Lactose is one of the most important carbohydrates in mammal milk but the concentration of this milk sugar fluctuates from species to species. It is also the first carbohydrate that a newborn baby will consume.
What is lactic acid?
Lactic acid develops in cow’s milk as a result of bacteria fermenting (breaking down) the lactose. Freshly expressed milk does not contain lactic acid. It is only after a short period of time that the concentration builds up due to the input of bacteria. This means that lactic acid can be used to assess the quality of milk and its state of preservation. It can also be found in dairy products such as yoghurt, cheese, bread and beer.
What is lactose intolerance?
Someone who is lactose intolerant is defined as ‘having the inability to break down the milk sugar” (lactose) which is present in milk and dairy products.
Lactose Intolerance Symptoms
A lack of the enzyme lactase means that milk sugar cannot be broken down into a form which can be absorbed into the bloodstream. If people have low levels of lactase enzymes, they become lactose intolerant. The symptoms include abdominal pains, bloating, gas and diarrhea.
Can you define whey?
Whey is the watery liquid which is left behind in cheese making. It can be found when cheese curds separate from cream or milk. Many of us have reached in the fridge for a pint of milk only to find that it has soured and separated into curds and whey.
What is Casein?
You will find casein in many processed foods. A vegetarian may be familiar with it being listed as an ingredient in soy cheese and non-dairy creamers. It is a derivative of milk and is the highest protein found within cow’s milk. Casein contributes to 80% of cow’s milk with the remaining 20% being made up as whey. It is extracted from milk using a natural filtration system. People who suffer from milk allergies often believe that it is milk as a whole which triggers their health problems. However, many develop an allergy solely to casein protein which is a strong component of cheeses, especially hard cheese.
Testing for dairy allergies
For years, we have been educated about the goodness that can be obtained from milk but for many, the costs of reaping those benefits far outweigh these nutritional rewards. Milk contains a high level of Vitamin D and calcium which helps to build and maintain strong bones. Parents are constantly told to raise their children on milk but in some cases the consumption of milk can have a detrimental effect on a child’s health. Trying to discover which foods contain milk or milk derivatives can become an ingredient minefield.
Why do we develop milk allergies or become lactose intolerant?
Many people mistakenly assume that lactose is the major contributor to dairy allergies. However, casein can equally cause the same effects as it is often added to foods to enhance flavour or it can act as an emulsifier. Check the ingredients on the following products. Some of these grocery items are likely to already be sitting in your kitchen cupboards. Spot just how many have lactose or casein listed.
- Potato crisps
- Coffee Whiteners
- Protein bars and powders
- Salad dressings
- Processed meats
- Baby formula
- Dessert toppings
Dairy by-products can also pop up in ‘over the counter’ medicines and prescription drugs. Don’t be surprised to spot them in lotions, soaps, vitamins and cosmetics.
How can I tell the difference between someone who is dairy intolerant and someone who has developed dairy allergies?
Dairy allergies: These are caused when milky foods are mistaken as foreign bodies by the immune system. This triggers a response to produce histamines to flush out their presence. Lactose or casein is a typical example of substances which the body could react to in an adverse way.
Dairy Intolerance: This does not affect the immune system. It occurs when an enzyme needed to break down the sugar in milk does not exist or is in low proportion. Sufferers have a low production of the enzyme lactase which is used to convert milk sugars into a form which can be absorbed into the blood stream via the small intestine. If lactase cannot be broken down it passes back to the large intestine. It is here that the sufferer will complain of stomach cramps, bloating and flatulence.
The term ‘lactose intolerant’ is increasing and is fast becoming the most widespread reaction to milk products in the United Kingdom. Whilst many children grow out of dairy allergies, a person who is lactose intolerant will become significantly worse over a period of time due to the fact that as maturity sets in, the body produces less lactase enzymes in the body.
How to spot the signs of someone who is dairy intolerant or has a dairy allergy
If you experience some of the following symptoms, you are likely to be suffering from dairy sensitivity:
- Stomach cramps
- A feeling of being bloated often accompanied by gas
If you experience some of the above symptoms along with one or more of the following, you are likely to be suffering from a dairy allergy:
- Skin rash or hives
- Nasal congestion
- Rectal itching
- Anaphylactic shock
- Blood in urine or stools
The most effective way to test for dairy sensitivity is to follow a dairy free diet for up two weeks. Some simple research will make it easier to choose those foods which do not contain lactose or casein.
After a two week period, these dairy foods could be re-introduced back into the diet. You may want to start with small servings of skimmed organic milk or low fat cow’s milk for two to three days. If after 72 hours you start to experience any of the unpleasant symptoms as outlined above, it is likely that you have dairy sensitivity. Alternatively if none of the symptoms appear, you may continue to add more dairy products to your diet to test how you react after a further 72 hours. This will help to determine if your body is able to tolerate dairy.
Some other ways of testing include:
The lactose intolerance test:
This is a blood test which measures the amount of sugar which is present in the blood before and after the ingestion of lactose. If glucose levels in the blood rise dramatically after consuming dairy, there is a strong indication that you may be lactose intolerant.
The hydrogen breath test:
The mouth holds the key to lactose intolerance. The amount of hydrogen present in the breath shows how much undigested lactose is lying in the large intestine.
The stool acidity test: Similar to the hydrogen test. The stools are examined to
measure the amount of acidity present as a result of undigested lactose.
Is there a treatment for dairy intolerance and dairy allergies?
There are a number of treatments available depending upon the severity of the condition. For example, those who are lactose intolerant may find that digestive products such as lactase enzymes allow them to indulge in a small amount of dairy. However, simple abstinence is the most effective and permanent way.
Those who eliminate all forms of dairy should supplement the diet with alternative sources of calcium so as they do not become deficient whilst maintaining a dairy free diet.
Antihistamines offer effective relief for dairy allergies but some can cause adverse side effects so check the packet for contra-indications. A more drastic form of treatment consists of a series of injections to desensitize the effects which occur from direct exposure to an allergen.