Buy magic cow’s milk! It’s magic! My friend’s mum really liked it!

I’m worried I’m turning into a bit of a dick. Or at very least a bit of a cynical grumpy troll.

Hot on the heels of Genius Foods implying the gluten free diet is magic a healthy choice for everyone, I spied A2 milk implying their milk is magic ideal for people with gluten intolerance who might also be intolerant to a certain variety of cow’s milk:

a2

You what now? That seems to be a fairly big leap to make! The A2 website goes on to state “If you have an intolerance to the gluten protein, it is proven in clinical research that you’re more likely to have an intolerance to one of the proteins found in regular cows’ milk”

Huh, this looks interesting. Especially the word ‘proven’ in relation to an intolerance. Because I’m a dick cynical grumpy troll coeliactivist, I asked them for the evidence, because as far as I know:

  1. Gluten intolerance or ‘non coeliac gluten sensitivity’ (as opposed to coeliac disease), whilst experienced by many people, is not yet considered a scientifically proven condition.
  2. Without a proven way of measuring intolerance to gluten protein, how can you prove that milk proteins cause the same issue? Except for symptom monitoring which gives you no idea if it’s the milk protein or something else like lactose.
  3. Much less, how can you prove that a certain type of milk protein causes the same issue?

(For those that are unaware, A2 milk is a type of milk from cow’s selectively bred to produce milk with a certain type of the casein protein called ‘A2’ which is digested in a slightly different way. Most of the milk we have in the UK has the ‘A1’ variety. The theory goes that some people may be intolerant of or have negative health effects caused by the ‘A1’ variety, but that’s not proven either.)

A2 duly (although after some time) responded with what they considered ‘proof’. Or to use their words ‘food for thought’: namely a bunch of scientific content which (as far as my untrained eyes could see) did not support their claims. It seemed to say:

  • Digestion of gluten and A1 milk proteins produces pieces of amino acids that may cause changes in the body which may be important in newborns which may restrict antioxidant capacity which may predispose some people to inflammation which may partly explain the benefits of gluten-free or casein-free diets. (link) Huh, that’s a lot of ‘may’s! I’m not sure that could be considered proof. 
  • When people with coeliac disease break down gluten proteins into these pieces of amino acids, they naturally have an ‘opioid’ effect which may mask typical symptoms in some people diagnosed with coeliac disease (link). Interesting, but entirely irrelevant as we’re talking about people who don’t have coeliac, and we’re interested in people who do have symptoms. Plus this says nothing about milk proteins.
  • And a piece that concludes that “coeliac disease is the only common condition that has been unequivocally linked to gluten” and that attribution of other gluten-related issues is usually associated with poor therapeutic advice. (link) Um… this directly contradicts the claims!

a2-002

I should disclose here that I have past beef (pun intended) with A2 milk so am inclined towards skepticism. It’s the way they are careful to say ‘A2 milk is not for people with cow’s milk protein allergy or lactose intolerance’ yet continue to target RDs, allergy bloggers and parents with their marketing.

a2again

It’s also because I am astonished that a company can get away with trading on people’s health concerns yet meep ‘oh we’re not a medical product’ when challenged on their anecdotal health claims. If this were a pharmaceutical product would we tolerate marketing claims so wildly free of evidence? Would we tolerate marketing like this:

yellow pill-001

I think not.

I do think A2 is an interesting product, that deserves more robust research to see if it can help people – there’s obviously something interesting going on with those proteins!; but whilst their marketing team continue to try and make Joe (or more usually Joanne) Public worry about their diet to flog dairy products, and then bamboozle the curious few with irrelevant nutribabble in place of evidence; they are firmly on my ‘snake oil’ (cow oil?) list.

So, A2, I redrew your advertisement for you based on the best scientific evidence I have available to me:

a2-001

I am continuing my correspondence with A2 Milk to try to get to the bottom of what evidence they think they have for their claims, so will update you as more comes to light! And guys, please be aware I am NOT a scientist, I’ve done the best job I can to interpret the science, and will happily stand corrected if you know more than me – I have included the links A2 provided for you to look if you’d like to.

For a slightly less grumpy look at A2 Milk, you might like this post on Foods Matter.

If you liked this, you might be interested in the Ask for Evidence campaign from Sense About Science.

 

8 responses to “Buy magic cow’s milk! It’s magic! My friend’s mum really liked it!

