Lactose intolerance is without a doubt one of the most common allergies around today. Recent research has come to question the old assumption that the small percentage of milk intolerant children under 3 would outgrow their allergy. A study has come to show that fewer than 20% of children outgrow their milk allergy by the age of 4. This undoubtedly leaves a whole host of adults with a lifetime of lactose intolerance.
But what even is lactose intolerance?
To break it down, lactose intolerance or a dairy allergy is essentially our immune system’s abnormal response to milk products. Those intolerant to cow’s milk tend to react badly to one of its proteins, casein or whey- sometimes even both. As naturopath Dr. Axe underlines, ‘casein is the curd or solid part of milk, while whey is the liquid part that is left over once milk has been curdled and strained.’ Despite cow’s milk being the most common cause of milk allergies today, buffalo, sheep and goats milk can too produce allergic responses.
Once milk products enter the body of the allergic, the body views the offending protein as an ‘intruder’, sending the immune system into overdrive to fight it off. In order to do so, the body releases chemicals like histamine, resulting in unpleasant allergy symptoms. Depending on the individual, allergic reactions can show up anywhere between a few minutes to hours after the consumption of milk products.
ALLERGY VS INTOLERANCE
Whether allergic or intolerance, the digestive upset caused by milk products can be far from pleasant. But how can one tell the difference between an allergy or intolerance? Food allergies tend to come on pretty quickly and are typically more dangerous than food sensitivities. While a very small amount of dairy can trigger symptoms for the milk-allergic, an intolerance is experienced after a larger amount of dairy.
What’s important to know is that one can have lactose intolerance, but NOT be allergic to milk. Lactose intolerance or milk protein intolerance symptoms range from bloating to gas and diarrhoea. As all milk that comes from mammals contains the milk sugar lactose, those with lactose intolerance can usually endure lactose-free milk. On the other hand, lactose-free milk is intolerable for those with milk allergies.
To break it down:
- A milk allergy affects the immune system, which treats dairy products as dangerous intruders.
- Lactose intolerance affects the digestive system, which is lacking in the enzyme lactase needed to break down lactose sugar found in milk products.
Signs and symptoms of milk allergies
Milk allergy reactions can differ from person to person, but there are a collection of common symptoms that can be experienced across the board. According to Dr. Axe, the key symptoms to look for are:
Dr. Axe however points out that some symptoms can take longer to appear. These range from:
- Abdominal cramps
- Coughing or wheezing
- Loose stools, which may contain blood
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Itchy milk allergy rash on the skin, commonly found around the mouth
CAUSE FOR CONCERN?
It’s incredibly important to be aware of the four key risk factors that can increase one’s chances of suffering from milk allergies:
- Age : Children are far likelier to suffer from milk allergies than adults
- Family history : One is much more likely to suffer from a milk allergy if one or both of his or her parents also suffer from allergies including asthma and hay fever
- Atopic dermatitis (aka eczema) : Children with AD or eczema are far likelier to suffer from milk allergies
- Other allergies : While a milk allergy is the first allergy to develop in children, it can often be the beginning of a series of others to come
Unfortunately there is yet to be a full-proof cure for milk allergies, but those suffering need not fear. We have rounded up our top tips to help you keep allergy symptoms at bay:
1. Ditch the dairy
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Steering clear of dairy is by far the most traditional and easiest way to keep symptoms in check
2. Get clued up
By educating yourself on the key trigger-ingredients, you have the ability to truly empower yourself and control your allergy. Some of these said ingredients are:
- Butter / Buttermilk
- Milk (in every form e.g. condensed, evaporated, animal milk, solids)
- Sour cream
- Whey (in all forms)
3. Get MYLK
Dairy-free mylks are all the rage these days. Not to mention, many of them are super delicious too. Wonderful brands like Rude Health, Rebel Kitchen and Plenish are pioneers of delicious dairy-free blends ranging from coconut and rice varieties to a whole host of nut based milks like hazelnut and almond.
So you see, although living with an allergy can often prove wearisome, do not be discouraged. We are so fortunate to live in a world where a plethora of brands, restaurants and cafes offer up dairy-free alternatives to make life that much easier. The dairy-free revolution is well and truly upon us!