than children who drink pasteurized milk.
Does this mean that all raw milk is safe? No, it doesn’t. All food carries some degree of risk. For our family, however, we believe the benefits outweigh those risks, especially considering that I have daily access to our milk cow and I know exactly how she’s being cared for. I wouldn’t trust raw milk from a large dairy where huge numbers of cows are kept together indoors, and I don’t trust raw milk from cows who are fed large amounts of grain. Which leads me to my next point….
Why Grass Fed Milk?
If we were to feed our cow the amounts of grain she was used to in her old home, we could be getting twice the amount of milk from her and wouldn’t need a second cow. If we were to purchase a Holstein from a large-scale dairy and feed her the amounts of grain she’s used to (up to thirty pounds per day!) we could get up to 15 gallons of milk every day! So why wouldn’t we want to feed our cows grain?
1.) Cows are ruminants and were designed to eat grass. “Ruminant animals have four stomachs and are evolutionarily adapted to eat pasture, browse and other plants. When cows are fed grains, the rumen pH lowers, microbes change and the animal’s health (also milk and meat) is adversely affected, and cows eating large amounts of grain can even die.” (13).
This cannot be overemphasized. The average lifespan of a cow in a commercial dairy operation is 5 years. After this, they’re often too ill to produce the amount of milk required of them, and they’re sent to slaughter. I have to ask myself: if a cow fed high amounts of grain can become that unhealthy that quickly, how healthy can the milk from a grain-fed cow possibly be?
“Cows that are fed grain and raised under substandard conditions will likely produce milk that is unhealthy to drink raw because grains… change the pH balance and the natural bacteria present in a cow’s gut, which in turn affects the natural bacteria and pathogens present in their milk.” (23)
In fact, based on the research I’ve done, I’ve come to the conclusion that raw milk from grain-fed animals is almost as unhealthy as the stuff on the supermarket shelf. If, in the future, our family is ever in need of milk (though I can’t imagine we will be!), and we can’t find milk from primarily grass-fed animals, we simply won’t drink it.
2.) Milk from pastured cows contains an ideal ratio of essential fatty acids —omega-6 and omega-3’s. Studies show that those who consume roughly equal amounts of those two fats have a lower risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, allergies, obesity, diabetes, dementia, and various other mental disorders (8). Cows raised on pasture have an ideal, one-to-one ratio of essential fatty acids (vs. their grain-fed counterparts who have a 1:5 ratio, in favor of omega 6’s.) (9)
3.) Milk from pastured cows has up to five times more cancer-fighting CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) than milk from grain-fed cows. French researchers compared CLA levels in the breast tissues of 360 women and found that women with the most CLA in their tissue (and thus the most CLA in their diets) had a 74 percent lower risk of breast cancer than the women with the least CLA (10) . An Irish study extracted CLA from the milk of grass-fed cows and added small amounts (20 parts per million) to human breast cancer cells growing in culture. By the eighth day, the CLA had killed 93% of the cells!!! (11)
4.) Cows raised on pasture produce far less milk than cows raised on a grain-based diet. Wait, what? Why is this a good thing?! Well, a cow only has a certain number of vitamins that she can transfer into her milk. The less milk a cow produces, the more vitamins are in that milk (I think this is one of the reasons that goats milk has far more vitamins than cows milk. Smaller animal, less milk, more vitamins per glass.) Milk from super-cows bred to produce 10+ gallons a day on 20+ pounds of grain has a higher water content than milk from grass-fed cows, and far less nutrition (12).
Why A2/A2 Cows (and what is A2 milk?)
There are two main forms of cow’s milk protein beta-casein, (known as A1 and A2 beta-casein.) Originally, all cows produced A2 beta-casein, but as the industry started to breed for more and more production, a genetic mutation happened and the A1 form of beta-casein started to show up in dairy cattle.
The beta-casein proteins found in cow’s milk are made of a string of 209 amino acids all linked together. The difference between A1 and A2 amazingly is just one of those amino acids. With A1 milk, number 67 is a histidine instead of a proline. (14) Why is this important?
Proline has a strong bond to a small protein called 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. (15)
BCM7 interferes with the body’s immune response and has been shown to cause neurological impairment, especially autistic and schizophrenic changes, in animals and people exposed to it (16), (17). In animals injected with BCM 7 it has been shown to to provoke type 1 diabetes and heart disease (18), (19). In his book Devil in the Milk, Dr. Woodford presents research showing a direct correlation between a populations exposure to A1 cow’s milk and their rates of heart disease, type 1 diabetes, schizophrenia and autoimmune disease.
