It was a day of motorcycles and a red Vespa, chefs and 3 Pie Sisters, haystack rides, sheep cheese and wine tasting.
Our adventure started with breakfast at Brassiere Beck hosted by Chef Robert Wiedmaier, co-founder of the original “Chefs on Bikes,” where we indulged in our first inviting meal of the day. On my plate I found berries toppled over the sinful Belgian waffles I’ve been hearing call out my name. A passion for cooking up a hot steamy meal in the kitchen and motorcycles brought together a full table of DC’s top chefs decked out in their biker gear.
Soon after the meet and great, local chefs revved up their motorcycles and lead the scenic tour through Maryland’s countryside towards local farms and vineyards, sponsored by the Maryland State Department of Agriculture, with the set intention of building relationships with area chefs and purveyors of produce, wines, meats and other farm-raised products.
Our first stop found us at Shepherds Manor Creamery in New Windsor, Maryland. The artisan sheep cheese lead to wine tasting at Black Ankle Vineyards in Mount Airy, which prepared us for a succulent lunch at Family Meal in Frederick, hosted by James Beard and Bryan Voltaggio.
What struck a cord with me the most was our visit to Shepherds Manor Creamery, owned by Colleen and Michael Histon, passionate pioneers in the sheep dairy cream industry in the US. Throughout the tour, Colleen revealed several informative facts that lead the neuronal synapses in my brain to start firing. I have seen dozens of patients who are intolerant or sensitive to cow milk, and few severely allergic. I began to question if those sensitive to cow milk would have the same sensitivity and symptoms towards sheep milk. I recalled sitting in class at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona listening to Dr. Mona Morstein rave about how we have the wrong cows in America. She mentioned that people who are intolerant to cow milk in America are able to travel to France and indulge in French cheese without any symptom presentation. As I question why, I came home to sit down with my computer and began my extensive research.
We Have the Wrong Type of Cows
Cow milk is made up of three parts, fat or cream, whey and milk solids. The milk solids are potentially the most problematic, specifically the protein beta-casein because of its effect on digestion. Beta-casein may be present as one of two major genetic variants: A1 and A2. Beta-casein is a chain of 209 amino acids in length. A2 beta-casein is the original beta-casein protein because it existed before a mutation occurred in European herds a few thousand years ago that lead to the development of A1 beta-casein. A2 beta-casein has the amino acid proline at position 67 in the 209 amino acid sequence, whereas A1 beta-casein has histidine. Proline is a non-essential amino acid, which means the human body can synthesize it. Human milk, goat milk, sheep milk and other species’ milk contain beta-casein that is A2 like because they have a proline at the equivalent position. Histidine is an essential amino acid, which is produced in adults and metabolized into the neurotransmitter histamine.
A1 beta-casein protein, unlike A2, has been linked as a potential etiological factor in Type 1 Diabetes, ischemic heart disease, neurological impairment including autistic and schizophrenic changes and autoimmune disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US. The side chain coming off either proline or histidine is a small peptide protein called BCM7, a very powerful opiate. In A1 beta-casein cows, histidine is weakly attached to BCM7 and is liberated in the gastrointestinal tract of people who drink A1 cow milk. In these people, BCM7 is significantly found in the blood and urine and interferes with their immune response. Injecting BCM7 in animal models has been shown to provoke Type 1 Diabetes. Most striking is how BCM7 selectively binds to the epithelial cells in the mucous membranes like the nose and stimulates mucous secretion, therefore if you find yourself with a stuffy nose after indulging in cheese, you now know why. In A2 beta-casein cows, the proline strongly binds BCM7 thereby keeping it out of the milk, GI tract, blood and urine of A2 cows and humans drinking A2 milk. BCM7 is not found in goat or sheep milk because they are all A2 beta-casein animals; therefore these types of milk might be better tolerated by those who are sensitive to cow milk.
The A2 beta-casein cows are from older breeds of cows such as the brown and white Jersey and Guernsey cows. They are Nordic descent, later to have settled in France and produce milk that is easiest to digest. Some five thousand years ago a mutation occurred turning proline into histidine, thus producing A1 beta-casein cows that are black and white in color, also known as Friesians and Holstein cows. Holstein cows have been around for centuries in Holland and are the predominant cows currently in the US. All American dairy cows have this mutated beta-casein and are predominantly A1 cows.
