A2 milk – health or hype?

We check out the evidence for its claims.

20jun a2 milk hero

“Feel the difference”. That’s the tagline for the a2 Milk brand, targeted at people who don’t get on with regular milk. It’s pricier than the standard stuff but is there any evidence you’ll feel any difference after drinking it?

The A2 debate has been around since the early 1990s. Back then, much of the debate centred on whether the A1 protein in milk was a risk factor for diseases such as heart disease, type-1 diabetes and autism. But in 2009, the European Food Safety Authority published a report stating these claims weren’t backed by available evidence.

Today, the focus has largely shifted to digestive problems.

The a2 Milk website states “for some of those people who have trouble drinking regular cow’s milk, it might be because of the A1 protein” – hence “feel the difference”.

A 2019 systematic review published in Nutrition Reviews assessed 25 studies involving A2 milk. It couldn’t say for sure there were benefits from drinking A2 milk, concluding the evidence only provided “moderate certainty” for digestive symptoms and low to very low certainty for all other outcomes.

Dr Daniela Kuellenberg de Gaudry, lead author of the review, said most trials had a follow-up time of 12 weeks or less and included a small number of participants, leading to imprecise results.

Twelve of the 25 studies in the review were sponsored by The a2 Milk Company. The company said more studies have been published since the review, including research by AgResearch and the Auckland-based Liggins Institute. This study was co-funded by a2 Milk and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

The study investigated the effect of regular milk (containing both A1 and A2 proteins) and a2 Milk on digestive comfort in women with self-reported dairy intolerance. The small double-blind study of 40 women, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded some aspects of short-term gut discomfort were improved with a2 Milk compared with regular milk. Longer-term studies are underway.

University of Otago human nutrition and medicine Professor Jim Mann has followed the A2 debate since the milk was launched and has seen no convincing evidence of benefits.

“A2 milk is an example of brilliant marketing. Until more large-scale human trials are conducted, you’re better off buying your milk on taste, price and sustainable packaging,” Professor Mann said.

Based on the state of current evidence, Dr Kuellenberg de Gaudry wouldn’t recommend A2 milk for people in the general population with gastrointestinal complaints. “But it cannot be ruled out that the evidence could change in the near future when more studies performed with high-quality standards are published,” she said.

Despite the lack of definitive evidence, The a2 Milk Company is creaming it. For the half year ending 31 December 2019, it posted a $185 million profit after tax – an increase of 21 percent.

In 2018, Fonterra entered into a partnership with The a2 Milk Company. Fonterra sells a2 Milk under the Anchor brand. This milk isn’t cheap. Two litres costs $6.45 while two litres of Anchor’s regular blue top milk is $4.63. You can also buy A2 protein milk from smaller companies such as Fresha Valley for a cheaper $4.90 for two litres.

What is A2 milk?

Nutritionally, A2 milk is similar to regular milk in terms of how much protein, fat and calcium it contains. The difference is in their types of beta-casein protein. Beta-casein makes up 30% of the protein in milk and comes in two main forms – A1 and A2. Most cows produce a mix of A1 and A2 beta-casein but some cows produce only A2 beta-casein, which is where A2 milk comes from.

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Juliet T.
08 Aug 2020
A2 organic delivered in bottles

I love it. It supports the local farmer and the top is the only waste. It makes beautiful coffee. The grandchildren always ask for milk and more. They say they like it better than what they have at their places.

Rob M.
29 Jun 2020
Freshness more important

We get A2 milk delivered in glass bottles straight from the farm. They only have A2 cows. Only processing is pasteurisation. Tastes far better than anything else including Fonterra A2.
Freshness and minimal processing is by far more important if you ask me.

Bruce M.
28 Jun 2020
Lasts longer

Using Light Blue A2 seems to be great and tastes the same longer than blue topped relative to 'best before' dates at work...maybe LB has more water content ?
Anyway at home I like Light Blue topped A2 for everything, great with Kahlua

John G.
27 Jun 2020
Yummy taste

I have never had problems with any kind of milk.
Except for the flavor, or most commonly, the lack of......
Try that Fresha Valley A2 and notice that full Jersey flavour.....
You, like me, will never go back...!.....unless the shelf is empty again....

