Review: Devil in the Milk

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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.

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What people are saying

  1. Local Nourishment says

    I had no idea what my dairy farmer was talking about when she said she chose her dairy cows specifically for their A2 milk. When I asked her, she lent me her copy of Devil in the Milk. I was skeptical at first as well, but after reading this book and doing a lot of additional research, I was convinced.

    Check out Local Nourishment’s last post: Want local produce without CSA membership?.

  2. says

    Happy that the majority of my milk is from organic jersey cows ;D

    When I read about it first time it was an A-ha moment for me
    - cause my lactose intolerant daughter could handle more of the jersey milk I got locally – BUT NOT the Holstein milk I got.
    Sadly I can´t get 100 % jersey milk in my area ( the farm closed :( )

  3. says

    Interesting! We just switched raw milk suppliers due to my son’s newly diagnosed sensitivity to raw cow milk (the new supplier can supply me with both Jersey cow and goat milk). Once we get his food issues under control, I’ll have to investigate further if maybe he can have the Jersey milk. That would make my life a lot easier!

    Check out Julie’s last post: Making Sourdough Bread.

  4. says

    Jenny, thanks for posting about A1/A2 milk. It’s an interesting subject and I don’t believe we have all the answers yet. It still needs more research. For instance, is A1 milk more prone to producing BCM7 only after pasteurization? If so, then raw milk high in A1 might not be harmful. I get raw milk from a purebred Jersey herd, which should be low in A1 and high in A2, and that was one of the reasons I switched to this dairy nearly three years ago. I like it for the extra milk fat as well, 5% versus 3% for typical Holstein milk. Like you, I’ve also decided to use more goat cheese, just to be safe.

    Check out Bryan – oz4caster’s last post: Food Freedom.

  5. Jenny says

    That is a really good question, Bryan. From what I understand, pasteurization does not affect whether or not the casein is broken down into BCM7; however, those with healthy intestinal flora are less likely to be affected by BCM7 produced by A1 milk. So, getting raw milk whether from high A2-producing cows like jerseys or high A1-producing cows like holsteins seems to still be preferable to pasteurized milk–especially considering most US milk is A1 milk. My take is that if you have a family history that makes you prone to autoimmune issues, or neurological issues and you can’t get A2 milk (either pasteurized or raw), maybe milk just isn’t a good choice. But if you’re healthy, with a healthy intestinal tract full of proliferating beneficial microflora, a little bit of A1 milk probably isn’t going to do too much damage. Interestingly, the book also mentioned that a teeny bit of BCM7 is produced from human milk so we are probably made to absorb at least a little bit. You should check out the book, though, it is a great read.

  6. Maria says

    Raw A1 milk still not good enough. BCM7 is produced in vitro (in tubes) and has been measured in the urine and in the blood of several people. It is due to A1 milk composition.

    Pasteurized A1 milk is even worse.
    And long-heated A1 milk is the worst (as in the Holder method of 63ºC (145F) for 30 minutes). Both time & temperature are important.

    Is in the book: Corran McLachlan is pointed by the author waving in those directions. See pages: 53, 70, 122, 123.
    And a experiment is mentioned (dumb scientists), where heating the powders migth have lead to glycation (pages: 122, 123), thus compromising the experiment.

    So… raw milk is good, just make sure is A2 milk and dont overheat it.

  7. Edward Jameson says

    Unless the cows are genetically tested as A2 producers you can never know for certain. No matter what the breed all cows will produce A1 milk that’s just a fact. So my advice is to not take too much comfort in the breed of cow your getting your milk from. The farmer needs to varify via a genetic test. At this time that’s the ONLY way to know what your drinking. “google it” for more details.

  8. Ross Allen says

    Does anybody know the effects of probiotic yogurt made from A1 milk? I wonder do the healthy bacteria negate the effects of BCM7? If not then cream is safe right?

  9. Dr. Dennis Tim Crowe says

    I have a question? I have a 16 month old grandson who has a severel months issue of having a significant amont of muscus and this is also associated with a chronic cough. Since I heard about the A! milk I have wondered… his problems with repeated colds and muscus began when he was switched over to cow’s milk (pasturized) from his mother’s milk. I want to do a test trial and I have asked my daughter not to feed our Grandson any milk for at least 3 days and substitute just water instead. Do you this is a long enough test time to see if this might be the reason for the muscus and cough> decreasing these symptoms?

    Second part of the question… do we also have to have her not feed him Yogurt and Cheese (Cow origin)?

    Thank you

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