Life StoryApril/May 2008 Issue

Allergic or Sensitive to Milk?

Allergy to Milk Proteins
Allergy to milk proteins (casein and/or whey) is not to be taken lightly. “When someone is allergic, they must avoid dairy foods completely or they will have a reaction, either immediately or within two hours. The reaction involves histamine,” says Maryland-based nutritionist, Kelly Dorfman. Symptoms can include wheezing, vomiting, hives, angioedema (fluid collection that causes swelling) and anaphylaxis — an immediate, acute reaction that can cause severe breathing difficulty, loss of consciousness and, in rare cases, death.

For milk-allergic children under one year of age, “there are dairy- and soy-free infant formulas available, such as Nutramigen and Alimentum,” says Dorfman. These hypoallergenic hydrolyzed protein formulas should work for the majority of children who have milk and/or soy allergy. However, some babies may react to one or more of the 30-plus ingredients in the products.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, all hypoallergenic infant formulas “must demonstrate in clinical studies that they do not provoke reactions in 90 percent of infants or children with confirmed cow's milk allergy.” For the remaining 10 percent of children who can’t tolerate these formulas, the last option is an amino-acid formula, which tastes bitter but generally works well. A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia (January 2008) recommends amino-acid formula as the first choice for non-exclusively breastfed infants with anaphylaxis.

Sensitive to Milk Proteins
Milk protein sensitivity operates differently. Symptoms, which can be delayed and do not usually involve a histamine response, can range from fatigue to skin problems to joint pain, says Dorfman.

People with milk sensitivity can often tolerate cultured milk, such as yogurt and certain cheeses. Cultured milk is “absolutely” more easily digested, says Dorfman.  Recent research at Germany’s University of Hohenheim showed that fermenting milk can reduce the quantity of problem-causing beta-lactoglobulin by up to 90 percent.

Some people confuse milk protein sensitivity with lactose (milk sugar) intolerance. Lactose intolerance, which causes gastrointestinal symptoms, generally occurs in adulthood; lactose intolerance in children is rare.

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