Lactose Intolerance

The most frequent reason for having to avoid dairy products is intolerance to lactose, which is the natural sugar in milk. In most cases lactose intolerance happens due to the body producing not enough of the enzyme lactase which enables proper digestion.

Lactose Intolerance Symptoms

Lactose intolerance produces symptoms similar to those of a mild allergy, like a nettle rash or mild tummy.

This renders it pretty difficult to diagnose, as lactose intolerance symptoms usually occur several hours after you have eaten a dairy product.

Facts about Lactose Intolerance

Approximately a tenth of Northern Europeans are lactose intolerance.
In countries where milk has not traditionally been part of the average adult diet, a much higher percentage is affected by lactose intolerance. More than half the population of Africa, Asia and South America is lactose intolerant.

Lactose Intolerance Diagnosis in 5 Steps

Should you consider that you have a dairy allergy or are lactose intolerant there are 5 steps to follow to find out whether or not you have this condition:

  • Maintain a food and symptoms diary for a fortnight. Make a note of everything you eat and related symptoms you or your child experience.
  • Should your diary appear to show a link between consuming dairy products and feeling ill, attempt to cut out all milk intake and any related products for a fortnight.
  • Should symptoms improve, visit your GP who may opt for additional tests to confirm or reject the diagnosis.
  • Should an allergy or intolerance be confirmed, you will need to omit dairy products totally or at least reduce their consumption considerably.
  • Should it be a baby or a child that has been diagnosed, you will need to get further help and support from a specialist dietician. You can request a referral by your GP.

Lactose intolerance can be tested further by using a lactose tolerance test, a hydrogen breath test and a stool acidity test. Your GP can ensure you undergo such tests on the NHS if necessary.

Infants who have a suspected milk allergy are usually given a skin prick test or blood test. For the skin prick test, the skin is pricked with a little bit of the suspected allergen to monitor if there is a positive reaction, that is, does the skin become itchy, red and swollen?

A blood test measures the amount of IGE antibodies the blood has - IGE antibodies are produced by the immune system in response to a suspected allergen.

Treatment of a Dairy Allergy

All dairy products need to be totally removed from the diet. Certain individuals who have a cow’s milk allergy can also have similar problems with sheep’s and goat’s milk as the proteins they contain are somewhat similar.

Where to Get Tested?

The UK has around 90 NHS allergy clinics. For further details of all medically approved allergy clinics (NHS and private) contact Allergy UK at www.allergyuk.org.
Once dairy products have been omitted from your diet, it is crucial to replace them with calcium-rich alternatives.

The following foods are high in calcium and are also tasty:

  • Calcium-fortified Soya milk
  • Orange juice
  • Tofu
  • Nuts
  • Figs
  • Bread with fortified flour
  • Green vegetables (such as green beans, broccoli)

You can get in touch with a dietician should you need more advice on food alternatives and safely omitting dairy products.

The evident dairy products for omission are milk, cheese, butter, cream and yogurt. There are also some filled pastas, spreads, sauces and cereals which contain dairy.

Therefore, it is necessary to scrutinise food labels and keep an eye out for ingredients derived from milk, such as:

  • Whey
  • Lactose / lactate
  • Lactalbumin
  • Casein / caseinate

The majority of food manufacturers and leading supermarkets lists the ingredients for products and brands which they manufacture and stock. You can contact the company head offices for further information.

Moreover, re-check food ingredient labels often as the ingredients can change, without any warning from manufacturers.