- There is a difference between lactose intolerance and casein allergy or
- Some people can still have limited dairy with lactose intolerance -- but
not with casein allergy
- You can still get calcium in your diet without dairy products
You drink a glass of milk and your stomach feels upset, or a scoop of ice
cream leaves you with a congested nose. You assume that you, like 30 million
to 50 million other Americans, are lactose intolerant. But are you really?
That depends on your specific symptoms.
"Lactose sensitivities are well known, but people may not be as familiar
with casein allergies or a sensitivity to casein, which can also be experienced
when eating or drinking dairy products," says Tawnya Dorn, RD, CDE,
a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at
Queen of the Valley Medical Center, in Napa, California. "They share some similarities in how they affect
your body, but there are also some important distinctions between them."
Lactose vs. casein
Lactose is a natural sugar found in products made with milk. Casein is
a protein in milk.
If you are lactose intolerant, it means your small intestine can't
properly digest lactose after eating or drinking a dairy product. That's
because your body doesn't produce enough lactase, the enzyme responsible
for lactose absorption. This can be a genetic condition, or it can be
caused by a gastrointestinal health issue.
Some people can have a small amount of dairy and not experience any problems,
while others cannot handle any dairy. There are several symptoms indicative
of lactose intolerance, and the severity of each can vary depending on
how much milk you consume and your tolerance level. They include gas,
bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.
Casein allergy or sensitivity
Problems with casein differ from lactose intolerance. If your body can't
handle casein, that can be considered a milk allergy, and consumption
of casein triggers an allergic reaction, with symptoms such as a skin
rash or hives; swollen lips, mouth or tongue; and runny nose and watery,
itchy eyes. In severe cases, it can cause anaphylaxis, which can be a
fast-moving, life-threatening allergic reaction if not treated immediately.
There can also be some of the symptoms that come with lactose intolerance,
such as bloating and stomach pain.
Milk allergies such as casein allergy generally are diagnosed early in
life and don't suddenly appear in adulthood. Unlike people with lactose
intolerance who may be able to consume dairy in limited quantities without
a problem, if you have a casein allergy you should avoid milk and milk
If you can't consume dairy because you are lactose intolerant, there
are still plenty of dairy-free versions of common foods, such as
milk alternatives or lactose-free yogurt. Some cheeses, such as cheddar, are naturally low
in lactose. If you have a casein allergy, it's a little trickier, as many
packaged foods — ranging from salad dressings to breads to cereals — can
contain milk solids, which can include casein. It's best to talk with
your health care professional about the proper diet for a casein allergy.
Dorn says you shouldn't necessarily worry about a milk intolerance
or allergy getting in the way of your daily calcium intake. "It is
important for bone health to get enough calcium, and a diet of healthy,
whole foods can help you meet your calcium goals
without any dairy at all," Dorn says. "There are plenty of foods out there, including
dark leafy green vegetables, white beans, black-eyed peas, sardines, almonds
and tofu that are good sources of calcium and many other beneficial nutrients."
Need help with food allergies?
Find a skilled St. Joseph Health physician near you.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.