Dairy Intolerance – Lactose, Casein, and Whey
Having a food intolerance is not fun. It can cause abdominal pain, discomfort, and nausea. It also causes embarrassing symptoms like flatulence and diarrhea.
Other symptoms linked to food intolerances include muscle or joint pain, headaches, exhaustion, and even skin symptoms like rashes and eczema.
Dairy is just one of those foods that many people seem to be intolerant to. Let’s talk about the main components of milk that people react to: lactose, casein, and whey.
Milk sugar (lactose) intolerance
It’s estimated that up to 75% of adults are lactose intolerant. Lactose is the carbohydrate “milk sugar” naturally found in most dairy products.
Lactose intolerance is so common you can buy lactose-free milk in your regular grocery store. Lactose-free products are treated with the enzyme “lactase” that breaks the lactose down before you ingest it. It’s this lactase enzyme that is lacking in most people who are lactose intolerant.
The lactase enzyme is naturally released from your intestine as one of your digestive enzymes. It breaks down the lactose sugar in the gut. When someone doesn’t have enough of the lactase enzyme, the lactose doesn’t get broken down the way it should. The undigested lactose creates gases that cause bloating, flatulence, pain, and sometimes diarrhea or various other symptoms.
Lactose is found in dairy but is in lower amounts in fermented dairy (e.g. cheese & yogurt) and butter. Steering clear of lactose isn’t that easy as it is added to other foods like baked goods, soups, and sauces. And if you’re taking any medications or supplements, check to see if it’s in there too, as lactose is a common ingredient in them.
If you have symptoms of lactose intolerance, keep an eye on food, medication, and supplement labels.
Milk protein (casein & whey) allergy
Milk is a known, and common, food allergen. In Canada, it is considered a “priority allergen” and must be declared on food labels.
So, what are the allergens in milk? You’ve heard of “curds and whey?” Well, these are the two main proteins in milk. The solid bits are the curds (made of casein), and the liquid is the dissolved whey.
Unlike lactose intolerance, casein and whey can cause an actual immune response. It’s an allergy. And this immune response can cause inflammation. In fact, we don’t know how many people have these milk allergies, but most estimates put it far below that of lactose intolerance.
Like lactose, these allergenic milk proteins can be found in other products too. They’re not just in dairy but are often in protein powders as well (Have you heard of “whey” protein powders?).
Some of the symptoms of milk protein allergy differ from that of lactose intolerance; things like nasal congestion and mucus (phlegm) are more common here. And casein seems to be linked with belly fat.
Interestingly, people who have gluten intolerance are often allergic to milk proteins like whey and casein as well. These can go hand-in-hand.
Like lactose intolerance, if you’re allergic to casein and whey, keep an eye on labels so you can avoid these.
Summing it all up
If you get gassy, bloated, or diarrhea after eating dairy, you may have a lactose intolerance. If you often get a stuffy nose and mucus, then you may be allergic to casein and/or whey.
I think it’s important to mention here that any food intolerance is directly linked to dysbiosis and compromised gut health. This unfortunately is a very important aspect that is often overlooked by many people.
Avoiding a specific food for life without addressing and restoring balance in the body and gut is not the answer, as you very well may develop other intolerances, or health issues over time. Been there done that!
Removing the offending food temporarily, in this case dairy, is beneficial to remove the trigger. But it is essential to work on restoring balance in the microbiome and gut health.
If you find that dairy is just not your thing, then don’t worry. You can get your calcium and other nutrients in many other foods and there are many delicious alternatives to your favorites like the recipe below.
However, in many cases once gut health is re-established, often times the food can be re-introduced and enjoyed. Remember the food is not the culprit here, it is a symptom of your body needing support to restore balance.
If you decide to (or have already) removed dairy from your diet, let me know your experience in the comments below.
Helping you make sense of it all
Food intolerances can be tricky to figure out on your own. I can help. Book a 30 Minute Free Coaching Call.
I know it can seem overwhelming and confusing when you are starting out on your health journey, but it all starts with making small changes and knowing where to turn when you need a little guidance.
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We can discuss your health concerns, health goals and some simple strategies and you can determine if a holistic approach is right for you.