Q: Ashley – I am reading your book, Go Dairy Free. These are SOME of the symptoms I have after I eat something that contains milk ingredients: severe bloating (I look like I’m 5 months pregnant shortly after I eat), headaches, mouth sores, gassy, and bathroom problems. I’ve been tested for lactose intolerance and celiac disease, but everything comes back negative. Still, I started cutting out dairy and reading labels and felt 100 times better after being dairy-free for just 2 weeks. My doctor finally said, “even though your tests were negative, you should just live like your lactose intolerant.” Basically they gave up on me so I gave up on going to a doctor. What gives? Am I lactose intolerant?
A: Alisa – First, it sounds like the confusion is arising because everyone is assuming that your milk issue is with lactose, if anything. Lactose intolerance tests are known to be pretty accurate, so there is a good chance that you aren’t lactose intolerant yet (most people develop some degree of lactose intolerance throughout their life). Plus, mouth sores and headaches are not typical symptoms of lactose intolerance. However, they, along with digestive issues can be associated with what you might hear called a milk sensitivity, milk or dairy protein intolerance, or a mild to moderate milk allergy. There aren’t really clear definitions for any of these terms, so you might hear them used interchangeably …
Lactose is the sugar in milk, and some people have trouble digesting it. But milk has many other components, and doctors are finding it increasingly common that people are “sensitive” or “intolerant” of milk proteins such as casein and/or whey. These are basically lower grade milk allergies in which there is an immune response, but it isn’t as severe as say anaphylaxis.
A common misconception is that digestive issues with dairy always mean lactose intolerance, when in fact they can also be caused by a milk allergy/protein intolerance. See the section on Milk Allergies in Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook; you will note that all of the symptoms you have mentioned are listed there as well as a full definition and explanation of milk allergies.
Please note that I am not a physician, and cannot diagnose whether or not you have lactose intolerance or advise you medically. However, I can share information based on my own research as well as knowledge on living dairy-free, particularly since it sounds as if your doctor is in full support of a dairy-free diet for you. To disclaim, you should always speak to your physician before any major change in diet.
Alisa Fleming is the founder of GoDairyFree.org and author of Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. In addition to her own dairy-free lifestyle, Alisa has experience in catering to the needs of various special diets, including gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, vegan, and multiple food allergies.