Milky matters: Maneka Gandhi writes on the dark side of India's 'White flood'

By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Milk is about 85% water. The remaining 15% is milk, sugar, lactose, protein, fat and mineral. The difference between A1 and A2 protein is subtle. They are different forms of beta-casein, a part of the milk solids that make up 30 percent of the protein content in milk. A2 beta-casein is what cows have produced since before they were first domesticated, over 10,000 years ago. It is considered safe. Due to a natural mutation that occurred in some European dairy herds a few thousand years ago, the beta-casein they produced changed. This new kind of beta-casein that was created came to be known as A1 beta-casein, and is generally the more commonly found one, since cows with A1 beta-casein are larger in size and high-yielding as compared to cows with A2 beta-casein.

A1 and A2 beta-casein are genetic variants of the beta-casein milk protein that differ by one amino acid. The amino acid that separates A1 from A2 beta-casein is called beta-casomorphin-7 (BCM-7). BCM-7 is an exogenous opioid that interacts with the human digestive system, internal organs and brainstem and causes major health problems. It has been linked to serious health conditions that include type-1 diabetes, cancer, arthritis, leukaemia, osteoporosis, heart disease, mental health conditions such as depression and schizophrenia, autism, sudden infant death syndrome and allergies. The majority of cows in India carry the A1 gene.

 Milky matters: Maneka Gandhi writes on the dark side of Indias White flood

Representational image. Reuters

While the A1 gene was originally found in cows in the West, the traditional Indian cows produced A2 beta-casein. India had 37 pure cattle breeds which included Sahiwal, Gir, Red Sindhi, Rathi and Kankrej. The milk delivered by all these cows was of the A2 variety. However, for the last few decades, Indians have been following a policy of cross-breeding, to increase milk productivity. New breeds were developed after the government programme, White Flood, was launched in 1970. India went on to cross its native cows with the European species of Jersey and Holstein Friesian, which delivered A1 milk. The Indian Gir, which has not been genetically altered, produces A2 beta-casein, but is almost on the verge of extinction as it is low-yielding and therefore not considered profitable enough for dairy farms.

Interest in the distinction between A1 and A2 beta-casein proteins began in the early 90's by scientists in New Zealand who found correlations between the prevalence of milk with A1 beta-casein proteins and various chronic diseases. In 1993, Professor Bob Elliott, a professor of child health research at the University of Auckland compared the per-capita consumption of A1 milk to the prevalence of diabetes and heart disease in 20 countries and came up with strong correlations between the two. As his research progressed, he learned that the A1 protein seemed to cause some people to experience bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, nausea, mucus build up and general discomfort. A 1997 study, published by Elliott in the International Dairy Federation, showed A1 beta-casein caused mice to develop diabetes, lending support to the hypothesis. Since then several researchers have found A1 milk to be of considerably inferior quality to A2 milk. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirms that BCM-7 is released from A1 milk. Another research in the Journal of Food Chemistry says that BCM-7 comes either or totally from A1 beta-casein, and implicates the beta-casein in a range of chronic health conditions such as heart disease, digestive issues and allergies.

Numerous recent tests have shown that blood from people with autism and schizophrenia contains higher than average amounts of BCM-7. A recent study at Northeastern University in Boston showed that the presence of similarly high amounts of BCM-7 in gut cells causes a chain reaction that creates a shortage of antioxidants in neural cells, a condition that has been linked to autism. In a study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, the trial not only found differences between the A1 and A2 beta-casein, but said that it was evident that the differences were considerable and statistically significant. Rats that were fed A1 showed an inflammation of about 65% in the colon.

A 2009 study documented that infants that were fed A1 beta-casein milk developed muscle tone and psychomotor skills more slowly than infants that were fed A2 milk. A 2011 study implicates BCM-7 in sudden infant death syndrome – the blood serum of some infants that almost died contained more BCM-7 than of healthy infants who were of the same age. Another study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in June 2014 confirms a difference in digestion between A1 and A2 proteins. In August last year, the Curtin University of Australia published a report in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition that humans on an A2 milk diet had less bloating and abdominal pain after they switched from the A1 beta-casein. The tests were carried out on 41 persons for eight weeks.

Each government that comes in, whether of the state (as in Uttarakhand), or at the centre, promises to restore the purity of the Indian cow breeds. Not one has made any move in this direction. In fact, it is the Indian cows that are going for slaughter. If you go on the road at night, especially in Orissa, Rajasthan and West Bengal you will see the slowly moving herd of Indian cows going to be killed illegally in the slaughterhouses of Bangladesh and Andhra Pradesh. In Uttar Pradesh, there are hardly any cows left. In the next five years cows will be a memory - we will have made the jump to buffaloes.

Must you drink milk? If you must, at least try and find and out what cows are being used in the packaged sarkari milks, Amul, and your local dairy.

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Updated Date: Jan 25, 2016 23:00:04 IST