Keith Woodward’s ground-breaking work Devil in the Milk published by Chelsea Green outlines a scientific tale of modern diseases and their relationship to the food we consume. Further, Devil in the Milk outlines how corporate interests can shape the way in which information about food and health is relayed to the public. Woodward draws upon his experience as a professor of agribusiness to outline a story that may help in the fight against diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autism and even schizophrenia.
While not an easy read, Woodward’s Devil in the Milk is a worthy read. Deeply science-based, Devil in the Milk assimilates several studies on just how cow’s milk is broken down by our bodies and how, when broken down, it can act to the betterment or the detriment of our health.
You see, milk is comprised of several different components that come together to produce one singularly unique food. These components (cream, milk solids and whey) each interact with our bodies in different ways; however, the area of concern is not the cream or whey but the milk’s casein. It seems there are two primary forms of casein contained in cow’s milk: A1 beta casein and A2 beta casein. A2 beta casein is the elder of the two, while A1 beta casein is a genetic variant that scientists believe began appearing in cow’s milk a few thousand years ago. Remember, a few thousand years is nothing on an evolutionary scale.
According to the theory outlined in Woodward’s Devil in the Milk which is backed up by mountains of scientific research, this variation in casein type results in cognitive, mental and physical illness among our society at large. Because of a slight differentiation in the amino acid construction of the two types of casein, each type is broken down differently in our bodies. Due to a weak bond between two amino acids, A1 beta casein breaks down to an opioid call betacasomorphin 7 or BCM7.
Woodward discusses the considerable evidence that BCM7 can negatively impact the health of both humans and animals. BCM7 can trigger autoimmune reactions and is linked to neurological impairment similar to that seen in both autism and schizophrenia. Further, due to BCM7′s ability to create a significant immune response, there’s a very direct connection between A1 milk and diabetes that is not paralleled by A2 milk.
Once the genetic mutation of A1 beta casein appeared, it spread rapidly. Now, most dairy cows in North America produce A1 beta casein. Asian, African and some European breeds still produce the older A2 beta casein that does not cause such negative health effects due to the fact that its amino acid bonds are strong and it doesn’t break down into BCM7 in the manner that A1 beta casein does. Further, yaks, sheep and goats produce A2 milk exclusively.
When I initially heard about the A1/A2 beta casein controversy, I felt wary. After all, the only information I could find on the subject came from the A2 milk corporation which Woodward discusses at length. Indeed, he addresses the A2 milk corporation and its science-based initiatives as well as the butting of heads that occurred between the A2 milk corporation and New Zealand’s Fonterra–a mega-corporation that represents New Zealand’s significant dairy industry. After reading Devil in the Milk, I reminded myself that just because a corporation has a vested interest in a certain product does not necessarily mean that the scientific conclusions are wrong. While it does raise a flag, such corporate interests do not provide cause to reject the scientific conclusions altogether. In this case, as addressed by Devil in the Milk, the conclusion that A1 milk is detrimental human health is spot-on correct.
Ultimately, after reading Devil in the Milk, I’m thankful that the milk my family drinks is raw and comes from Guernsey cows (the dairy cows with the highest levels of A2 beta casein instead of milk from those darlings of the industrial dairy: holsteins whose milk is high in A1 casein. Further, in purchasing dairy products outside of our cow share, I’ll choose sheep’s and goat’s milk cheeses.
Devil in the Milk is an eye-opening book that underlines the importance of truly traditional foods: don’t simply choose whole foods, but eat foods as that we evolved on. Devil in the Milk is published by Chelsea Green and is also available on Amazon; it’s worth checking out.