Cow's milk allergy - a common cause of problems in children and adults

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Cow's milk allergy (CMA) is a common cause of problems in children. One of the interesting aspects of allergy is that often the allergen (the substances which provokes an allergic reaction) remains the same through a person's life, but the symptoms change. This gives the illusion that the person has "grown out" of their ill-health, when, in fact, really it is that the allergy has varying manifestations. CMA is a typical example.

The sequence of symptoms

CMA classically causes a sequence of symptoms which change throughout life. In a baby we see colic and projectile vomiting. He then "grows out" of the problem at 3 months. This is followed by "toddler diarrhoea". Later on there are catarrhal problems (recurrent snotty nose, ear infections, tonsillitis, glue ear etc) which usually peak about age 5, which they again may "grow out" of. Other problems develop such as behaviour problems and hyperactivity, poor sleep, failure to thrive, poor scholastic performance, eczema, asthma, constipation, acne, fatigue and so on. Later in life there may be irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, psychological problems, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, fatigue and so on.

In children, it is worth trying a dairy free diet for almost any health problem! Indeed the ideal diet is the Stone Age Diet.

Disadvantages of eating dairy

Dairy products have a reputation for being healthy foods. For some children on appalling diets, dairy products may be the best thing they eat. However, they have their drawbacks because:

  • Cows' milk allergy is very common.
  • They are low in essential fatty acids and these are required for normal brain development. Baby milks need EFAs adding to them (evening primrose and fish or linseed oil).
  • They have a high ratio of calcium to magnesium (10:1) compared to our requirements of two parts calcium to one part magnesium. Because magnesium and calcium compete for absorption, excessive consumption of dairy products may cause magnesium deficiency. This is a risk factor for high blood pressure and heart disease.
  • Cows' milk is very low in iron. Excessive consumption leads to iron deficiency anaemia.
  • Modern cow's milk is low in vitamin D: rickets is possible in the absence of fish oil and/or sunshine, especially in immigrant communities.
  • Up to 40% of the population may produce antibodies against cow's milk protein. These just happen to cross react with platelets and make them more sticky and this increases the risk of thrombosis and embolism. Dairy products are a risk factor for heart disease, with fresh milk, ice cream and cream being the worst offender; butter being neutral; while yoghurt and cheese being protective (presumably because the protein has been altered in some way).
  • Dairy products have a soft consistency. Children do not have to chew and so do not develop their jaws, leading to crowded teeth.
  • Cow's milk, including organic, includes growth promotors. These will be risk factors for cancer.
  • Cow's milk intake increases the risk of getting type I diabetes.

So the name of the game, as always, is moderation. If you pick holes in enough foods you will end up eating nothing! For most people, it is a case of having and enjoying dairy products occasionally, but not eating them excessively.


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