A2 Protein Infant Formula- Is it Worth the Hype?

A2 infant formula on store shelf

By Heather Reymunde Wittmer, MS RDN LDN

A2 protein infant formulas and milk are showing up more and more in grocery stores. But what is it exactly?

The a2 Milk Company- A2 milk varieties on the grocery store shelf

What is A2 Protein?

A2 protein infant formula is showing up on store shelves more frequently. What makes it different from the standard formula? To understand A2 infant formula, we must first understand the protein components that make up cow’s milk. Cow’s milk contains the proteins whey and casein. However, to state it simply, casein comes in two varieties- beta-casein proteins known as A1 and A2. 

Chemical structure of beta-casein A2 protein
Chemical Structure of beta-casein A1 and A2

Some History on A2 Protein

A long time ago, cow’s milk contained only one of the beta-casein proteins:  (A2).  Over time, through genetic mutation and breeding, cows started producing both A1 and A2 milk. Eventually, A1 milk became the dominant type that we drink today. Interestingly, dairy herds in Africa, Asia, and southern Europe continue to produce higher amounts of A2 milk, while the A1 version can be more commonly found in the western world (1).  

Why the hype surrounding A2 milk?

The standard milk that we find in grocery stores contains BOTH A1 and A2 protein components. However, recently if you look at the shelves in your grocery store you may see marketing for A2 milk. That is because there are some cows that still produce predominantly A2 milk that contains only A2 beta-casein.

The hype surrounding A2 milk is not new, in fact, it goes back to the late 1980s when research started examining how proteins are digested and if they had negative or positive effects on health (2).  Scientists found that A1 and A2 proteins are digested differently. To keep it simple, A1 beta-casein, when digested, releases a protein fragment, therefore potentially making the digestion process more difficult. The beta-casein A2 protein does not release protein fragments when digested. It has been theorized, but not confirmed, that people who are immune-compromised or have gastrointestinal issues may experience easier digestion of milk with A2 proteins (3).  

So, what about A2 Infant Formula?

Considering that most standard infant formulas are derived from cow’s milk, if this theory is applied… A2 infant formula could potentially be easier to digest and very beneficial to infants experiencing reflux or other digestive issues- right? 

A2 infant formula on store shelf.

What the research says…

Well, the majority of research studies demonstrate a lack of evidence to prove A2 milk is a healthier alternative in adults. Much of the scientific community is in agreement. Studies that report benefits of A2 protein are often self-reported and lack repeated results in decreased inflammation.  It is important to note that all of the studies have included ONLY the adult population. The effects of A2 protein infant formula on human infants have not been studied to date (4). Therefore, the benefits of A2 protein infant formula remain anecdotal and have not been proven to demonstrate any significant benefits over the consumption of standard infant formula or milk/dairy products containing a combination of A1 and A2 beta-casein.

Price Point

It’s important to not only discuss the product, but also the price point. This plays a huge role in the usability and accessibility to consumers.  As a comparison to standard infant formula, A2 formula is more expensive, depending on the brand. In some cases, up to $0.65/ounce (5)! 

Standard Infant FormulaPrice Per OunceA2 Infant FormulaPrice per ounce
Gerber Good Start$1.14Gerber Good Start A2$1.50
Enfamil Infant$1.14Enfamil Infant A2 $1.79
Similac Advance$1.05Similac Organic A2  $1.29
Comparison chart: Price per ounce of standard vs A2 formulas

Summing it all up:  

While in theory, A2 formula may sound like a good idea, there is currently no scientific evidence to back the claims of improved digestion in infants.  Additionally, there are many other factors to take into consideration when choosing an infant formula. Some children may require a specific formula based on their individual growth and special health needs.  If you have a child experiencing reflux or intestinal discomfort, seek the advice of your pediatrician, gastroenterologist, and pediatric dietitian. 

Want more? Check out the Seeds and Sprouts Nutrition for Kids Blog– here you will find more on all things kids nutrition!

References: 

  1. Patient education: Acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux) in infants (Beyond the Basics)

Author: Harland  Https://www.uptodate.com/contents/acid-reflux-gastroesophageal-reflux-in-infants-beyond-the-basics/print

  1. California Dairy research foundation – A2 Milk Facts – Gonca Pasin, Ph.D. https://cdrf.org/2017/02/09/a2-milk-facts/
  1. Jianqin S, Leiming X, Lu X, Yelland GW, Ni J, Clarke AJ. Effects of milk containing only A2 beta casein versus milk containing both A1 and A2 beta casein proteins on gastrointestinal physiology, symptoms of discomfort, and cognitive behavior of people with self-reported intolerance to traditional cows’ milk. Nutr J. 2015;15(1):35. doi:10.1186/s12937-016-0147-z

https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12937-016-0147-z

  1. Production of Cow’s Milk Free from Beta-Casein A1 and Its Application in the Manufacturing of Specialized Foods for Early Infant Nutrition

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5532557/

  1. Target – https://www.target.com

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