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Milky way

Suffering from a milk allergy? Milk allergy though, should not be confused with lactose intolerance. Here’s how to cope. Tavishi Paitandy Rastogi suggests tips...

health and fitness Updated: Mar 23, 2009 16:14 IST
Tavishi Paitandy Rastogi

Arpita was a year old when she started reacting adversely to milk. “By the time I turned one, I would develop rashes on my skin and have bad cramps every time I drank milk,” she recalls.

Tests revealed that Arpita was suffering from an allergic reaction from milk. Arpita’s is not the only case. There are a lot of people who are averse to milk and other dairy products. “It is a fairly common phenomenon. In fact, a milk allergy is the commonest food allergy there is. In particular, it is a reaction against milk protein,” explains Dr Sandeep Buddhiraja, head, internal medicine, Max Healthcare.

“It is basically a reaction mediated by the immune system when it starts to react to milk proteins as antibodies or foreign bodies and refuses to recognise it as a regular protein intake useful to the body,” he adds. This may be a common phenomenon, but it is also a disturbing issue. For milk has always been known as a most essential nutrient for all ages.

Physician Dr Ram Kumar agrees. “Milk is essential for all ages irrespective of gender. Older people besides children, women and nursing mothers are advised to drink milk to keep their bones strong and remain healthy,” he says.

Healthy without milk
But, an allergy is an allergy. What does one do if he/she has an allergy to milk? “Milk is rich in protein, calcium and Vitamins A and B and it is important to ensure an adequate intake of these elements on a dairy-free diet,” says Dr Kumar.
Experts recommend other substitutes such as soya, which is rich in protein, and other foods like potatoes, vegetable oil and fish for adults. Cod liver oil or fish oils are rich in vitamin A, say doctors.

“Watercress, figs, almonds and other nuts besides fresh fruit and vegetables are a good source of vitamins and minerals. They are especially important for children as they help in the formation of strong, healthy teeth and bones,” explains Dr Buddhiraja. “Besides, there are a number of other milks that are available that are a good substitute for people with milk allergies. Rice milk is good for drinking and using in cereal for both children and adults. In some food preparations, water, broth or juice can be substituted for cow’s milk. Soy and oat milk also have similar benefits,” adds Dr Buddhiraja.

Dairy-free diet
In case of adults and especially women, nursing mothers and older people, calcium is an important requirement. “Bones are living growing tissues and need plenty of calcium for growth and repair. Dairy products form the major sources of calcium in the diet,” says Dr Kumar.

But milk-allergic people need to find other sources of calcium. “Non-dairy sources of calcium come in handy here. Non-dairy drinks such as juices fortified with calcium are available in the market. Calcium-rich vegetables include dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale and collard greens (both belong to the cabbage family). Spinach too is rich in calcium,” explains Dr Kumar. “Fish with soft, edible bones and seafood are good for non-vegetarians,” he adds.

Lactose intolerance
Like most allergic reactions, the exact cause for a milk allergy is not really known. “It is assumed that it may get generated due to some deficiency in the mother’s milk or just some reaction in the immune system. But the exact cause cannot be pointed out,” says Dr Buddhiraja. Doctors say a milk allergy generally affects people between the age group of zero to four years. “It has been seen that milk allergy sometimes wears off on its own as the person grows older, but that is not always a given,” says Kumar.

Milk allergy though, should not be confused with lactose intolerance, which experts say is completely different. “The only thing in common being the intolerance to milk and milk products,” says Dr Kumar. Dr Buddhiraja agrees.

“Lactose intolerance is a deficiency of the lactase enzyme in the body. A person could be born with it or it could also occur after a bout of some infection like acute diarrhoea.”