Considering the French and their cheese, I discovered that the French never accepted these A1 beta-casein breeds of cow, claiming them to have lousy milk. If you have noticed that your milk sensitivities act up in America but not while in France, this is the reason why. Why then did the Americans adopt the lousy milk cows you question? Perhaps it is because the A1 beta-casein cows produce larger quantities of milk than their A2 counterparts. Once again we have chosen quantity over quality. If you are interested in converting your A1 breeding cows to A2, purchase a few A2 cows, breed them with the A1 cows, perform a simple genetic test costing $25 per cow, isolated the A2 cows and breed them with one another, add 10 years of selective A2 breeding and all of your cows will be A2.
Sheep Milk Does a Body Good
Dairy sheep produce an average of 3-4 pounds of milk (half a gallon) per day, whereas their bovine compatriots produce 53 pounds of milk (6 gallons) per day. Primary U.S. dairy sheep breeds include the East Friesian (Germany) and the Lacaune (France). Now giving 1-2 lbs of milk per day, Colleen says, “It’s like liquid gold, you don’t get too much of it.” Which is refreshing to hear in our hectic, fast-paced, consumer-driven society.
Sheep milk is highly nutritious, richer in vitamins A, B, and E, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium than cow’s milk. Sheep milk contains 6.5% fat and 5.5% protein, twice as rich as cow or goat milk. It contains a higher proportion of short- and medium-chain fatty acids, which are absorbed more efficiently in the gastrointestinal tract and better metabolized. Further, sheep milk has more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than the milk from pigs, horses, goats, cattle, and humans. CLA is a cancer-fighting, fat-reducing fat. The fat globules in sheep milk are smaller than the fat globules in cow’s milk, making sheep milk more easily digested. Sheep milk also has lower lactose content than cow’s milk, making it more suitable for people with a perceived intolerance.
Data from the British Sheep Dairying Association shows that although whole sheep’s milk has a higher fat content than cow’s milk (6.5% to 2.5%), it also has a higher content of essential vitamins and minerals than cow’s milk. Calcium content in sheep’s milk is between 162-259mg/100g compared to 110mg/100g for cows. In sheep’s milk thiamine (Vitamin B1) is 1.2mg/l to 0.5mg/l for cow’s milk, comparatively riboflavin (B2) is 4.3mg/l to 2.2mg/l, niacin (B3) is 5.4mg/l to 1.0mg/l, pantothenic acid (B5) is 5.3mg/l to 3.4mg/l, pyridoxine (B6) is 0.7mg/l to 0.5mg/l, cobalamin B12 is 0.9mg/l to 0.03mg/l, biotin is 5.0mg/l to 1.7mg/l and folate content for both is 0.5mg/l.
Part of the problem with milk products available today in North America is that nearly all have been pasteurized in order to be legal for selling. Pasteurization denatures proteins, destroys enzyme activity in food, and may alter how the food is digested, a likely cause of allergic reactions in many people. Further, cow’s milk may be rich in hormones and antibiotics, which have been added to their feed. Goat and sheep’s milk are less likely to contain hormones and additives and are more easily digested.
A proposed theory to consider is that humans were never designed to digest the milk of cows, sheep or goats. Our bodies are designed to consume human mother’s milk for the first six months to several years, allowing us the proper nourishing vitamins and nutrients for healthy development, and then move on to other foods. Teens or adults become lactose-intolerant because the enzymes to digest any kind of milk stop being produced by their digestive system. Those whose ancestors did not consume milk are commonly found to be lactose intolerant. In areas where milk has traditionally been a staple, people have developed the ability to continue digesting milk into adulthood.
On that note, as an educated reader and consumer, we now know that A2 beta-casein cows are better tolerated than their A1 beta-casein counterparts. We have evaluated the health benefits of sheep versus cow’s milk, and are left with making informed decisions for ourselves that lead to better health and well-being.