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dairy intolerance

Dairy Intolerance

There are lots of health benefits that are commonly associated with drinking milk, and dairy plays a huge role in lots of the nation’s favourite food and drink choices.

However, not everybody can tolerate dairy in their diet. In fact, dairy intolerance is one of the most common food sensitivities among both children and adults. An intolerance can show in lots of different ways. Some people experience a delayed physical reaction after consuming milk and dairy products due to an intolerance. For some, consuming any kind of dairy can lead to a severe allergic reaction.

Dairy intolerance or allergy symptoms can differ from person to person and can even appear at different times or in different ways. We’ve put together a guide to help you understand some of the most common symptoms and how to work around an intolerance to dairy to achieve the healthiest you.

What is dairy?

Dairy is any food or drink that’s made with animal milk products – or produced in an animal’s mammary glands. This can take the form of cow’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk and buffalo milk, amongst others. The most common is cow’s milk, which typically forms a large percentage of our diet in the UK. Did you know it’s made up of 87% water and 13% solids, which include proteins, lactose, fats and proteins?

Other dairy products include cheese, cream, yoghurt, butter and more. If you suspect you have an intolerance or allergy, it’s important to check all your food products’ ingredient lists – you might be surprised by what contains dairy. Some sauces, meat products, cereals, biscuits and spreads also contain dairy, so make sure to plan your diet carefully to avoid trigger foods until you’ve got to the bottom of what’s causing your condition.

food intolerance test

Premium Food Intolerance Test

Easy To Use Home-To-Laboratory Test Kit

Take our most comprehensive food and drink intolerance* test to find out whether you have an intolerance to over 200 food and drink ingredients, including dairy. Simply take a finger-prick blood sample and return by post for testing. Receive your results within 7 days! No social interaction required.

Optimise your lifestyle with our support, knowing which foods you’re reacting to.

  • Discuss your results with a nutritional therapist. One 30-minute consultation included
  • Measures all four subtypes of food-specific IgG
  • Simple finger-prick blood test
  • Receive expert, accurate analysis from our fully-accredited laboratory technicians
  • Results listed in easy-to-read traffic light values: high, borderline, and normal reactivity
  • Track your progress with a food and drinks diary
  • This test is not available to customers who are pregnant or breastfeeding

Symptoms of dairy allergy

A food allergy could be fatal, and a reaction is almost immediate, affecting around 2% of the population. Symptoms of a dairy allergy may include:

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Difficulty breathing

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Skin rashes or hives

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Swollen lips or tongue

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Chest tightness

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Feeling sick

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Itchy, red and watering eyes

If you are concerned you may have an allergy to dairy, it is important to consult your GP.

Symptoms of dairy intolerance

The symptoms of a milk protein intolerance (IgG) are wide-ranging, so it is important to discuss your symptoms with your GP before taking a closer look at your diet. Dairy intolerance symptoms could include, but are not limited to:

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IBS symptoms:
Abdominal pain
Excess wind

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Urticaria (hives)
Itchy skin

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Weight gain

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Joint pain

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Respiratory problems

What Are The Differences Between A Dairy Allergy And A Dairy Intolerance?

Many people think that allergies and intolerances are the same thing. However, the biological processes behind them are, in fact, totally different.

Food allergies are an immediate, potentially life-threatening reaction to foods – such as dairy products. Symptoms may come on very quickly: often within minutes of eating the food. Approximately 2% of the UK’s adult population suffer from food allergies, and reactions are usually for life.

With a food allergy, your body produces IgE antibodies. Meanwhile, food-specific IgG (food intolerance) reactions are usually delayed and are not life-threatening, though they can make life difficult. Food intolerances are also not necessarily lifelong. You can find out more on the differences between the two in our dedicated article on allergy and intolerance.

Can You Outgrow A Dairy Intolerance?

Yes, it is possible to outgrow a dairy intolerance. This is an intolerance to the dairy protein (IgG). However, please note that you cannot outgrow lactose intolerance as diagnosed by your GP, but its effects can sometimes be helped by taking digestive enzymes.

How Long Does It Take For Dairy Intolerance To Show?

Unlike an allergy, a food intolerance usually involves a delayed biological reaction. It is thought that an IgG reaction to dairy can take between 2 to 72 hours for intolerance symptoms to show. This does sometimes mean that dairy intolerances are mistaken for reactions to other, more recently-consumed ingredients, which is why it can be useful to do a dairy intolerance test to eliminate other causes.

How Do You Test For A Dairy Intolerance?

YorkTest, Europe’s leading provider in food intolerance testing, has been providing IgG food tests, which include dairy-specific IgG antibody reactions, for 40 years.

