How Do I Live With Milk Allergies/Lactose Intolerance?
On August 2nd, Blue Diamond, owned by HP Hood, chose to voluntarily recall part of their Almond Breeze almond milk product line because there was a risk that actual cow's milk might have gotten into their non-milk products.
The company recalled over 145,000 containers of their 64 ounce vanilla almond milk, after one person became ill with milk allergy symptoms. The company said the Almond Breeze vanilla almond milk line may have been inadvertently tainted with milk, an allergen which is not listed as an ingredient on their nutrition label.
The at-risk containers were sold in 28 states - including Florida, New York, Texas, and Wisconsin. If you had purchased one of those Vanilla Almond Milk containers, with a Use By date of September 2, 2018, you had the opportunity to return it where you purchased it for a full refund or exchange. With all that said, if you have no sensitivities to cow milk, it was still safe to drink.
What Is the Difference Between Lactose Intolerance & a Milk Allergy?
Why did I start this post talking about an almond milk recall? Because millions of people who have an allergy to milk were subject to possibly ingesting something that will make them different degrees of ill.
I drink almond milk, but I also love cows milk. Both are delicious, but for some, animal milk has consequences. In the situation above, the problem starts when a person who is lactose intolerant, or suffers from milk allergies, drinks the almond milk, thinking it’s safe. Even a trace amount of animal milk can affect those with allergies in major ways. Generally, these reactions occur with cow’s milk, but can happen with goat, sheep, or other animal’s milk as well.
The human body needs an enzyme called lactase in order to digest lactose – a milk sugar. Without the appropriate amount of that enzyme, undigested lactose will move through the intestines and travels into the colon. Here, the bacteria in the colon will break down the lactose and cause gas, bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea. That is lactose intolerance, which has been diagnosed in over 30 million American adults. But let’s be clear, as uncomfortable as it is, lactose intolerance is NOT the same as a milk allergy.
Milk allergy is an immune reaction to specific milk proteins. The most common cause? The Alpha S1-casein protein in cow’s milk.
Nearly 3 percent of children under the age of 3 start out allergic to milk, with almost 20 percent of them continuing to suffer from milk allergies as adults. However, you can develop a milk allergy at any age. These can be temporary or permanent, depending on the person. That means, just because you didn’t have a food sensitivity as a child does not mean you can’t have one as an adult.
People who suffer from milk allergies are at risk of upset stomach, hives, vomiting, bloody stools, drops in blood pressure, and anaphylaxis (a severe reaction which includes closure of the airways which causes trouble breathing).
How Do I Know If I Have A Milk Allergy or Am Lactose Intolerant?
There are many risk factors that contribute to the potential for having allergies to milk:
Do you have any other food sensitivities?
Do your family members have a history of food allergies?
Are you genetically predisposed due to congenital lactase deficiency?
Have you had an injury to your small intestine?
Were you born premature?
The first rule of determining if you have a milk allergy or are lactose intolerant is to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms. Celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome both have symptoms that can be confused with milk allergy or lactose intolerance. The easiest way to see if milk consumption is the real problem would be to avoid it for a period of time to see if your symptoms cease. If they do, then you can quickly eliminate more serious conditions and can perform tests specific to milk sensitivities. There is even a home lactose intolerance test you can use.
In order to diagnose a person with lactose intolerance, a doctor can use the Hydrogen Breath test. This purpose of this test is to find the amount of hydrogen in your breath. Usually only a small amount is found. However, for those with undigested lactose in their system, you will have much higher levels of hydrogen in your breath.
For this test, you will be given a drink that contains a certain amount of lactose. Over the next few hours, you will be asked to breathe into a balloon type of device every 30 minutes which will test your hydrogen level and check your symptoms. Your diagnosis will depending on your levels and how your symptoms progress.
To determine if someone has a milk allergy, a doctor will either do a skin prick test, an oral food test, or a blood test, in order to test for the presence of the immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody in the blood.
During the skin prick test, which allows for an immediate result, the skin on your arm is pricked with a small needle and a milk protein liquid is allowed to seep into your skin. An allergy is confirmed if, within 20 minutes, a rash or welts develop.
An oral food test requires the consumption of small amounts of milk products to observe if a reaction takes place. This test is risky due to the potential severity of any allergic reactions, so emergency protocols must be followed.
A simple blood test will check for the same IgE antibodies, however you will need to wait to get the results back from the lab, which can take a few days to weeks.
How Do I Manage a Milk Allergy/Lactose Intolerance?
The most common and simplest way to manage a milk allergy, like all food allergies, is to avoid it altogether. Thankfully, when it comes to allergies, milk is one of the ingredients that the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 requires to be labels in packaged food products. So anything you buy in the supermarket that contains milk, will marked on the label.
However, even if a food is labeled “milk-free” or “non-dairy” it can contain milk products – such as whey protein – that may not be marked on the label. These products include candy, margarine, artificial cheese, protein powders. This makes it incredibly important to read the ingredient list of everything you buy if avoidance is your primary format of managing your allergy.
In addition, when eating out, ask how your food will be prepared. Make sure your server clearly understands that you have a milk allergy. He or she will make the kitchen aware and if they have any concerns about providing a meal that is safe for you, they will let you know.
Another way to manage your milk allergy/intolerance is to figure out how your allergy is affected. By that, I mean can you consume milk if its ice cold? Do you need to heat it before you eat it, such as in baked goods?
If you are lactose intolerant, you may be provided with a lactase tablet which will break down the lactose for you.
For those with severe allergies and a history of suffering from anaphylaxis, your doctor will likely recommend that you carry an epinephrine pen, for use in case of an anaphylactic emergency.
One thing to note is that milk allergies can be connected to other conditions, especially those in which inflammation is the main cause such as asthma and eczema.
What Are the Milk Alternatives?
The best way to avoid milk tainted food is to cook at home more often. This will allow you to put in only the ingredients you can use to eat safely.
There are several forms of non-dairy milk that can be found in your local supermarket right next to regular milk which will work as great substitutes and can be used with cereal, in recipes for baked goods, or placed in your daily coffee. Those include almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, and cashew milk. Harder ones to find would be flax milk, rice milk, and oat milk. Below you will find a list of the readily available non-dairy alternatives and their basic nutritional values.
If you are having issues with consuming milk and milk products, the best thing to do is to see a doctor and figure out what is going on. Both lactose intolerance and milk allergies are easily managed, with just a bit of consistency and diligence, you don’t have to miss out on your favorite ice cream, yogurts, or cheeses. You can live your life to the fullest, while keeping your symptoms under control.