There are two main potential problem particles in dairy. One is lactose (you’ve probably heard of lactose intolerance). The other is Casein, which is less widely known. Some people also have a milk allergy (different to an intolerance), and it’s also possible to react to Whey.
Lactose – Lactose is a sugar found in milk (and milk products).
Casein – Casein is a milk protein. You may remember from previous posts that Gluten is a wheat protein. It is quite common to find that if you have a gluten sensitivity you also have a casein sensitivity, since the two are handled in a similar way by the body. Here is a great post from ThePaleo Mum which explains Gluten Cross-Reactivity to dairy and other foods.
Whey – Whey is another milk protein which can cause similar reactions to casein. If you are using whey protein and are reacting to it, then you could be reacting to the whey, but it could also be because the product is not 100% whey, but also contains lactose and you are reacting to the lactose (confusing isn’t it).
Our family’s experience
I have been making home made yogurt, which I ferment for 24 hours, for many years. This supposedly leads to all the lactose being converted to lactic acid by the yoghurt making bacteria, and hence it is safe even for those who are lactose intolerant. I plan to write more about this in a future post, but in the meantime, here is the information that got me started on this path. When I first became ill yoghurt making was one of the many activities that stopped. However, as soon as I was able (probably 18 months after my crash) I began making the yogurt again.
A few months ago I removed all dairy from my diet for a period of 2 weeks and then reintroduced it. I did not notice a difference in symptoms on removal or reintroduction, so I therefore do not think I am intolerant to lactose, casein or whey. I do not avoid dairy, and regularly eat my homemade yoghurt, and I occasionally enjoy some cheese or a creamy dessert. However, I don’t go out of my way to consume lots of dairy. I am focusing on a nutrient dense diet, and most of the time I think there are other foods that will benefit me more.
When my daughter started her gluten free diet our nutritionist warned us that many people who react to gluten also react to casein and hence she may also need to avoid dairy. We’ve never removed dairy completely from her diet, if you’ve read my post about our experience of going gluten free, you’ll know that given the state of my health at the time it was challenging enough to remove gluten. Writing this makes me think that we should probably do a trial to eliminate dairy and reintroduce it and see if there is any reaction, but this will rely on her co-operation.
Over the last few months we have also been trying to work out the cause of my youngest son’s regular tummy aches. After excluding gluten from his diet we noticed that the tummy aches came when he ate dairy. We therefore excluded gluten and dairy for 2 weeks (he was fine) reintroduced gluten (he was fine) and a week later reintroduced dairy (he was not fine). Over the summer there have been several instances of him eating dairy and getting tummy pains. However, he seems able to consume my homemade yoghurt with no problem. This makes me think that he is lactose, and not casein intolerant. I am still experimenting to see what he can tolerate. For example I read that many people with a slight lactose intolerance can tolerate butter, because it is mainly the fat portion of milk and hence does not have much lactose. However, his consumption of chocolate brownies made with butter did not have a happy ending. That was 2 weeks ago, so I am now going to try some whey protein isolate to see if he can tolerate that. Again this is supposed to be a different fraction of milk, with very low lactose. I consulted with our GP before I excluded gluten, and my son had a coeliac test (which was negative). At the end of the summer we went back to the GP to tell her the conclusion we had reached, but she does not want to do any testing to confirm lactose intolerance, and is happy for us to continue as we are.
All our meals now need to have gluten free and lactose free versions and packed lunches are even more challenging than before. It’s a good job I have more energy because an awful lot of it is going into thinking about and preparing food. Over time I hope to get better at gluten and dairy free options so that it is less effort.