Dairy intolerance

Dairy Intolerance is one of the most common food intolerances to affect people, especially children. It is often also referred to as Lactose Intolerance as usually it is Lactose (the name of the sugar found in milk and milk products) which people are allergic to. Symptoms of a dairy intolerance usually begin within 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming dairy based products and may include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea and sometimes vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Bloating
  • Flatulence (wind)

Treatment involves avoiding food and drinks containing dairy. However, embarking on a dairy free diet requires, above all, medical advice and guidance, together with a huge amount of patience and discipline. Experts are divided as to whether or not eliminating dairy from the diet is beneficial.

Dairy is one of the most common food intolerances in people with eczema. Deborah Wyatt, Director talkhealth Ltd has personal experience of this and gives some advice:

‘In my own experience, a year of abstinence for my daughter Alice made a difference to the severity of her eczema, and she is now able to tolerate small amounts of dairy, although I tend to give her organic produce.’

It is also widely recognised that if there is a history of dairy intolerance in the family, babies are at an increased risk of inheriting this intolerance. For example if your baby is formula fed (most formula milks are made with cow’s milk) your baby may experience symptoms as described above. There are alternatives to main-stream formulas such as soya based formula, and these are now more widely available. There is also a small selection of prescription formula milk available for babies. These are based on cow’s milk, but the proteins that can cause the allergic reaction are pre-digested and broken down. Some doctors believe that dairy products should be avoided for the first year of life if a baby is 'at risk' of developing allergies. However, there is little practical evidence to substantiate this claim. If you are at all concerned about a dairy intolerance in your child, make an appointment to see your GP. It is unlikely for babies who are exclusively breastfed to experience a dairy intolerance. However, babies who are exclusively breast fed can still develop allergies.

An intolerance to dairy products

Avoiding milk and milk related products may seem daunting at first. Milk and milk products seem to find their way into so many foods. Eliminating dairy products means that you need to become a label watcher. At first, this can seem quite overwhelming, but it is surprising how quickly you can become aware of which products to avoid.

It is also worth remembering the word 'milk' can come in many guises - look out for words on packaging such as whey, casein, caseinates, lactalbumin and lactose, as these are all derived from milk.

Wherever possible it is better to prepare all meals from fresh produce as many processed foods can contain milk, for example batters may contain milk and some vegetable fats have milk products in them.

Health food stores and supermarkets now stock a good range of dairy alternatives. It is now possible to buy soya, goats or ewe's milk, goat's cheese, dairy free ice cream, chocolates and biscuits etc. Visit our allergy directory to view a range of companies who supply dairy free alternatives.

Most experts believe that cutting down on, or complete avoidance of foods which you are sensitive to, should show positive results which continue for as long as the food is avoided. If the allergic reaction is improving, it is usual to continue to eliminate the particular food for about a year before trying to reintroduce it in small quantities. It is widely regarded as normal to experiment with avoidance and cutting down on various different foods in order to understand completely your own individual intolerance.

But remember to speak to your GP before eliminating dairy, or any other food from your diet, to ensure you have all the information you need to maintain a healthy diet and a healthy body.

Sources used in writing this article are available on request

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. Our evidence-based articles are certified by the Information Standard and our sources are available on request. The content is not, though, written by medical professionals and should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands, or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 11 November 2015

Next review: 11 November 2018