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Dairy intolerance | Symptoms, causes and managing dairy intolerance

09 October, 2014
Glass of milk

The impact of dairy intolerance

Dairy allergies are widespread around the world, with the latest studies suggesting that as much as 75% of the world’s population is allergic to lactose - the sugar found in dairy products. There are two major types of dairy allergies: casein allergy and lactose intolerance.

In this article we look at some of the causes and symptoms of dairy intolerance, and how this food allergy can be managed or treated.

What is dairy intolerance?

An individual with a dairy intolerance is unable to digest lactose or casein. Lactose is the sugar in dairy products, and casein is the protein found in dairy. While lactose intolerance is uncommon in those of Caucasian descent, it is more common in peoples of other races such as Australian Aborigines, Asians, Africans, Middle Eastern people and the populations of some Mediterranean countries.

Casein allergies are far less common than lactose allergies, with around 2-3% of the population estimated to have casein sensitivity.

Symptoms of dairy intolerance

Those with lactose intolerance can experience abdominal pain, flatulence, diarrhoea, abdominal swelling, nausea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and other symptoms. Irritability, depression and nutrient deficiencies have also been associated with lactose intolerance.

Symptoms can vary depending on the tolerance level of the individual.

Casein allergy can manifest in symptoms such as eczema, vomiting, headache, sinus pain, fatigue, lethargy, leaky gut and respiratory problems.

Causes of dairy intolerance

According to medical experts, dairy intolerance is usually a result of genetic factors. Mostly it is due to the fact that one’s genetic makeup leads to low production of lactase, the enzyme that allows for the digestion of lactose. However, parasitic infections, iron deficiencies and gastroenteritis can also lead to dairy sensitivities.

Testing for dairy intolerance

A fast way to test for lactose intolerance is to find out whether the individual can tolerate lactose-free milk. Formal tests, such as the hydrogen breath test or the stool acidity tests, can also be conducted.

The journal or food-elimination method is an effective way to work out whether one is allergic to lactose or casein, as it helps the individual track symptoms when lactose or dairy is removed from the diet.

Managing and treating dairy intolerance

There is no formal way of ‘treating’ a dairy intolerance. The best way to manage dairy sensitivity is to switch to a dairy-free diet. Some people can tolerate small amounts of cheese, milk or yoghurt, while others need to avoid dairy completely.

Fermented milk products and butter tend to have minimal amounts of lactose, so these can be consumed. Soy, rice or almond milk products are also excellent alternatives to dairy products. Those with dairy allergies should always seek medical advice on changing their diet if they have any doubts.

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