Discovering & Treating Dairy Sensitivity By An Elimination Diet
Say it isn’t so! Please! I need my cheese! What does one do if there is a suspicion of dairy sensitivity? Well, one way to find out if indeed you have a dairy sensitivity is to eliminate all dairy from the diet.
Certainly that is easier said than done. Eliminating dairy products is much more than tossing out the cheese dip, milk, ice cream, and most yogurts. Milk in its whole form and in component form is in too many products to list.
It may be that what is causing someone to have a dairy sensitivity is a single part of what makes up milk. The most well known part of milk that causes issues is lactose. People who are lactose intolerant do not produce enough of the enzyme lactase utilized in digestion to breakdown lactose. This results in stomach upset, painful gas, flatulence, bloating and/or stomach cramps.
Lactose intolerance causes mostly the same symptoms as dairy sensitivities. The nausea, flatulence, and cramps feel the same whether the reaction one is having to dairy is because of a general sensitivity to cow’s milk, or an intolerance to the milk component lactose.
It’s important to make note of the symptoms of a full-blown dairy allergy. Though a dairy allergy may produce many of the same symptoms as both a dairy sensitivity or lactose intolerance, an allergy is an immune response that can run the gamut between two extremes, and can change in severity of reaction at any time. A mild allergic response could be something like indigestion or a skin reaction such as hives. An extreme reaction could come with hives as well but could also be life-threatening due to the involvement of many organ systems, and the symptom of swelling may entirely block one’s ability to breathe.
If sensitivity is suspected, it’s time to start reading labels! Look for ingredients that are milk or components of milk such as whey, casein and lactose. Those words bear repeating. Whey. Casein. Lactose. Don’t think that just because a product is not commonly known to be even slightly associated with anything concerning milk that it doesn’t actually contain milk or its components. Whey and casein are used in so many processed food products that the list would be too big to include here. Look on the label for anything that sounds like it is milk-related, including words such as “butter,” “cream,” or “heavy cream,” as well as the three red-flag words mentioned above; whey, casein and lactose.
Now, you don’t have to read every label of every product in the store, nor do you have to learn every ingredient of every food available on a menu in a restaurant. Just read the labels and lists of ingredients for the foods that you actually consume. And when dining out, be sure to let the server know of your dietary restrictions and even ask if there is a dairy-free menu available. Many of the larger restaurant chains will have dairy-free options. After you begin your elimination diet as it’s called, continue to look and learn what is in the food being eaten on a daily basis.
There are three caveats that many fail to consider when testing whether or not they are sensitive to a certain food. Many embarking on an elimination diet of avoiding a possible offending food will try to determine whether they are feeling better or not after just a few days. In order to truly give it a chance, a minimum of a full month on the elimination diet is needed to see whether there is a real improvement in symptoms. Second, many will try out some alternatives to dairy during the elimination. While trying to find out if there truly is a specific food sensitivity, this is not the time to introduce new foods into the diet. New foods and especially alternatives to dairy that may be soy-based, which is another food that many folks are highly sensitivity to, may cause sensitivity issues in individuals already susceptible to sensitivity to dairy products. An elimination diet to discover the truth about whether or not you are really sensitive to a suspected offending food product should be based on maintaining your regular diet minus the suspected offender. If symptoms begin to subside as dairy is eliminated from the diet, there is a very good chance that dairy was the culprit. Last, many people have multiple sensitivities, such as dairy and egg or dairy and gluten, so sometimes the elimination diet will not give the improvement that was hoped for when indeed there is a dairy sensitivity, but it’s just in conjunction with another food sensitivity.
It is a good idea to take a total and complete inventory of symptoms prior to beginning the elimination diet and assess symptoms every 1-2 weeks for change. After several months on an elimination diet the gut begins to heal and some dairy-sensitive individuals can reintroduce dairy slowly and over time. Remember though that after years of being sick with symptoms, it takes time to heal so that should be done only after a fair amount of time on an elimination diet (at least 3 months) and slowly and cautiously as well. Reintroducing dairy to a sensitive person may or may not cause a recurrence of symptoms. If symptoms recur, then eliminate the dairy again. If symptoms do not reoccur, it is still wise to limit dairy intake indefinitely so as to not risk creating the sensitivity all over again.
For those who just have to eat dairy, even though there are times that symptoms are almost unbearable, the choice is still yours. Sometimes symptoms are quite bearable depending on what type of dairy product is consumed and at what time. If the beloved cheese on the pizza is a must-have, and if the symptoms are just a tiny bit of nausea and a bloated feeling, then maybe the joy of eating the pizza, for some, is worth the discomfort. Just be aware that the discomfort is caused by something going wrong inside your body, and maybe the mild digestive symptoms are only the tip of the iceberg of what is really going on from the inside out. Sensitivities can manifest in seemingly unrelated disease processes such as eczema and asthma. There is also research to show that consumption of an offensive food over time causes trauma to the body that results in a variety of diseases and dysfunctions down the road.
Milk is such a common food sensitivity that many people suffer needlessly for years because they do not consider that milk is the offender. Or worse, people are commonly diagnosed as lactose intolerant and take a supplemental lactase enzyme, never to discover that they were sensitive to another part of what makes up milk such as whey or casein. If it is just lactose intolerance, the supplemental form of lactase taken when eating dairy often resolves the symptoms.
There are blood tests that can be performed to test whether there is a true dairy sensitivity as well. Many opt for the elimination diet first before embarking on blood work simply because it can be done “right now” with no needles or doctors involved. With blood tests there is always the possibility of false negatives and really the only way to be one-hundred percent certain if there is a sensitivity to dairy is by eliminating all dairy for a long enough time to see if symptoms of sensitivity subside. If they do, despite what any blood work may say, there indeed is a sensitivity. If the symptoms go away after dairy is gone from the diet, it is also easy to confirm the suspicion by reintroducing some dairy to see if the symptoms come back.
So, during your elimination diet be sure to read the labels, don’t substitute with new foods that may contain components that also trigger symptoms while testing the dairy sensitivity theory and be sure to give it time. You know your body better than anyone. And remember, nothing tastes as good as HEALTHY feels!