  1. Hi Carly, I really admire and support the stance you are taking here and will also engage with A2 about this marketing. This looks messy at best, misleading and incorrect at worst.

    I do want to check if you are aware of the following in relation to two of the premises you set out?

    Premise 1. Gluten intolerance or ‘non coeliac gluten sensitivity’ (as opposed to coeliac disease), whilst experienced by many people, is not yet considered a scientifically proven condition.

    It is true that there is controversy about NCGS but there are certainly relevant experts that consider it to be a scientifically proven condition. The publication you linked to was describing just one (or two) studies amongst a wider evidence base. Two key papers I suggest looking at are –

    Evidence for the Presence of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity in Patients with Functional Gastrointestinal Symptoms
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4772047/

    Diagnosis of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS): The Salerno Experts’ Criteria
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4488826/

    Premise 2. Without a proven way of measuring intolerance to gluten protein, how can you prove that milk proteins cause the same issue? Except for symptom monitoring which gives you no idea if it’s the milk protein or something else like lactose.

    The Salarno Expert’s Criteria do provide a clinical methodology for diagnosis of NCGS but this does rely on self-rating so is subject to the weakness you describe. There is the Cyrex Array 4 though which claims to “Identify additional dietary proteins to which the Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitive (NCGS) or Celiac Disease (CD) patient is sensitized”. There may be some very robust scientific evidence for the validity of Cyrex Array 4. I do not know if that is true or untrue since that evidence is not published for public consumption. I do know of several functional medicine practitioners that endorse it but would prefer to be able to consume the evidence directly. I understand it is not published because Cyrex wish for their Array to remain propitiatory knowledge.

    Cyrex Array 4
    http://www.joincyrex.com/page/2196/Array-4-Gluten-Associated-Cross-Reactive-Foods-and-Foods-Sensitivity

    Blogger Article regarding evidence base for Cyrex Array 4
    http://www.thepaleomom.com/2013/03/gluten-cross-reactivity-update-how-your-body-can-still-think-youre-eating-gluten-even-after-giving-it-up.html

    • Thankyou for this comment and these studies- one of them is newer so I hadn’t seen before. It doesn’t look like the second one controlled for fodmaps etc? The first one is potentially interesting although doesn’t seem to be conclusive, either way it seems to me that if NCGS does exist (and it may well do) we certainly don’t know what the reasons are/what’s causing it; which is the link I think A2 were trying to make with the article they sent me- whether people with NCGS also react to A1 protein wasn’t in the scope.

      I’ve heard a few things about the Cyrex array, but as you say without the evidence I’m inclined not to comment- if it’s so groundbreaking you’d think it would have been published in peer-reviewed journals rather than kept private?

      • Interestingly, there is an answer to the following question, not on the Cyrex site itself but on the site of a Dr Tom Bryan, indicated as Clinical Advisor for Cyrex.

        Question: Does Cyrex have any references from medical literature to support that some gluten-sensitive people also have immune cross-reactions to other foods? For instance, eating dairy can trigger a gluten-like immune response because the body sees them as one and the same?***
        Answer: The lengthy answer can be found here http://thedr.com/faqs/

        I have not delved into the publications listed within the response and this exchange is motivating me to do that.

        Also interestingly, the response also features this!

        Question: Does Cyrex Array 4 test for both A1 beta casein and A2 beta casein?
        Answer: Cyrex Array 4 combines alpha and beta casein in one well. There is no need to separate the alpha and beta caseins because the proteins are the same for both. Not everyone tests positive to whole cow’s milk so the lab breaks down dairy into 6 different fractions . . . . . continued at http://thedr.com/faqs/

      • Interesting, but I have to say I’m inclined to take the work of Tom O’Bryan with a large pinch of salt as his main qualification seems to be as a chiropractor with a sideline in ‘functional medicine’ and selling supplements…

  2. I like this new tone. We definitely need this kick ass approach to manufacturers making these bold unsubstantiated claims. Keep up the good work.

  3. Ha! I gave up arguing with them – they just kept leading me ’round in circles, which didn’t get anywhere, and in the end I decided life was too short! Well done you for your persistence!!

  4. Hello,I read your blogs named “Buy magic cow’s milk! It’s magic! My friend’s mum really liked it! | gluten free b” like every week.Your humoristic style is witty, keep it up! And you can look our website about proxy free list.

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