Are You Allergic to Dairy Products?
Wondering if you are allergic to dairy products? Learn some interesting facts…
Unless your ancestry is northern European, chances are you are lactose intolerant. That’s because most people lose the ability to break down the sugars in milk, beginning gradually after about two years of age. Some people, primarily of northern European ancestry, have inherited a genetic mutation that allows them to continue breaking down milk sugars. For these folks, drinking milk and eating milk products poses no problems, because they still make an enzyme, called lactase, which breaks down milk sugar.
But for many others, consuming too much lactose—the primary sugar in milk—can cause intestinal symptoms ranging from nausea to diarrhea, bloating, gas and other unpleasant symptoms. These folks are lactose intolerant. Southern Europeans, Asians, Hispanics and African Americans are less likely to bear the mutation that allows them to produce lactase, so they’re more likely to be lactose intolerant.
If they consume more than a cup of milk a day, they’re likely to experience intestinal distress. To be clear, this is not about an allergic response to milk. Cow’s milk allergy is entirely different, and considerably more serious. But it usually develops early in life, rather than in adulthood.
Dairy is supposed to be good for us. It’s a rich source of calcium, which we need to build strong bones, and it’s fortified with vitamin D, which many of us need because it’s an essential nutrient that’s crucial for bone growth and immune system function.
The best way to identify if you’re lactose intolerant is to eliminate all dairy from your diet for a time. If your intestinal symptoms disappear, you may be lactose intolerant. Your doctor can also perform some tests in the clinical setting to conform the diagnosis.
So what’s a lactose-intolerant person to do? Well, it’s true that you’ll want to avoid drinking milk as an adult. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy certain dairy products. Some people can tolerate small amounts of dietary lactose. Yogurt is an excellent source of calcium and other minerals, and it’s extremely low in lactose. You can also get calcium in the diet through foods such as salmon, sardines, rhubarb, spinach and soy milk. Adequate calcium is important for the prevention of osteoporosis, for both men and women.
Savaiano DA. Lactose digestion from yogurt: mechanism and relevance. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 May;99(5 Suppl):1251S-5S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.073023. Epub 2014 Apr 2.