Gut health is the cornerstone of our overall wellbeing. Our gut is filled with trillions of bacteria which impact digestion. In turn, this influences our immune system, metabolism, and even our mental health.
Having a healthy, balanced gut microbiome helps our bodies absorb nutrients essential for energy and growth, and boost our immune system to fend off illnesses.
We can maintain our gut health through a balanced diet of fibre, probiotics, vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, some foods we consume disagree with us. One such food group many people have difficulties with includes dairy.
Lactose and Dairy Intolerance
Symptoms of lactose intolerance and milk protein intolerance (aka dairy intolerance) are so similar that many people wrongly self-report lactose intolerance when in actual fact, it could be the A1 protein in dairy products that they are reacting to, and not lactose.
If you experience increased gas, bloating, abdominal pain, or changes in bowel motions such as constipation or diarrhoea after consuming dairy, you’re definitely not alone.
Luckily, if it’s actually the milk protein that’s causing your issues, then sheep milk might just be the solution you’re looking for!
Let’s get a little scientific and look at what might be going on in your body and some ways that switching your form of dairy to sheep milk can help improve your gut health.
A1 vs A2 Protein: Enhancing Digestive Health
Standard cow’s milk contains multiple types of protein, of which the two most numerous are beta-casein proteins, called A1 and A2. Milk that contains A1 protein has often been associated with increased gastrointestinal inflammation, worsening of symptoms of post-dairy digestive discomfort, delayed digestion of food, and even decreased cognitive processing speed and accuracy.
The reason for this is that when our bodies break down the A1 beta-casein, a protein fragment called beta-casomorphin-7 (BCM7) is produced because of the presence of histidine at position 67 on the peptide chain. It is this BCM7 that is said to cause a range of uncomfortable inflammatory responses in the body. When the A2 beta-casein is broken down only minimal amounts (if any) of BCM7 are made – up to 100 times less than A1!
Because some symptoms of lactose and dairy intolerance are caused by this inflammation, they can be avoided by consuming milk containing only the A2 protein type.
Leaky gut, Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), manifests as gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and changes in bowel motions such as constipation or diarrhoea.
Sheep milk has potential gut health benefits for anyone with milk protein issues and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as it solely contains A2 protein.
Improving Gut Health with Phospholipids
Lipids are biological molecules that include fats, waxes, some vitamins, and other similar substances. A phospholipid is a type of lipid that makes up our body’s cell membranes which act like walls keeping our cells together. They are made up of several different molecules; two fatty acids (we discuss fatty acids in more detail here), a phosphate group, and glycerol. Phospholipids are an important bioactive component of which milk is a rich source, particularly sheep milk.
Phospholipids are one of the main building blocks of our body’s membranes, and one of the most significant membranes in the body is the gut lining. The gut lining, or mucosa, allows nutrients to pass into the bloodstream while keeping waste products in the intestines. Certain phospholipids prevent ingested pathogens from sticking to our gut tissue, and immune response processes.
It’s important our body gets enough of these lipids to support our gut lining and strengthen the gut-brain axis, which is the communication network between our brain and our digestive system.
A comparison of phospholipid concentrations in animal milk
Overall, red deer and sheep milk are the richest sources of phospholipids among all other types of milk. Please note that plant-based products haven’t been included because they lack many of the bioactive ingredients that natural milk from mammals contains.
|Phospholipids (mg/100g milk)
|Average total lipid content (%)
Linoleic acid and its influence on gut health
Linoleic acid is a type of phospholipid that is an essential fatty acid, meaning we must get it from our diet as our body can’t make it.
Linoleic acid helps maintain a balanced inflammatory response in the body when broken down into other molecules or compounds with roles in immune regulation and inflammation. These compounds can help modulate the immune system’s activity and keep inflammation in balance.
Linoleic acid is also a key component of cell membranes, including those in our intestinal lining. It helps these cells stick together tightly, making it harder for harmful substances like bacteria and toxins to enter the bloodstream.
Sheep milk has high quantities of linoleic acid so consuming sheep milk can be a delicious way to boost our intake.
Fatty Acids Supporting Gut Health
Sheep milk’s abundance of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) offers substantial advantages for gut health. MCFAs positively influence gut microbiome diversity, strengthen the gut lining, reduce harmful permeability (leaky gut), and support digestive health.
Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are fermentation products of the gut that have anti-inflammatory properties and increase the functioning of the cells in the colon. Studies have shown that drinking A2 protein milk (i.e. sheep milk) increases the amount of SCFAs found in faecal matter (a good thing!) and that drinking A1 protein milk reduces SCFA levels, which can impair digestive health.
Nucleosides and Nucleotides
Sheep milk is a great source of nucleosides and nucleotides which are crucial components in DNA and RNA. These bioactive compounds have notable effects on gut health.
Nucleotides promote cell growth, repair, and regeneration in the gut lining, enhancing its integrity and reducing leaks. Additionally, nucleosides contribute to gut motility (muscle contractions), aiding in smooth digestion.
Overall, the high levels of nucleosides/nucleotides in sheep milk can positively influence gut health, supporting optimal functioning and protection against various issues.
Immunoglobulins and Lactoferrin
Immunoglobulins act as antibodies, defending against harmful bugs and maintaining a balanced, resilient gut microbiome. Essentially, they bind to and neutralise toxins in the gut.
Lactoferrin, also found in milk and other body fluids, helps maintain gut function by influencing the composition of our gut bacteria. It promotes beneficial bacteria while hindering harmful ones.
Sheep milk contains abundant quantities of both immunoglobulins and lactoferrin.
Prebiotic Effects of Sheep Milk Oligosaccharides
Oligosaccharides are a type of carbohydrate or dietary fibre that has a prebiotic effect, meaning they are good food for the healthy bacteria that live in our gut. Oligosaccharides you might be familiar with include maltose, sucrose, and lactose.
The role of prebiotics
Prebiotics offer a range of health benefits, including a stronger immune system, increased nutrient absorption, reduced appetite, improved gut health, and more.
How we obtain prebiotics
You’ll naturally find oligosaccharides in vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, and other foods like milk. You may have heard of inulin before – it’s the most common oligosaccharide manufacturers add to food to replace fat or sugar, modify the texture, or increase prebiotic content.
The importance of gut health can’t be overstated seeing as it influences our overall health and wellbeing.
Sheep milk is a promising solution for sufferers of IBS and dairy intolerance, with its A2 protein type and the abundance of biological compounds contributing to a healthy gut.
Current studies suggest sheep milk’s great potential for a positive impact on our health and as research continues, we anticipate more insights into its benefits. Further studies on the effects of consuming A2 milk are warranted and we watch this space eagerly.
In the meantime, if you’ve had to reduce or eliminate dairy products in your diet due to digestive discomfort, why not give sheep milk products a try and see if they make a difference for you?
Below are the scientific articles and informational websites used to help write this post.