April 05, 2019 Updated on December 22, 2021 2 min read
Lactose intolerance is often blamed for tummy troubles in children who drink cow milk, but the truth is lactose intolerance is uncommon across all populations before 2 or 3 years of age. Read on for more about lactose – and what might really be causing the symptoms.
Lactose is made up of two simple sugars, glucose and galactose. No matter what the milk source – cow, goat or human – the lactose it contains is molecularly identical.
Both galactosemia and congenital lactase deficiency, also called congenital alactasia, are rare disorders in which infants are unable to break down lactose in breast milk or formula. Most infants produce lactase in order to digest lactose provided by their mother’s breast milk.
Lactose intolerance attributable to the relative or absolute absence of the lactase enzyme that develops at various ages in different racial groups is uncommon across all populations before 2 or 3 years of age.
While congenital lactose intolerance is rare, it’s possible for children to develop a temporary intolerance (or “secondary lactose intolerance”) following infections that affect the gastrointestinal tract, such as Rotavirus. In this case, the intestinal lining returns to normal and the lactose intolerance generally resolves within three to four weeks.
Many parents diagnose their child’s uncomfortable symptoms as lactose intolerance when, often, the more appropriate term to use is cow milk sensitivity. Clinical and parental observation suggests that many children may have at least one symptom related to cow milk consumption.
Cow milk sensitivity may include mid to moderate symptoms such as bloating, gas, colic, diarrhea, constipation, recurrent ear infection, mucous congestion, and eczema. Goat milk is naturally easy to digest and may be a solution for children with cow milk sensitivity or those avoiding cow milk.
Lactose intolerance should also not be confused with cow milk protein allergy (CMPA). Cow milk protein allergy is an allergic reaction to the protein components in milk, not the sugar. Individuals with cow milk protein allergy (CMPA) usually must avoid all milk products, including goat milk.
While lactose intolerance becomes more common in adults and older children, it may not be to blame for tummy troubles in early childhood. By understanding nutrition and the role of food in the body, it’s easier to ensure we choose the right solutions for our families.