Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Lactose Intolerance & Chocolate Milk...the Conundrum

Does your child tell you they CAN drink chocolate milk, but their stomach hurts after drinking "regular" milk? I'll share that when I told MY parents this, they laughed and thought I was simply asking for more sweets. As an adult, I was often puzzled that certain milk products did not agree with me, while others did. People asked if I was allergic to milk, or whether or not I had lactose intolerance...and I simply said that I do not like milk, because I didn't know the answer.

So, here it is. That kid that can down chocolate ice cream but not skim milk may indeed be lactose intolerant, and she is telling the truth! Lactose intolerance refers to the inability to digest lactose (the main milk sugar). Lactase lives on the inside surface of our intestines. Symptoms typically appear 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming a product that contains lactose. The degree of symptoms produced (abdominal bloating, cramping, gas and/or diarrhea) depend on several variables:
1. The amount of lactose consumed
2. The level of lactase enzyme present
3. The SPEED of gastric emptying- the faster the gut transit, the worse the symptoms

Higher fat content will SLOW gastric emptying, which reduces the symptoms, so voila! There is your explanation for the chocolate milk. Of course, adding lactase in the form of a powder or capsule will also reduce the symptoms.

Who gets lactose intolerance? 80% of Blacks and Hispanics, nearly 100% of Native Americans and Asians, and roughly 15% of Caucasians develop it. Symptoms usually appear later in childhood or even as an adult. Also, anyone can transiently develop lactose intolerance after a serious bout of diarrhea, because that temporarily strips off the lining of the gut (which houses the lactase). Avoiding dairy products for a few days typically takes care of this type of intolerance.

The easiest way to tell if you have lactose intolerance is to eliminate it from your diet, and see if your abdominal complaints disappear. Remember, though, to read labels carefully, looking for "milk sugar, whey, or curd" as well as plain "milk". Note, too, that many prescription and OTC medications also use lactose as a base. Typically, however, even a lactose intolerant person is fine with SOME lactose (roughly 12 g) so it is not necessary to eliminate lactose 100% to see results.

If you are lactose intolerant, remember you will still need calcium to protect your bones, so talk with a registered dietician to be sure you are getting all you need.

BOTTOM LINE: Lactose intolerance is all about degrees, not simply "yes, you have it" or "no, you don't". Try a simple lactose elimination diet for a few days if you are concerned about abdominal complaints and think you may have lactose intolerance.


ndmike914 said...

This was an interesting read for me. Ive been having immediate stomach pain after drinking chocolate milk lately and could not figure out why. Now I possibly know why.

molecularmommichelle said...

chocolate milk doesn't have higher fat content, only higher sugar content - so I still don't understand why my kid can drink chocolate milk without complaint, but not regular. And it isn't fake. If I slip him regular milk instead of lactaid, he will get a stomachache.

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Kelly Richard said...

I did a google search on upset stomach after drinking white milk but not chocolate milk and found this blog. I recall as an elementary school child, that I would experience an upset stomach after drinking white cow's milk, while drinking chocolate flavored cow's milk did not upset my stomach. I would tell my Mom that drinking white milk left me feeling like there was a blue gas around my chest and stomach. The sweetness of chocolate milk was sometimes too much for my taste buds between 4th and 6th grades, so by junior high, I quit drinking milk, switching to water and the occasional root beer. I didn't like the big bubbles or sweetness of coke, pepsi, and 7 up also hurt my stomach. I'm now in my mid 50's and have discovered I have several food intolerance issues to wheat, soy, dairy, eggs, ginger, soy, walnuts, pecans, and garlic. It's difficult to avoid most of these ingredients when dining out, though many restaurants are much better now than even ten years ago about making accommodations. So thanks for posting the concept. I still don't understand exactly what goes on with white milk vs chocolate milk, however it's good to know the experience is shared by some one else.

California Cobra said...

This issue had me puzzled as I've been having a lot of issues with GERD. I LOVE milk, but recently began noticing how much it was affecting my GERD and it was very difficult to stay away from milk completely as it goes well with so many different foods! However, I noticed that chocolate milk did not bother me at all, which really puzzled me. I wrote it off as that maybe some days I just couldn't handle the milk as well as other days because regular white cow's milk doesn't ALWAYS bother, but it does tend to be bothersome more often than not. So to avoid the increase in stomach acid after a glass of milk, I've switched to drinking chocolate milk most of the time and that seems to do the trick.......I get my milk fix and my calcium! Thanks for sharing this and helping me to realize it's not "all in my head."

GunsNwater said...

You gave me a clue. I had severe vomiting and diarrhea and when it was over I keep getting diarrhea. It coincided with drinking whole chocolate milk, someghing I hadn't drank for years. Thank you.

JON COV said...

I am lactose intolerant. If I have regular milk, yogurt or cream I'm visiting the toilet regularly afterwards. I can tolerate cheese with no problems as most of the lactose is used up during fermentation. I always wondered how it is that I can tolerate chocolate as it has milk in it (a whole glass according to Cadburys) I also recently discovered that I can't tolerate fruit either because of the up fruit has made a world of difference to my toilet habits.

Unknown said...

It's because the chocolate milk digest slower. I'm the same way

Unknown said...

I'm the same way I can drink chocolate milk all day and not get sick but any more then one glass of any precent white milk I'll be sick all day

Unknown said...

I still don't feel as if the answer given above is sufficient. I too can drink chocolate milk but not white milk without having severe stomach cramps. As a child I could also drink the milk left over from a bowl of cereal with no problem. It seemed as if adding sugar to the milk somehow relieves the symptoms. Also, the directions for a self lactose test suggest that the effects will begin within 20 minutes up to 4 hours. I have severe cramping immediately after drinking a glass of milk. A couple of years ago my local news had a story on about this issue. It stated that a study found that adding sugar to the milk seemed to alleviate the problem but they don't have an explanation as to why.