Milk is a nutritious food that is widely consumed. However, not everyone can enjoy the health benefits it yields, due to lactose intolerance or dairy allergy. While these are completely different conditions, they are confused, which can affect your health, even putting you at risk of anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction that can occur within seconds.
We take a look at these two body reactions, and how they differ from each other, making it easier for you to distinguish which one you or your loved ones may be impacted by, starting with dairy allergies.
There are two types of dairy allergies:
- Immunoglobulin E (IgE) – mediated
- Non-IgE mediated
Immunoglobulin E is an antibody that the immune system produces to neutralize the allergen proteins found in dairy. In response to determining that these dairy proteins are harmful, the immune system releases histamine, which causes allergy symptoms.
Key Differences Between The Two Types
|IgE mediated allergy||Non-IgE mediated allergy|
|Onset of Symptoms||Within 24 hrs of consumption||Takes up to 48 hrs to develop|
|Dairy Intake Amount||Inability to tolerate even the smallest amount of dairy||The body tends to be able to tolerate a small amount of dairy|
|Severity of Effects||Life-threatening, with reactions including anaphylaxis||Rarely life-threatening as it is unlikely to result in anaphylaxis|
What Causes A Dairy Allergy?
If you’re impacted by a dairy allergy, your immune system determines that the proteins found in dairy are harmful, leading to it overreacting. There are two types of proteins in milk that can cause an adverse reaction:
- Casein: As a byproduct of milk when it curdles, this protein is also found in cheese and yogurt. It accounts for 80% of the protein in milk and handles giving milk its white color.
- Whey: As a byproduct of the liquid part of milk when it curdles, this accounts for 20% of the protein in milk.
Mild Symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
Severe Symptoms include:
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
- Drop in blood pressure
How To Aid It
If you have a milk allergy, the only way to prevent an adverse reaction is to completely avoid dairy. As one of the most common food allergies, impacting about 4.9% of the global population, the effects tend to be confused with lactose intolerance, which is completely different from a dairy allergy.
While many people have difficulty digesting lactose, not everyone experiences noticeable symptoms unless you’re affected by lactose intolerance. This is your digestive system’s response to lactose, the sugar in milk, impacting about 68% of adults globally.
Your small intestine needs a specific enzyme, called lactase, to break down lactose into smaller molecules that it can absorb. Lactase turns milk sugar into two simple sugars – glucose and galactose – which are absorbed into the bloodstream through the intestinal lining. If you have low levels of lactase, the lactose in your food moves into the colon instead of being processed and absorbed. In the colon, normal bacteria interact with undigested lactose, leading to signs and symptoms of lactose intolerance.
These symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Rumbling sounds in the stomach
Most people develop lactose intolerance as they grow into adulthood. Primary lactose intolerance is the most common type, taking place when your body stops producing lactase, the enzyme responsible for digesting lactose.
How To Aid It
Since lactose intolerance means you can’t produce lactase, lactase supplements can give your body the lactase it needs to break down lactose. A person will take a tablet before they consume any food or drink containing lactose, or add lactase drops to milk.
While these are effective, they are not suitable for some people, including young children, or pregnant people. This is why it is advised that you consult your doctor before trying them. A more convenient approach is to install lactose-free, dairy-free, or non-dairy products.
Lactose-Free Vs. Dairy-Free Vs. Non-Dairy
These three may sound similar, but they’re not. Although the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t established any regulations on the use of this terminology on package labels, dairy-free products do not contain casein and whey.
Lactose-free products still contain these proteins, as they only remove lactose from milk products. This means they can still be a big problem for those with dairy allergies.
Non-dairy means “no milk”. The FDA allows for the presence of milk protein casein and whey, which trigger a dairy allergic reaction. The Food Allergy Research & Resource Program (FARRP) has found that products from manufacturers marketed as “non-dairy” contained milk proteins.
How To Get Vitamins and Minerals Found In Dairy
Dairy products are rich in nutrients that are important for your health and well-being. This has led to a rise in the consumption of manufactured plant-based milk. Opted for as an alternative for those who cannot consume dairy, these are fortified to be a source of essential vitamins and minerals.
From oat milk and macadamia milk to almond and pea milk, there are a wide variety of options available. However, they aren’t natural sources of these nutrients, making them less effective. Below is a list of these essential nutrients found in dairy, and occurring sources for those who cannot consume dairy:
- Protein: Lentils, peanut butter, potatoes, and cabbage
- Calcium: Almonds, spinach, sweet potatoes, butternut squash
- Potassium: Avocado, beans, spinach
- Phosphorus: Oatmeal, bran cereals, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Spinach, mushrooms, almonds, eggs
- Vitamin B12: Beetroot, whole grain breads, potatoes, spinach
- Selenium: Raw broccoli, Brazil nuts, shallots, parsnips
- Zinc: Kale, garlic, whole grains, beans
- Vitamin D: Egg yolks, cod liver oil, mushrooms
- Magnesium: Leafy greens, legumes, nuts, seeds
The Power of Knowing That Two Very Different Reactions Have Similar Effects
While these two physical reactions are both linked to milk and dairy, they are completely different. While one is an intolerance, the other is an allergy. Lactose intolerance affects the digestive system, while dairy allergies affect the immune system. If you’ve noticed any adverse reaction to dairy products, you must visit your doctor and conduct a test to establish which of these you’re impacted by, because dairy allergies aren’t inconvenient, but can also be deadly.
To ensure that you’re making the right decision on how to adjust your diet, or regimen, knowledge and understanding of your body is power. Being aware of how your body reacts to certain foods or products allows you to harness your health and well-being since you’re aware of what causes adverse effects, and what benefits you. This helps you know exactly what to avoid, or consume more of, aiding your longevity.
MAIN IMAGE CREDIT: Photo by Alexas Fotos
- Jaiswal, L. and Worku, M., 2022. Recent perspective on cow’s milk allergy and dairy nutrition. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 62(27), pp.7503-7517.
- Dekker, P.J., Koenders, D. and Bruins, M.J., 2019. Lactose-free dairy products: Market developments, production, nutrition and health benefits. Nutrients, 11(3), p.551.
- Catanzaro, R., Sciuto, M. and Marotta, F., 2021. Lactose intolerance: An update on its pathogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment. Nutrition Research, 89, pp.23-34.