Lactose Intolerance (a severe reaction to milk and milk by products) affects approximately 30 million Americans*. It is caused by the body’s inability to break down sugars that are located within milk. The body has a special enzyme called lactase which breaks down milk sugar so that it can be used by the blood.
People with lactose intolerance can experience a range of symptoms: nausea, cramps, gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Those who have an actual allergic reaction to milk (meaning that the body doesn’t recognize milk protein and begins fighting it like a disease) can have rashes, hives, sore throats, sinus problems, coughing, vomiting as well the gastrointestinal symptoms. The severity of reaction varies from person to person, but the experience can be uncomfortable and embarrassing.
An informal test was once recommended to me by a nutritionist. Stay away from milk, cheese, creamy sauces, or ice cream for two weeks or more. If you know a product contains powdered milk or a milk base, it’s probably good to stay away from that too. In the mean time, if you have no allergies to nuts or soy, you can try almond milk or soy milk as a replacement. Then, once the two weeks have passed (you’ll need about two weeks for your system to clear the existing lactose and to restore your body to its natural state) drink a big glass of milk or have a large bowl of ice cream. If you notice gas, constipation, diarrhea, sinus problems, nausea, rashes or other symptoms, consult your doctor and stay away from milk and dairy products. Be careful when eating at restaurants to check if milk has been added to a dish and read the labels on prepackaged foods.
Doctors can also perform certain tests which will analyze your breath, blood sugar, or stool. Each test checks for a different element which would indicate poor digestion of lactose. The breath test checks for hydrogen levels, the blood sugar for sugar, and the stool test examines acidity. These tests can be done in a few hours.
If you are diagnosed as lactose intolerant, you can take enzymes which will help you to break down the sugars in milk or buy lactose free dairy products. With a milk allergy, antihistamine medication may help, though the best results are achieved by avoiding milk completely. Talking to a licensed medical professional is important to determine the severity of your condition and to find out what methods will be the most useful in treatment.
*According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=9&sub=20&cont=443)