BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Health
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 

Monday, 9 April, 2001, 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK
Milk protein blamed for heart disease
Guernsey cow
Guernsey cows do not produce the protein in their milk
Scientists believe a substance found in milk could be responsible for thousands of cases of heart disease world-wide.

They plan to test their theory by examining heart disease among Channel Islanders on Guernsey and Jersey.

The theory has been put forward by New Zealand scientist Dr Corrie McLachlan, chief executive of A2 Corporation.

Dr McLachlan's company plans to market milk which does not contain the protein he believes could be responsible for heart disease.

Guernsey cows produce milk which does not contain the protein, while those from Jersey do.

Dr McLachlan believes his research will show that heart disease is much less common among people from Guernsey than among the population of the neighbouring Channel Island.

Casein

His theory centres on the protein casein, which is found in four different varieties in milk.

He believes that one of the forms of casein, called beta-casein A2 is harmless, but that the other three - most notably A1 - are linked to heart disease.

The differences between the variant forms are very small - too small, some scientists believe, to be significant.

But Dr McLachlan points to the fact that Finland has the highest consumption of A1 in the world - and the highest rate of heart disease.

Conversely, milk in Japan, where heart disease is relatively rare, has low levels of A1.

The UK has relatively high levels of A1 in milk, and a relatively high level of heart disease.

Writing in the journal Medical Hypotheses, Dr McLachlan also highlights evidence from France and Northern Ireland.

He says: "The populations of Toulouse in France and Belfast in Northern Ireland have almost identical collective traditional risk factors for heart disease, yet the respective mortality rates vary more than threefold.

"People from Northern Ireland are estimated to consume 3.23 times more beta-casein A1 than the French.

"The remarkable agreement between mortality and consumption suggests that this factor is worthy of serious consideration as a potential source of cardiovascular disease."

Dr McLachlan believes that A1 is more likely to break up in the bloodstream and cause damage to the arteries.

He points out that the protein has also been linked to the development of diabetes in children.

Dairy council

The Dairy Council issued a statement which said that Dr McLachlan had been "unable to demonstrate demonstrate conclusive evidence of cause and effect".

Jill Eisberg, Head of Communications at The Dairy Council said: "Whilst we are always interested in new research into dairy products, we need to be entirely sure about the credibility of the research behind the A1 versus A2 argument.

"Even the companies specialising in genetic testing are still monitoring the situation.

"In contrast, new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine has confirmed that a diet which includes lots of low-fat dairy products, fruit and vegetables is effective in lowering blood pressure, a risk factor for coronary heart disease."

A spokesperson for the British Heart Foundation said: "This new research highlights some interesting theories - but further evidence and evaluation, on a wider scale, is needed before so called "healthy" forms of milk should be proactively marketed to the public as a way of helping to reduce the risk of heart disease.

"More and more "functional foods" are becoming available for consumers, concerned about their heart health.

"But until more conclusive evidence can be found to support the ideas presented in this study, the British Heart Foundation recommends that people should continue to follow well established guidelines about healthy lifestyles. That includes a diet low in saturated fat (found in many dairy products) and high in fruit and vegetables."

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
BBC RADIO NEWS
BBC ONE TV NEWS
WORLD NEWS SUMMARY
PROGRAMMES GUIDE
See also:

28 Sep 00 | Health
Milk skimming 'may reduce safety'
08 Feb 01 | Health
Breast milk 'reduces heart risk'
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories