A Different Kind of Intolerance

Nearly two decades ago, Kelly unravelled the mystery of my digestive tract that had eluded me for a number of years. It had become commonplace for me to get an upset stomach after eating. I didn’t think much of it really, but Kelly noticed a pattern: it only happened after meals that involved milk of some kind. “I bet you’re lactose intolerant.” Turns out she was right. Kind of.

Being an avid dairy fan, I quickly reached for the helping hand of big pharma to enable my addiction. Lactaid seemed to work on occasion, but not consistently. Then I discovered Digestive Advantage “Lactose Defense Formula” which seemed to work a bit better, but I hated having to take the pills all the time. So I stopped and just tried to avoid dairy as much as possible. As Jeremy can attest, it made trips to places like Wisconsin rather difficult.

Every now and then, I’d “splurge” (a.k.a., do something I’d later regret) and have a special cheese or a gelato. The weird thing I noticed was that sometimes I would have an issue, other times I’d be totally fine. Coming from a scientific background, I decided to begin experimenting in an effort to suss out the source of my digestive discomfort.

Along the way, I discovered that I had no issues with goat and sheep milk cheeses1. I also found that I only occasionally had issues with cow milk-based cheeses in Europe. But why?

At first I thought that maybe non-cow milks didn’t have lactose, but that’s not the case. At least according to Wikipedia, both sheep milks even contain more lactose. So lactose intolerance apparently wasn’t my problem. I was perplexed.

I continued digging and stumbled on a website about a doctor who’d been researching proteins in milk. The site I found it on looked like a straight-up conspiracy site,2 so I took what it said with a grain of salt, but the gist was this: When we domesticated cows around 10,000 years ago, they produced only the protein A2 beta-casein. Around 8,000 years ago, a genetic mutation occurred that caused some cattle to produce A1 beta-casein.

A1 beta-casein producing cows are pretty much all we have now in the United States, New Zealand, Australia, and Europe (except parts of Southern Europe). The reason seems to be that A1 beta-casein producing cows were milder mannered and easier to work with. They became the preference in most industrial farms. There are a few books out there about it if you’re interested. The Devil in the Milk seems to be particularly well-reviewed and draws connections between A1 milk and heart disease, Type 1 diabetes, autism, and schizophrenia.

I hadn’t really thought about it for a while, but the other day happened to see A2 brand milk in my grocery store the other day and decided to give it a try. Two bowls of delicious cereal later and I’m convinced that I’m actually allergic to A1 beta-casein. Not that it helps me order in restaurants. I’m sure some server would think I was straight out of Portlandia if I asked them if their milk was A1 or A2.

Anyway, if you think you’re lactose intolerant, you might want to run a little experiment of your own to determine if you’re actually lactose intolerant or if you’re really allergic to A1 beta-casein.

  1. A fact that I was quite happy to discover. Goat cheeses are among some of the best I’ve ever had. Two recommendations: Cocoa Cardona from Carr Valley and Snøfrisk Firm Goat’s Cheese. ↩︎

  2. Alas I can’t find the link any longer. ↩︎