It's called a2 Milk - "Great tasting British cows' milk with only the natural A2 milk protein, from specially selected cows that naturally produce a2 milk. Try a2 Milk today and see if you FEEL THE DIFFERENCE."
What I find most interesting is that never once do they try to explain what A2 milk protein actually is. Just that it is "natural", comes from cows and supposedly helps with milk digestion. Of course, that level of information is just not good enough for me. (It's also a perfect example of what Michael Pollan describes as "nutritionism"). I had to do some digging.
According to the a2 website:
“Most cows’ milk contains different types of protein, of which one group is known as caseins. The main types of the beta-casein fraction are A2 and A1. All natural a2 Milk comes from specially selected British dairy cows that produce milk containing only the A2 protein. A1 Protein digests differently to A2 protein and has been linked to discomfort after drinking milk. Some people may, in fact, be reacting to this specific A1 protein, rather than lactose or other general milk proteins, as is often assumed. Hence we believe a2 is the natural answer to a question of A1 milk protein intolerance.”Hmm, interesting. So my next (skeptical) questions were: what is the evidence of this A1 milk protein intolerance, and can it really be so widespread to warrant blanket marketing on the Tube?
Their website tries to address the evidence question, but I’m afraid it’s rather weak (see the FAQs). The study they use to back up their statistics did not actually look at A1 milk intolerance but at milk hypersensitivity in general, and was a cross-sectional study of 400 or so young adults (27 years old) in Finland using self-reported data of milk intolerance. The authors of the study recognized their limitations and the potential that their subjects could have had undiagnosed lactose intolerance instead of milk hypersensitivity.Its not a study that I would feel comfortable generalizing to other populations even if it had actually looked at A1 milk intolerance (which it didn't).
It seems that a2 Milk is an import from Australia (according to ever credible source of The Daily Mail), and its spokesperson is quoted in The Mail saying:
“‘While a2 Milk isn’t suitable for people who have been diagnosed with milk allergies or lactose intolerance, it’s a great option for those who suffer from an A1 milk protein intolerance,’ said Ms Bibby.”Yet she offers no advice on how you are to find out if you have an A1 milk protein intolerance.
I am suspicious – and certainly don’t feel this product is appropriate for mass marketing in the Tube.
For one, I feel that people who might have trouble digesting milk (which is entirely possible; I’m not refuting that) are going to now self-diagnose as A1 milk protein intolerant and therefore feel they must only by this special a2 Milk (The Mail says it costs £1.99 for 2 liters).
Secondly, I’d like to see better evidence that switching to a2 Milk helps relieve milk indigestion, preferably in a trial that does not rely on self-reported data of indigestion (because what one person defines as indigestion could be considered perfectly fine digestion by another person). I’d also like to see how this milk stacks up against other milk substitutes (e.g. rice, soy, oat, almond, etc.) in relieving the symptoms of milk intolerance.
I did a very brief (and not at all comprehensive) Pubmed search for a2 milk proteins and found a small trial looking at chronic functional constipation in children. Their conclusion was:
“The results of Trial 1 demonstrate an association between CFC and cow's milk consumption but Trial 2 failed to show an effect from type of casein. Some other component in cow's milk common to both A1 and A2 milk may be causing a problem in these susceptible children.”So, not exactly conclusive that switching to only a2 milk proteins would provide benefit. Granted this was a small trial looking at a very specific condition and I would need to look into this issue further before making any firm statements. But I am willing to say that the folks at a2 Milk would be wise to look critically at the evidence behind their product and then make that evidence publicly available. Especially if they want to be doing widespread advertising on the Tube.
I saw another version of this ad in another station this morning.
Two ladies were standing in front of it looking puzzeld. They saw me take a picture of it and struck up a conversation. I explained who I was and why I was taking the picture - and the woman looked at me and said "that makes me feel better because you are confirming my suspicions. The ad doesn't tell you what a2 proteins are or why they're needed!" So I need to say a thank you to that lady for giving me hope that we are starting to become more critical of the information around us!