First of all, milk intolerance is not the same as a milk allergy or lactose intolerance. A milk allergy involves the immune system reacting to proteins in milk, while in milk intolerance there is no immune reaction. Additionally, milk contains a lot more than just lactose, and lactose intolerance is an intolerance to only the lactose in the milk.
True intolerance to milk is much more common than an allergy to milk proteins, and it comes in many guises. First, let’s be clear that milk intolerance generally refers to intolerance of cow’s milk, not mother’s milk, and often shows itself shortly after changing from breast milk to cow’s milk. This is in itself should provide a clue as to the cause of the child’s condition. However, it does not only occur in children, even adults display signs of milk intolerance.
The symptoms can appear anywhere in the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus. From mouth ulcers to anal itching. Babies can reject formula milk by vomiting or diarrhea, and the cause will be unlikely to be associated with drinking milk. Other symptoms of milk intolerance that can appear at any time are fatty and smelly stools, occult bleeding (internal bleeding in the gut) and sometimes constipation. In infants, the child could fail to grow and thrive due to an inability to digest and absorb the milk, they may cry a lot as if they have colic, and pass bloody stools. Although the symptoms appear obvious as described, they are also those of more common infant diseases and conditions and very many cases of milk intolerance in infants are misdiagnosed.
Why does this happen? Why do some people become intolerant to cow’s milk (or any other animal’s) while others do not. A common cause of food intolerances of any type is a deficiency in the enzyme that is responsible for the digestion, or chemical breaking down, of the type of food concerned. In milk it is a deficiency in lactase that causes this. This is one of the main reasons for milk intolerance in adults. Lactase breaks down milk sugars, and the body naturally drops its production of lactase from ages of 2 onwards since after that age the energy available from milk is negligible and we are not supposed to continue drinking it.
Keep in mind that the only natural source of milk is the breast, and breast feeding stops under 2 (unless you want serious biting problems!). Nature never intended us to drink the milk of other animals, and our digestion is not geared up for it. Undigested lactose passes into the colon and causes a reaction to it. Hence, milk intolerance is not as unnatural as you might believe. Lactose ingestion decreases from the age of 2 and we therefore become less able to digest it. This results in intolerance in many people. Around 30 million adult Americans have a milk intolerance to some extent by the age of 21.
The intolerance could be due not only to the lactose, but also to the animal milk protein. If this is the case, it is frequently possible for the child to keep taking milk products, but with the protein content reduced or eliminated. However, diagnosis of milk intolerance in babies is so poor that they are likely to have outgrown the condition before it is diagnosed properly.
Milk intolerance in infants in not uncommon, but recovery is common for no reason in half of all cases within a year, and by 90% within three years. However, avoidance of cow’s milk can frequently resolve this problem since different milk sources have different lactose and protein content. Many infants tolerate their mother’s milk but not that of another animal, and why should they? Why should it be assumed that a human baby should be able to survive on milk based upon another animal?
If you suffer from milk intolerance, but still need the proteins that milk can supply, why not try some other form of milk. If you need milk with cereals or in your cooking try some other source of white protein dispersed in a liquid. Soy milk is a common alternative used by vegans. However, soy milk based on soy protein isolates should not be given to infants under six months old, and especially not if they have been found to have a milk allergy. Infants fed on soy-based formulas can suffer from infertility and premature puberty, so best leave the soy milk to the adults where they do no harm.
Almond milk is a better tasting alternative to soy milk, and much safer for children than cow’s milk. It is delicious and you can make your own with a cup of almonds that have been steeped in water for 4 – 8 hours, and 4 cups of water. Use a pinch of salt and then liquidize till smooth, then strain. You can add half a vanilla pod if you want and some honey and it tastes absolutely fabulous. Your kids will love it. Who needs cow’s milk! You can also feed your children on rice milk made in the same way, but keep in mind that rice contains carbohydrate rather than protein and your children will need a protein supplement.
Also remember that milk is high in calcium, and neither almond nor rice contain much of that mineral that is so essential for strong bones and teeth. You will have to find a good calcium supplement suitable for children. The beauty of milk is that calcium is provided in a form that is readily absorbed by the body, while most calcium supplements are not. They need the presence of other vitamins to enable the calcium to be effectively absorbed by the body.
A milk intolerant child needs his or her condition diagnosed quickly, and milk intolerance should not be confused with milk allergy. They are different conditions and require different treatments. Intolerance is a natural reaction to drinking the milk that nature intended to nurture another animal’s child, so we should not be surprised by it, and be prepared with alternatives to mother’s milk should it occur. Another option is to consume a lactase enzyme which would supply the needed enzyme for digesting cow’s milk.
Rice and almond milk are suitable alternatives if their limitations are understood, and suitable supplementation is provided to render them suitable substitutes for milk intolerant children.