Milk Proteins, Friend or Foe?

According to Dairy UK, the average person in the UK drinks 82 litres of milk a year, this is around 144 pints of milk! We also know however, that milk is one of the most common food allergens, but is all dairy milk the same? The short answer is no, it is definitely not the same and this can make the difference between whether a person tolerates a milk and feels well on it, or feels unwell after its consumption.

Much discussion often arises over the differences between cows’ milk and goats’ milk and one of the main differences between these two milk types is the proteins found in them. Most people think that milk is, well, just milk and that proteins are proteins, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. So let’s take a closer look at milk proteins and demystify the science behind them. It may just help you realise why you, a friend or family member seemingly can’t tolerate certain milk and help explain why you might feel much better consuming some dairy products compared to others.

We all know that protein is a healthy part of any balanced diet, required for hundreds of processes in the body, as well as being essential for growth and repair of muscles and tissues. There are however many different types of proteins, many of which we consume as part of our diet when we eat foods high in proteins. The two main proteins found in both cows’ and goats’ milk are called casein and whey, with casein being the most abundant protein, making up about 80% of the protein in both milk types. However it’s only when we take a closer look at this, that we start to realise exactly how proteins in milk differ from one another and how this difference can affect the digestibility of milk.  

So here comes the science bit. The dominant protein in milk, casein, has four different types called alphas1, alphas2, beta (bcasein) and kappa caseins. In goats’ milk, it is the bcasein that makes up

about 70% of the total caseins, with the alphas caseins making up the other 30%. Of this 30%, it is alphas2 casein that is found in highest amounts (keep this latter fact in the forefront of your mind, as this is key!). This composition differs greatly when compared to cows’ milk, as this contains almost 40% alphas caseins and most specifically the majority of that (around 30%) is alphas1 casein. This is an important fact, because it is specifically this alphas1 casein, which has been shown in many scientific studies to trigger gut inflammation, reduce gut motility and also pass through the gut wall, which can potentially cause effects on other body systems such as the skin. Alphas1 casein is also understood to be one of the main proteins that can be responsible for causing cow milk allergy, so less of this protein is a good thing in those people and those suffering similar symptoms such as bloating, cramping and bowel irregularities. The fact that goats’ milk contains much less alphas1 casein and more alphas2 casein, is most likely one of the reasons why consumers of goats’ milk often report improved digestion and better digestive health.

We cannot however, give all our attention to the alphase caseins as the bcaseins have some great advantages too when it comes to tolerability and digestion. The higher percentage of bcasein found in goats’ milk is a significant benefit, as it is this that gives goats’ milk a very similar protein profile to that found in human milk, which is very well tolerated. More bcasein in milk, also means easier digestion, because bcasein is more sensitive to the digestive enzyme called pepsin, which is secreted in your stomach and is responsible for the digestion and break down of proteins.

Now if you are familiar with the nursery rhyme ‘Little Miss Muffet’ (who sat on a tuffet), you will know that she ate her curds and whey! Well the difference in protein composition discussed above, has a big impact on how easily, quickly and in what consistency the proteins break down in our stomach and what type of curd is formed. The higher bcaseins and less alphas1 caseins found in goats’ milk form much softer curds to be formed upon digestion, which can more easily break down pass through our digestive systems. This is in contrast to cows’ milk, which has less bcasein and more alphas1 casein, which generally forms a much harder curd during digestion, which in some people can cause discomfort in the digestive and bowel area.

Hopefully this article has helped to demystify the science behind the proteins found in milk and emphasise that not all milk is the same and certainly doesn’t digest in the same way. Keeping our digestive systems healthy is key to good health, as 70-80% of your immune function is found in the digestive system and poor digestion can affect the skin, energy levels and bowel function.

Here at Delamere Dairy we love to hear your personal stories of how goats’ milk has worked for you, whether it be helping digestion, skin symptoms, migraines or even just a feeling of heightened health, we never tire of hearing your experiences. We hope this article may go some way in explaining why goats’ dairy products are advantageous when it comes to proteins…..especially those of the Delamere Dairy variety!!!


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