So frequent is this problem that I have observed some key signs in children (and to a lesser extent, adults) with dairy intolerance. Here are some of the most common signs:
- Narrow nasal passages especially at the top of the nose which may make the nose look quite flat
- Congestion or a runny nose, usually with thick mucus
- Mouth-breathing all the time and they will often snore at night
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Bowel problems, either constipated or loose
- Complaints of stomach ache on a regular basis
- Older children may have over-crowding of the teeth and an under-developed chin
Why are so many people intolerant to dairy?
Cow’s milk is a perfect food for baby calves. Humans are not designed to consume it, particularly beyond the age of two, when the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose (which is present in all milk) reduces in the human body.
The consumption of milk is common in a Western diet, but in many cultures it is not usual to consume it.
Intolerance to dairy is definitely on the increase and I think this is largely to do with the quality of the milk itself.
Most dairy cows are fed a diet high in soya (often genetically modified) and are intensively farmed, having been bred for their high levels of milk production. The picture book image of Daisy and Buttercup grazing on lush grass and being milked by the farmer’s wife twice a day is a long way from reality. Dairy cows may never eat grass, or even go outside, instead being fed a manufactured mix that will increase milk production but is likely to shorten the lifespan of the cattle. If they do eat grass, chances are it has been sprayed with various pesticides and chemicals to make it grow faster.
Antibiotics are routinely used to treat infections such as mastitis and there is an allowable white blood cell count in milk (this is pus to you and me).
I’ve seen enough breast-fed babies who have been adversely affected by the antibiotics taken by their mums to firmly believe that the antibiotics given to cows will pass into the milk.
The average carton of supermarket milk has been through two processes.
The first is pasteurisation which involves heating milk to high temperatures in order to remove bacteria (it also kills the pus by the way but doesn’t remove it)
The second is one you may be unfamiliar with, which is homogenisation. Milk is intensely filtered so that every particle is the same size. This is why you no longer get creamier milk on the top of the bottle.
The main reason for these processes is that it hugely extends the shelf-life of milk which results in less waste for the supermarkets.
Some organic milk is not homogenised (Duchy Originals at Waitrose for example) but is still pasteurised. It is also possible to obtain unpasteurised milk directly from certain farms and some people with dairy intolerance will be able to tolerate this better than supermarket milk. Cow’s producing organic milk will rarely be given antibiotics (homeopathy is usually the treatment of choice for infections) and the grass they eat will not be sprayed with nasty chemicals.
Some people have a better tolerance to goat’s milk than cow’s and this is widely available. It is lower in lactose and often easier to digest.
Soya milk should be avoided (more on this another time) and many of the other substitute milks such as rice, almond and oat have many additives. You can make your own almond milk quite easily or look for coconut milk. I would also avoid lactose-free milk which has been processed even more.
Better health and focus
If you think you or your child may have a dairy intolerance, try three weeks without any milk. Most people can tolerate butter, and some don’t seem to have any problems with yoghurt or cheese.
If the symptoms improve a bit but not totally, try a further three weeks with no dairy products at all except butter. Beware of lactose as a hidden ingredient in many foods, including flavoured crisps!
You may notice an improvement in bowel habits, more energy, better quality sleep and a clearer nose. Children will often find it easier to focus at school and will often be calmer. Over a longer period you may see fewer infections, in particular tonsillitis/throat problems and ear infections.
What about the calcium?
Many people worry that they will get insufficient calcium in their diet without dairy products. This previous blog article gives a great explanation of why milk isn’t a particularly good source of calcium and what to eat instead.