A1 vs. A2 Milk: What’s the Difference?

Last Update: February 14, 2023

In 2023, our team of experts predicted that real dairy is on its way back. A growing number of health-conscious milk drinkers favor genuine dairy over alternative milks as a nutrient-dense whole food, but they don’t just pick up a gallon of 2% at the grocery store. Instead, they’re concerned with things like dairy’s environmental impact, purity, and how to reap the health benefits without the digestive downfalls. 

One way to avoid those digestive issues from dairy may be to switch to A2 milk, a particular type of milk that may be easier on the digestive system. Read on for everything you need to know about the trendiest new milk since oat milk.  

A1 Milk vs. A2 Milk 

About 80% of the protein in milk is made up of a protein called casein. There are several different types of casein protein, but when discussing A1 and A2 milks, we’re focused on beta-casein proteins. 

The two most common types of beta-casein proteins are A1 beta-casein and A2 beta-casein proteins. Like their names imply, A1 milk contains more of the A1 beta-casein protein; A2 milk contains more of the A2 beta-casein protein. For some people, A2 milk is a beneficial milk alternative, as it may not cause the same digestive problems and discomfort as A1 milk (more on why later). 

What is A1 Milk?

A1 milk is milk that contains more A1 best-casein proteins. Some of the key characteristics of A1 milk are:

  • It contains higher amounts of the A1 beta-casein protein
  • It comes primarily from cows that originated in northern Europe, such as Holstein, Friesian, and British Shorthorn
  • It may be difficult to digest for those with dairy sensitivities 

What is A2 Milk? 

A2 milk is milk that contains more A2 best-casein proteins. Some of the key characteristics of A2 milk are:

  • It contains higher amounts of the A2 beta-casein protein
  • It comes from cows that originated in the Channel Islands and southern France, such as Guernsey and Jersey 
  • It may be easier to digest for those with dairy sensitivities 

Is A2 milk better for you than A1 milk?

Some studies suggest that A2 milk may be easier to digest than A1 milk, which means that people with dairy sensitivities may be able to drink A2 milk even if they experience discomfort from more common A1 milks. While those with lactose intolerance aren’t able to digest lactose (a sugar found in milk), some studies show that there are other components in milk that are difficult to digest, such as the A1 beta-casein protein. 

Milk containing the A1 beta-casein protein causes the human digestive system to release beta-casomorphin-7, which activates the body’s μ-opioid receptors (the receptors that regulate your body’s response to pain). On the other hand, milk containing the A2 protein did not trigger this same response. 

In one study, participants experienced common gastrointestinal issues (like inflammation, stomach pain and longer gastrointestinal transit times), when drinking milk with both A1 and A2 beta-casein proteins; when they drank milk with only A2 proteins, they didn’t experience those symptoms. 

While A2 milk isn’t necessarily “better” for you nutritionally, it may be a good option for those who can’t typically consume milk with the A1 beta-casein protein without digestive issues. 

So, What is Raw Milk?

Raw milk, while not directly related to A2 milk, is another trend you may notice in the dairy aisle. So what is it, exactly?

Raw milk is milk that hasn’t been pasteurized. Pasteurization is a process that kills the pathogens that cause disease and foodborne illness. Raw milk supporters believe that pasteurization removes beneficial nutrients in milk, though evidence to support this theory is lacking.

Benefits of raw milk 

According to some, raw milk contains whole, bioavailable vitamins and minerals, fats, and proteins that may be damaged during the pasteurization process. 

Aside from these nutrients, supporters also believe that raw milk contains beneficial bacteria that facilitates production of an enzyme called lactase (the enzyme that helps to digest lactose). This is why some people believe that lactose intolerant people can drink raw milk, even though they’re unable to consume traditional dairy. 

Note: these benefits are primarily anecdotal, and evidence to support their validity is lacking. Pasteurization is the only way to ensure that there are no disease-causing pathogens in milk, which are particularly harmful to children and immunocompromised individuals. 

Can you drink raw milk if you’re lactose intolerant? 

No; raw milk still contains lactose, the disaccharide found in milk that triggers lactose intolerance. People with lactose intolerance lack the enzyme required to digest lactose, which means they also can’t digest raw milk. 

Is raw milk legal? 

Raw milk is legal to drink in all 50 states. While it is up to individual states to create their own laws about selling and distributing raw milk, it is illegal to sell or distribute raw milk between states.  

How to Shop for High-Quality Dairy 

You don’t necessarily need to switch to raw or A2 milk to be more conscious about your dairy consumption. Here are some things to consider if you want to switch to higher quality, ethically sourced milks.

  • Choose organic. Certified organic milks come from cows that aren’t treated with growth hormones or antibiotics.
  • Choose non-GMO. Non-GMO milks contain no genetically modified organisms, resulting in purer milk. 
  • Choose suppliers that prioritize animal welfare. If you can, shop for milk that comes from grass-fed and pasture-raised cows, meaning that they’re allowed to graze freely in open pastures as opposed to being kept in pens. 

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before changing your diet or healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

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