Your Highness
27 Jun 2020
Non a2 milk

Ordinary milk isn't cheap either. And the packaging is an environmental disaster. I'm lucky in that I'm not adversely affected by a1, and I sympathise with those who are. I will continue to buy my milk in powder form and mix it with water from the tap. It's less than half the price of pre-mixed plastic-packaged so-called "fresh" milk. What a joke - it's made up from powder anyway. Not to mention the cost to the environment in transporting water (with added milk powder) around the country. Prof Mann has a point about buying decisions, but there's no doubt that many have benefited from switching away from a1. My kids were brought up with goats milk, before I read any of the science, and I give myself a pat on the back for it.

Willie &Chris V.
28 Jun 2020
Sorry you’re wrong

This is an old urban myth. If you do a bit of research you’ll find that the practice of “adding” milk powder to bring late season milk up to standard (as in standardised milk) is no longer used. So the milk on the shelves of your supermarket is not made from milk powder, when the protein levels are to low at the end of the season it is supplemented with a fluid concentrate to bring it up to standard nowadays. ChrisV

Rob S.
27 Jun 2020
A2 Milk benefits

Several years back I was suffering from Chron's disease, and most mornings was having to sprint to the toilet. The symptoms were slightly better in the afternoons, but sprints were still necessary. I read about the benefits of A2 and decided to give it a four week trial. After the end of the trial my initial reaction was not much different, and was about to abandon the trial when I realised that I was able to take my time a bit more in moving to the toilet. I persevered and gradually improved. Then along came the Canterbury earthquakes which disrupted many grocery supplies , including A2. I thought I was cured by now so reverted to A1. In just 3 days I was back to sprinting, and it took over a fortnight without A1 to get back to regular. I am convinced. Rob Shand, Nelson

sewsable
27 Jun 2020
It might be anecdotal but I notice a difference

A2 milk has way less effect on my digestive system than the standard, though I try to get mine non-homoginised which may also make a difference.

Robin F.
27 Jun 2020
Goat milk

I understand this is A2. As far back as 1903 my father was put on it as a sickly twin.
RGF

Ray M.
27 Jun 2020
The incentive?

A2 has no real incentive to put large amounts of cash into definitive, large scale and expensive studies. As you say it is already creaming it without real evidence. If it did a large study and got a good answer it likely wouldn't make more money and if it came back with no benefit the whole business case could collapse.
The smart money for A2 is to stick with the 'some people' 'some benefit' line. Classic marketing non-speak which allows them to keep rolling in the cash.

Jane B.
27 Jun 2020
Nausea completely stopped!

My 84 yr old mom who lives with me has battled nausea/indigestion for years. Medications from numerous doctors never worked. She was living on a tube of quickies a day. 3 weeks ago whilst shopping I picked up 2x2 litres of A2 milk but never said anything to her. Come the following nite I realised she hadnt complained once of any stomach problem and hadnt had any Quickies. 3 weeks in shes remained symptom free. Shes still unaware I have changed over to A2 milk and I have no intention of telling her but the only conclusion I can come to is its made the difference.

john a.
27 Jun 2020
dissapointing to read such a shallow and trivial article

I thought Consumer was better than this. The A2 story is one of breakthrough health science marred by many years of challenge from interested parties such as Fonterra who did everything they could to discredit A2 in the early years. Fonterra have now quietly included A2 milk into mainstream herd genetics and also bought into the company, a clear sign that they know the product has consumer health benefits far more than the “marketing spin” which this article suggests.

This article is far too trivial for the importance of the subject, the research is neither deep nor balanced, and yet it comes down with a view which will influence readers. Consumer magazine should look in the mirror and ask if this article meets the standards it sets for itself.

in case you were wondering, the writer has never had any connection with A2 milk.

Glenis T.
27 Jun 2020
I noticed a difference

Since changing to A2 milk I have less reflux and more gut comfort. Surely that says something about the benefits.

Johanne S.
27 Jun 2020
Inconclusive doesn’t mean very much either way

There’s much talk about studies in this scanty article without stating the kind of studies, how many people how long etc. & it’s all based on the effects of milk on the digestive system.

For me it’s not about an upset stomach it’s about mucus, all milk that isn’t A2 causes my immune system to produce it in excess, causing sinus problems & increased asthma, when drinking A2 this doesn’t occur, coffee at home fine but if I have a coffee in a cafe within half an hour the problem starts again. So I have concluded that A2 is better for me.