It is estimated that around 45% of the population suffer from food intolerances, including dairy intolerance. YorkTest has found that the average person with positive food IgG reactions reacts to 4 to 5 different ingredients. Our Premium Food Intolerance Test, for example, can assess the level of anti-dairy antibodies in the blood, reacting to ingredients such as cow’s milk, sheep’s milk and goat’s milk. This specific testing can help narrow down your triggers and provide a more detailed look at your gut health – for example, you may find that you react to cow’s milk but can tolerate other animal milks. Therefore, it’s always worthwhile to consider an IgG food intolerance† test before jumping into an elimination diet by yourself.

Please note that YorkTest’s programmes do not measure the levels of lactase, and therefore do not diagnose lactose intolerance. If the food intolerance test results indicate that you may have a dairy intolerance, it does not mean that you are lactose intolerant, although you may wish to consult your doctor for further tests, as you may have both.

dairy-free Easter platter

Foods To Avoid With A Dairy Intolerance

There are many products which contain dairy – even ones that might not seem obvious. If you’re following an elimination diet or have identified your trigger food, then you’ll need to pay special attention to the foods you consume and their ingredients.

Some of the common items to avoid if you have a dairy intolerance:

  • Milk (whole, semi-skimmed, skimmed, UHT, condensed, powdered)
  • Cream (single, double, soured, whipping, aerosol)
  • Cheeses (hard, soft and spreadable)
  • Butter
  • Buttermilk
  • Crème fraiche
  • Fromage frais
  • Ice cream
  • Yoghurt

Dairy-Free Foods To Try

“Dairy-free” refers to a lifestyle that eliminates all products that contain milk or milk-derived ingredients. This means avoiding foods like those that are listed above.

However, if you do have a dairy intolerance you don’t need to worry too much about cutting out your favourite dishes and treats from your diet. These days there are plenty of dairy-free options available in major supermarkets, coffee shops, and restaurants. To ensure you maintain a balanced diet that provides protein, calcium and fat-soluble vitamins, you can supplement your diet with a variety of dairy alternatives. These include:

  • Coconut milk
  • Rice milk
  • Oat milk
  • Sunflower or olive oil spreads
  • Soya cheese
  • Nut cheese
  • Almond or hazelnut milk
  • Hemp milk
  • Soya milk



Will I Get Enough Calcium If I Follow a Dairy-Free Diet?

In general, dairy is one of our main sources of calcium, so cutting it out is obviously a big step. Many people worry that, without their regular intake of milk and cheese, they won’t be getting enough calcium, which can lead to things like osteoporosis and vitamin deficiencies.

However, if your test results show that you have a dairy intolerance or allergy, YorkTest’s Nutritional Therapists will provide advice, tips and recommendations for your long-term health. Your consultation is a great chance to discuss dietary options and figure out a plan for taking control of your gut health in the long run.

What Is Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is a relatively common digestive issue where the body is unable to fully digest lactose, a type of sugar that’s found in milk and other dairy foods. Typically, the body digests lactose using the lactase enzyme (Lactase-phlorizin hydrolase or LPH). The lactase enzyme helps to break down lactose into sugars called glucose and galactose. These are then able to be absorbed in the bloodstream. However, for people with lactose intolerance the small intestine does not produce sufficient lactase (known as a lactase deficiency).

Where the small intestine is unable to produce enough lactase enzyme, this allows unabsorbed lactose to pass into the colon. In the colon, the lactose is subjected to fermentation by anaerobic bacteria – known as “microflora” – leading to the production of gases like methane or water. This production of gas and water causes the symptoms of lactose intolerance. These typically develop within a few hours of consuming food and drinks containing lactose.

What Is The Difference Between Dairy Intolerance And Lactose Intolerance?

The difference between lactose and dairy intolerance is significant. While lactose intolerance is caused by a reaction to the sugar in milk, it is NOT the same as a dairy intolerance or allergy.

Lactose intolerance is a digestive issue that is caused by an enzyme deficiency. People with lactose intolerance don’t produce enough enzymes and, as such, are unable to fully digest lactose, which is a type of sugar that’s found in milk and dairy products

There are some similarities between lactose intolerance and both dairy allergies and intolerances. For example, the symptoms and reaction of a lactose intolerance can be similar to an IgG reaction to dairy. However, the most common form of lactose intolerance will affect people for life, much like an allergy.

If you have a dairy intolerance your body reacts negatively to a protein within dairy – often casein, albumin, whey, or a combination. This means that you should look to remove all animal milks – such as cow, sheep or goat – from your diet, unless each is separately tested for.

The different types of Lactase Deficiency

Lactase enzyme deficiency, causing lactose intolerance, is categorised by four different causes:-

Primary lactase deficiency

Primary lactase deficiency is by far the most common cause of lactose intolerance. The symptoms of this typically do not occur until adulthood, although they can present themselves at a younger age. This is caused by a genetic fault that leads the body to produce less lactase enzymes over time.

