Most dairy intolerance develops between the ages of 2 and 5 years old. Babies typically produce lactase (the enzyme required for the small intestine to break down the proteins and sugars naturally found in milk) upon birth as they need it to digest breast milk . By age 3, many children show signs of being intolerant to dairy. Lactose intolerance is common in the general US population by the age of 20 years. In Asian-American, African-American, and Native American populations, it is considered normal to be lactose intolerant.
It is important to note that dairy intolerance is not the same as milk allergy. While an individual may have both, he or she may also simply be unable to digest milk proteins without having an actual histamine or other immune response. This post covers the former, not the latter. A milk allergy is a separate condition than I cover here.
Why is dairy intolerance so common?
There are many theories about dairy intolerance. Below I list just a few that stand out in the research.
First, let's look at the milk that is sold at most grocery stores across the US. By the early 20th century, many states had begun pasteurizing milk and banning raw (unpasteurized) milk. I grew up on pasteurized homogenized milk in the 1980's and I never knew there was anything else until the 21st century. When cow's milk is pasteurized, many of its nutrients, including the enzymes required to help our bodies digest it, are destroyed. Raw milk contains lactase - the enzyme that allows the small intestine to break down lactose. When heated up, the lactase is lost. Therefore the natural enzymes that help us digest milk are lost in the pasteurization process.
Let's also look at skim milk, lowfat milk, and 2%. These were originally invented as a way to fatten up pigs - by giving them skimmed cow's milk. Medical personnel began recommending this for humans who wanted to lose weight ... wait, what? How could something meant to fatten a pig make a human skinnier? Hmmm... Ok. Well, in removing some of the cream-fat, not only did they remove much of the health benefits (we need healthy fats, folks... but that's another post) - they also removed almost all of the Vitamin A. To put it simply, this is not good for us, and likely in combination with pasteurization, may very well be a contributing factor to our bodies becoming more intolerant to dairy over time. When we pull apart the naturally occuring nutrients in foods which are produced by natural, unprocessed standards (raw cow's milk from clean grass-fed cows, e.g.) we lose the synergy they produce in just the right combinations. There is research to show that a combination of Vitamin A and D such as naturally occurs in fresh cow's milk enhances the immune system.
There is also a theory about ethnic origin leading to a genetic propensity for dairy intolerance. Interestingly, my husband and daughter are dairy intolerant. Both of their bodies fill up with mucus after ingesting dairy on a regular basis. Whether it is based on their ethnicity is impossible to say. It is certainly possible that my daughter inherited his propensity towards inadequate lactase production and a small intestine unable to digest dairy. According to research, Northern Europeans have the least dairy intolerance documented, while certain African and Asian populations show almost 90% intolerance.
In my daughter's case, she thrived on raw cow's milk until reaching about 2 1/2 years old. Suddenly, her chemistry changed over the course of a couple of months and she began showing increasing signs of dairy intolerance. Severely phelgmy coughs, a weakened immune system, body rashes, and acidic smelling bowel movements led us to understand that her love for dairy was creating challenges for her little body. Does any of this sound familiar? Your child may (or may not!) be intolerant to dairy.
Read on to find out the most common signs of dairy intolerance.
The 10 most common (and sometimes sneaky) signs of dairy intolerance are:
1 - Skin rash - Skin rashes are common and the source of them is often undiscernable. If your child breaks out in a rash within a few hours of dairy consumption, or within 24-36 hours after an increased dairy consumption, it may be a signal that his or her body is challenged by it.
2 - Abdominal pain, including cramping - When the small intestine is unable to break down the lactose in milk, pain can easily ensue.
3 - Gas & borborygmi (loud tummy sounds)
4 - Nausea and/ or vomiting - Often this occurs within 2 hours of consumption, but it can also be a chronic low grade issue. Especially if you notice your child's appetite is diminished for a few hours after consuming dairy.
5 - Acidic bowel movements - These occur because the body cannot digest the lactose in the small intestine. When this occurs it is then passed on to the large intestine, where it combines with the normal bacteria of the colon and becomes acidic. Stool can be tested for acidity, and often you can smell an acrid quality when your little one's poops become acidic.
6 - Frequent colds & flus - When the small intestine and colon become gummed up with undigested milk proteins, the body has a less than optimal flora environment. Couple this with an excess of phlegm accumulating in the lung and you've definitely got a vulnerable kiddo's immune system.
7 - Runny nose that doesn't clear up with the end of a cold or flu - Often the body will attempt to discharge excess mucus build up on-goingly. This build-up is from the undigested dairy and other sludge your darling sweetie's little body has been accumulating in the face of a dairy intolerance.
8 - Sluggish or lethargic behavior - Energy comes from properly digested and assimilated foods, high in nutrients - many of which are absorbed through the lining of the small intestine. When our systems are challenged with products our unique bodies find offensive, we wind up with fatigue, lethargy, and less than optimal energy due to less than optimal nutrient absorption and an overtaxed digestion.
9 - Phlegmy cough that lasts longer than 2-3 weeks - While there may be many causes of an ongoing phlegmy cough, it may also be another sign that your child's body is accumulating excess mucus, possible due to intolerance for dairy.
10 - Bad breath -
When the body cannot digest lactose, the lactose becomes metabolized by bacteria in the body, which then produces hydrogen and methane as byproducts. The methane can be detected on the breath as a result.
If one or more of these sound familiar, you may be dealing with dairy intolerance.
If you have a hunch your kiddo may not be digesting dairy well, try him or her on a month of dairy-free eating and see if the symptoms clear up. After a period free of dairy, you can test the skin with homemade yogurt or kefir (made from raw high quality grass fed milk). If your child's skin does not react to the yogurt, it is safe to begin slowly introducing it again in small amounts. To find out more about this, read the section on dairy in this book that I recommend.
Do you have questions for Julie? Ask in the comments below or post them on my facebook page!
This post is linked to Thank Your Body Thursday.
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