If milk makes you feel badly, you probably have one of two conditions: milk allergy or lactose intolerance.
Lactose intolerance occurs when the small intestine stops making enough of an enzyme called lactase. It is lactase (an enzyme) that helps your body break down and digest lactose (sugar found in milk). Without enough lactase, dairy products can cause gastrointestinal discomfort.
Milk allergies are unrelated to enzymes. Instead, they stem from proteins found in dairy. Unfortunately, the human immune system is not always a good “judge of character.” It ought to simply welcome incoming milk proteins. However, milk allergies occur when your immune system construes milk proteins as dangerous invaders and launches a chemical reaction to try to fight them off.
Generally, the symptoms of lactose intolerance play out in the gut with gas, cramping, belching, nausea, and diarrhea. Milk allergies can manifest with these same symptoms, but also a number of others including eczema, hives, wheezing, hay fever, and even severe anaphylaxis.
Many people can manage their milk allergies and lactose intolerance by eliminating dairy products from their diets. Thankfully, with today’s increased awareness of food allergies, there are a number of dairy-free alternatives to make avoidance easier. Soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, oat milk, soy yogurt and cheese, and dairy-free ice cream are a few of the options. (Soy milk is usually considered the alternative that is richest in protein and other nutrients.) Note that there are different degrees of lactose intolerance. Some people can tolerate a little dairy at each meal without a problem.
For those wanting a treatment for milk allergies, consider sublingual immunotherapy for food allergies. Your allergist can prescribe the under-the-tongue food allergy drops that can help desensitize you to food allergens including milk proteins. (Think allergy shots—without the shots!) Call Family Allergy Clinic at 1-480-827-9945 to learn about lasting relief from milk allergies.