Research has also shown that babies fed formula milk absorb BCM-7 into their blood. More importantly they have shown that some of the babies can get rid of the BCM-7 rapidly from their systems, but that other babies retain it in the bloodstream. Those babies who are unable to rapidly breakdown and excrete the BCM-7 from their systems are at very high risk of delayed psychomotor development (20) and SIDS (21), (22)
There are more studies needed, and much is still unknown about this mutation (for instance, does it affect everyone, or only some?) but it is not impossible to find cows who test positive for the A2 gene and it’s not difficult to focus a breeding program around it, so we are making this a part of our long-term goals by selecting only A2 cows and bulls.
(Interestingly enough, about 98% of all Guernsey cows and 50% of all Jerseys test positive. Contrast that with the industry’s most popular cow – the Holstein – with the lowest percentage of cows who test positive for the A2 gene)…
What can be done?
Now that I’ve established some of the main reasons we have the animal husbandry practices we do, and why we’ve chosen the cow we’ve chosen, you may be asking what you can do about the health and safety of your milk, if you don’t have a cow?
First, if you don’t have the time or space for a cow, but are inclined to milk your own animal, you can get a goat! They require a fraction of the space, can be milked once a day instead of twice, and there are a few breeds whose milk doesn’t taste “goaty.” Nigerian Dwarf goats, in particular, have a high percentage of milkfat and their milk tastes great! They can also live comfortably on a third of the land as a standard goat, and will give less milk which is good for an average size family who doesn’t need a gallon of milk every day.
Second, you can look for raw milk herdshares available in your area. You can visit these farms and ask questions about how the cows are cared for. Most people who offer raw milk are passionate about their cow’s health (they’re drinking it, too!), pasture their cows and feed very little grain, comparatively. It may be tough to find a herdshare program with A2 cows, but it’s not impossible, and as a general rule if you choose a herdshare with Jerseys or Guernseys and stay away from Holsteins you have a pretty good chance of running into an A2 cow. You can also request that the herdshare program test their cows and ask if their breeding program includes plans to convert to an A2 herd in the future.
If you are interested in finding raw milk in your area, be ready to do a little digging! Many Amish and Mennonite communities have members who sell raw milk (this is where we purchased our milk for years,) and many farmers sell raw milk labeled as pet food (in many states, it is illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption.) The website below is a good place to start looking for a distributor in your area:
*We are located near Bowling Green, KY. For more info about our husbandry practices and our A2/A2 grass-fed milk cows click Here.
Health Benefits of Organic vs. Conventional Milk (outside link – mercola.com)
2. Lancet, p 1142, 5/8/37
3. Am J Dis Child, Nov 1917
4. Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 518, p 8, 1/33
5. Lancet 2001 358(9288):1129-33
7.) Don’t Drink Your Milk, Frank Oski, MD, 1983
8.) The Omega Diet.
10.) Bougnoux ,et al.,Inform, 10:S43, 1999
11.) Pasture Perfect: How You Can Benefit from Choosing Meat, Eggs, and Dairy Products from Grass-Fed Animals by Jo Robinson
13.) Raising Healthy Dairy Cows edited by Sandra Redemske. Raw Milk Resource Guide, 2003
15.) Devil in the Milk Professor Keith Woodford. 2007. Craig Potton Publishing
16.) Kost NV, Sokolov OY, Kurasova OB, Dmitriev AD, Tarakanova JN, Gabaeva MV, et al. Beta-casomorphins-7 in infants on different type of feeding and different levels of psychomotor development. Peptides. 2009 Oct;30(10):1854-60.
17.) Cade JR, Privette MR, Fregly M, Rowland N, Sun Z, Zele V, et al. Autism and Schizophrenia: Intestinal Disorders. Nutr Neurosci. 2000;3:57-72.
18.) Elliott RB, Harris DP, Hill JP, Bibby NJ, Wasmuth HE. Type I (insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus and cow milk: casein variant consumption. Diabetologia. 1999 Mar;42(3):292-6.
19.) Laugesen M, Elliott R. Ischaemic heart disease, Type 1 diabetes, and cow milk A1 beta-casein. N Z Med J. 2003 Jan 24;116(1168):U295.
20.)Kost NV, et al. Β-casomorphins-7 in infants on different types of feeding and different levels of psychomotor development. Peptides 2009 Oct; 30(10):1854-60. (source: Russian Breakthrough Unravels BCM-7 Mysteries)
21.) Wasilewska J, Sienkiewicz-Szlapka E, Kuzbida E, Jarmolowska B, Kaczmarski M, Kostyra E. The exogenous opioid peptides and DPPIV serum activity in infants with apnoea expressed as apparent life threatening events (ALTE). Neuropeptides. 2011 (source: BCM7 and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)
22.) Kost NV, Sokolov OY, Kurasova OB, Dmitriev AD, Tarakanova JN, Gabaeva MV, et al. Beta-casomorphins-7 in infants on different type of feeding and different levels of psychomotor development. Peptides. 2009 Oct;30(10):1854-60. (source: BCM7 and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)
23.) The Despicable Reason Behind Raw Milk Bans, Dr. Mercola