Secondary lactose deficiency

Secondary lactase deficiency, unlike Primary lactase deficiency, is not caused by a genetic fault, so can be corrected over time. Secondary lactase deficiency is most commonly caused by an illness and bacterial overgrowth – such as a stomach bug or coeliac disease – or it could be due to the medication that a person is taking (such as a course of antibiotics). In most cases, it can be triggered by a problem with the small intestine, and it can occur at any age. Unlike a primary deficiency, secondary lactose deficiency can usually be dealt with by treating the source illness (if possible), changes to or ending periods of medication, changes to diet, or even via taking lactase supplements.

Developmental lactase deficiency

Developmental lactase deficiency affects premature babies who are unable to produce sufficient lactase enzyme. This is only temporary, and the infant will outgrow this soon after birth.

Congenital lactase deficiency

Congenital lactase deficiency is an autosomal recessive disorder that affects newborn babies. The infant is either unable to produce sufficient lactase enzyme, or is unable to produce any lactase enzyme at all. This is an extremely rare condition but has very severe symptoms for the infant. This is caused by a genetic fault that’s present in both of the parents.

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance

The symptoms of lactose intolerance commonly appear within 30 minutes to 2 hours after the consumption of lactose. These symptoms are not dangerous or life-threatening. However, lactose intolerance symptoms can be very unpleasant and repeated episodes can reduce the quality of life for those who are affected. Lactose intolerance symptoms will be present in different levels in individuals, depending on how limited their production of lactase is and on the amount of lactose consumed.

The main symptoms of lactose intolerance result from the excess gas that’s produced in the body. These symptoms commonly include:

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Flatulence, with gases such as methane, hydrogen and carbon dioxide

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Abdominal discomfort or stomach cramps from bloating caused by the production of gas and water

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Diarrhoea caused by additional water being produced

Testing for lactose intolerance

A lactose intolerance test may help people with lactose intolerance to get a diagnosis. The most common lactose intolerance tests are:

Lactose intolerance test measuring blood glucose

The blood lactose intolerance test is a glucose blood test. This test commences with a medical professional taking a blood sample to record the level of glucose. Then, the individual consumes a drink containing lactose. Further blood samples are taken to determine if there has been a change in the blood glucose level.

If the blood glucose level increases, this would suggest that the individual has produced sufficient lactase to break down the lactose consumed. If the blood glucose level remains unchanged or does not vary sufficiently, this suggests that the body has not produced sufficient lactase and the individual is suffering from lactose intolerance. With a blood lactose intolerance test, the number of blood samples being taken may depend on the medical professional.

Lactose intolerance test measuring hydrogen in the breath

Another type of lactose intolerance test is a hydrogen breath test. During this test a medical professional will ask an individual to consume lactose and measure the resultant exhaling of hydrogen. The more hydrogen that is exhaled, the more this suggests that the individual is lactose intolerant.

People with lactose intolerance will have heightened levels of hydrogen in their breath. The additional hydrogen is produced by the bacteria in the colon when they encounter the lactose that the body has been unable to break down. This hydrogen in the colon is then absorbed by the blood, where it is transported to the lungs and exhaled, where it can be measured as a test for lactose intolerance.

Unfortunately there is no cure for lactose intolerance. However, the symptoms of lactose intolerance can be managed.

Treatment for Lactose Intolerance

If you take a lactose intolerance test and are identified as having a lactose intolerance, YorkTest would recommend avoiding or cutting down on any food and drink which contain lactose and replace them with lactose-reduced, or lactose free alternatives. Those with a lactose intolerance should consider avoiding milk, cheese, yoghurt, ice cream, and butter.

The level of your sensitivity to lactose will determine the changes you will need to make to your diet. If you are extremely sensitive to lactose, you should talk to your doctor about your diet. You’ll also want to find other foods to potentially avoid if you’re lactose intolerant, such as milk chocolate, bread, biscuits, and processed meats.

Be aware that the word “lactose” may not be listed separately on a food label, so you will need to check for ingredients such as whey, curds, or other milk products.

Consuming fewer lactose-containing products might mean you are missing out on important vitamins and minerals. Therefore, you need to ensure you are replacing these with lactose-free products or dietary supplements.

Calcium can be found in many other foods such as broccoli, salmon, milk substitutes, oranges, and almonds. Vitamin D, which can be found in fortified milk, is also found in eggs, liver, and yoghurt. Some people with a lactose intolerance are also able to tolerate certain milk products without experiencing symptoms (e.g. having hard cheeses or skimmed milk rather than whole milk).

4 Simple Steps To A Better You

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