For some infants, cow’s milk protein or bovine protein in breast milk or milk formula can be difficult to digest. Can it also be worthwhile for adults to exclude dairy products and bovine proteins?
In order to better understand the interest of these exclusions, let’s start by understanding what a food allergy is.
There are 2 types of food allergies: the so-called IgE mediated allergies and the non-IgE mediated.
We talk about IgE mediated allergies when the immune system intervenes. In this type of allergy, the body will overreact when it is in contact with a protein that is harmless to the majority of people. This reaction can be triggered by a very small amount of the food or even a simple contact with it. Symptoms usually appear within minutes, or even 2 hours after the ingestion of the food.
Among these symptoms we find in particular skin reactions (hives, swelling, itching …), gastrointestinal reactions (abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, …), and breathing difficulties.
Skin tests and a blood test, aimed at measuring the concentration of IgE, make it possible to make a diagnosis.
We speak of non-IgE-mediated allergy when the immune system is not initiated. This type of allergy is sometimes called an intolerance. In this case, the reaction will be proportional to the amount of food ingested and symptoms can take from 2 hours to several days to appear.
Among the symptoms are mainly reactions of the digestive system: diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, blood and mucus in the stool…
In order to make a diagnosis, it is important to observe whether the symptoms disappear once the food is removed from the diet and to exclude other probable causes of the reaction.
This allergy mainly affects infants and usually disappears around 18 months to 4 years of age. This allergy can also develop over time (adolescence or early adulthood) but this is rarer, affecting less than 0.5% of adults. This is a common allergy among infants as is an allergy to eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy and seafood.
Cow’s milk contains two main proteins that can cause an allergic reaction: casein and whey. It is possible to be allergic to only one or both milk proteins.
In order to improve the symptoms, it is essential for the child to stop consuming the protein(s) that are causing the allergies. Since protein is transmitted through breast milk, a breastfeeding mother will have to follow a diet that excludes cow’s milk protein to make her child feel better. The improvement is usually seen in the days following the withdrawal of the food from the mother’s diet. If the food is reintegrated into the mother’s diet, then the symptoms will reappear quickly.
If the child is not breastfed then it will be necessary to find a suitable infant formula or exclude from their diet the cow’s milk proteins contained in: yogurt, milk, ice cream, cheese, butter, sour cream and also all of the transformed foods that may contain milk or its’ derivatives (cookies, chocolate, broths, baked goods, dips, chips, sweets…).
It is important to distinguish a cow’s milk protein allergy from a lactose intolerance. Lactose is a sugar (carbohydrate) that is contained in milk and in the case of an intolerance the body is unable to digest this sugar because the enzyme that allows this digestion is produced in insufficient quantities or is absent. Thus people who are intolerant to lactose will have to exclude lactose but will be able to continue to consume lactose-free dairy products: lactose-free yogurts and cheeses such as parmesan, cheddar, gruyère etc., which contain negligible amounts of lactose.