How to tell if your baby has lactose intolerance or a milk allergy?
What is Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is just one example of the body not being able to completely break down food. This is usually done by certain enzymes in the stomach. In the case of lactose, which is a form of sugar that milk contains, the enzyme in question is called lactase. “Children are born with the lactase enzyme functioning correctly. At the age of around 5 years, for reasons unknown, black children partially or completely lose this enzyme. Children below the age of five who have a severe bout of diarrhea or another severe illness may also develop temporary or permanent lactose intolerance.” (Steinman)
“Lactose intolerance is a distinct entity from cow milk-protein sensitivity … reported in 2% to 5% of infants within the first 1 to 3 months of life, [and] typically resolves by 1 year of age).” (AAP)
Symptoms of lactose intolerance include:
- Abdominal pain
It is estimated that approximately 70 percent of the world’s population has primary lactase deficiency which is a partial or complete absence of lactase that can develop during childhood: 50 percent to 80 percent of Hispanics; 60 percent to 80 percent of Ashkenazi Jews and Blacks, and nearly 100 percent of Asian and American Indians.
The amount of milk that is tolerated and the resultant symptoms vary from person to person. Many people are able to tolerate milk with a meal and small amounts of dairy products (e.g., yogurt and cheese). It’s really a matter of trial and error to figure out how much a person can tolerate without the uncomfortable symptoms.
What is a Milk Allergy?
With a milk allergy, the body sends antibodies (an immune system response) to attack the perceived threat. In the case of milk, the antibodies either attack the casein group of proteins or the whey group of proteins. Children who are found to be allergic to casein proteins cannot drink cow’s milk at all, while those who have a whey protein allergy can tolerate cow’s milk so long as it is heated. Young children are most affected by milk allergies.
It is estimated that approximately 1 to 7 percent of all children will develop an allergy to milk.
When the milk proteins create an immune system response in the body, symptoms can appear immediately or up to several hours or days following the intake of moderate to large amounts of cow’s milk in a variety of forms, including:
- Abdominal cramps
- Hives or eczema
More symptoms can be found here.
The symptoms begin shortly after children start consuming cow’s milk-based formula.
There is no cure for a milk allergy. The only treatment is complete avoidance of milk and foods that contain milk such as:
- Butter / buttermilk
Products that contain whey or casein should also be avoided. Look for words like the following on the label:
- Caseinate (potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron caseinates)
- Whey powder
It should be noted, however, that cow’s milk is a major source of many nutrients including calcium, which is important for maintaining healthy teeth and bones. If milk is eliminated from the diet, supplements or substitutes to replace the dietary benefits of milk should be added to the diet.
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.
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Food Intolerance. Food Reactions. Web. Apr 2, 2012.
Food Allergy. Food Reactions. Web. Apr 2, 2012.
“Milk Allergy and Lactose Intolerance” Steinman, Dr. Harris. Science in Africa. Web. Apr 2, 2012.
“Lactose Intolerance in Infants, Children, and Adolescents” Heyman, Melvin B., MD, MPH. American Academy of Pediatrics. Web. Apr 2, 2012.