It is estimated that as many as thirty percent of all Americans suffer from lactose intolerance, a serious condition that results from a lack of the enzyme lactase, which is required in order to break down lactose in the digestive system. Lactose intolerance is sometimes misidentified or confused with a dairy sensitivity or allergy, but the two conditions are quite different with disparate symptoms and root causes. While most dairy intolerances are relatively minor, in some extreme cases dairy allergies can result in serious or life-threatening reactions which may require immediate hospitalization. For this reason, it’s essential to determine whether an individual is suffering from lactose intolerance or from dairy intolerance before a serious situation develops. There is no cure for either condition, but avoiding the products that trigger reactions is usually an effective treatment for both lactose intolerance and dairy intolerance.
Individuals with lactose intolerance cannot break down the simple sugar, lactose, found in milk and many other dairy products. As a result, the lactose in these foods passes virtually unchanged through the digestive system, creating a wide range of effects including painful gas, bloating, and severe stomach cramps. These symptoms typically worsen with age, and can be extremely uncomfortable, but are not usually serious or life threatening. Treatments include lactase supplements and avoidance. Some doctors recommend slowly introducing small amounts of dairy into the diet of lactose intolerant individuals in order to reduce the level of intolerance; this usually is an uncomfortable process, however, and has not achieved consistent results.
Dairy intolerance is different from lactose intolerance in that it is an intolerance to other components of dairy, such as caesin. Lactose can still be involved but while lactose intolerance and dairy intolerance share some of the same symptoms including bloating, excessive gas, cramps, and nausea, dairy intolerances (including an intolerance to the lactose component) also can cause a host of other symptoms including fatigue, skin rashes and eczema, asthma attacks, and upper respiratory congestion to name just a few. A dairy intolerance causes upset of the natural processes of the gut to the degree that symptoms will start to show both in the gut such as cramping and bloating to the more extreme leaky gut whose permeability has changed, to symptoms in other body tissues such as eczema of the skin. Some children who exhibit symptoms of dairy sensitivity outgrow the problem in adolescence or adulthood, while others must avoid dairy products for their entire lives.
Dairy allergies are the result of a misidentification by the body’s immune system of dairy products such as lactose or casein; the body’s defensive system attacks these materials as foreign and releases white blood cells and chemicals including histamines to try to fight off the misidentified materials. In extreme cases, dairy allergies can trigger anaphylactic shock, a serious allergic reaction with symptoms including hives and itching, heart palpitations, confusion and anxiety to include slurred speech, and coughing, wheezing, and difficulty in breathing due to swollen airways. While antihistamines are sometimes prescribed for mild cases of dairy sensitivity, the best treatment is to avoid dairy products containing the offending substances.