Cow’s milk is one of the nine most common food allergens in Canada and the most common childhood food allergen. Currently the only treatment for a milk allergy is to strictly avoid milk products, but recent research out of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York could revolutionize the way milk allergies are treated.
Researchers found that children with a mild milk allergy who ate baked milk products daily were much more likely to get over their allergy than those who avoided milk products altogether.
This study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, tested 88 children ranging from age 2 to 17 years. At the beginning of the study, the children were given a muffin that contained milk ingredients to determine if they were able to tolerate cooked milk or not. The 70 children who did not experience a negative reaction were given the treatment.
The treatment included eating 1 to 3 baked milk products daily, such as store-bought or homemade cookies, muffins or waffles. They were followed up after 6 months and given cooked cheese on a pizza. After 6 more months they were given unheated milk in the form of skim milk or yogurt.
At the end of the treatment, 59% of the children were able to tolerate unheated milk, as opposed to only 22% who did not undergo the treatment.
Why is heated milk different than unheated milk?
When milk is heated at a high temperature, through cooking or baking, the shape of the protein in the milk is changed. This newly shaped milk protein is less allergenic than its original form.
What is the difference between milk allergy and lactose intolerance?
A milk allergy is the body’s immune system’s response to the protein in milk. The severity of milk allergies varies and symptoms can range from hives to anaphylactic shock.
Lactose intolerance is when the body cannot digest milk because it lacks lactase, the enzyme that breaks down the sugar in milk. Symptoms can include diarrhea, nausea, abdominal cramps, bloating and gas.
The future of milk allergy treatments
Given that the severity of a milk allergy can vary greatly, this “muffin” treatment is not recommended for everyone. In fact, the researchers suggest that this treatment may only be suitable for about 75% of children with a milk allergy. While this type of treatment may be the way of the future, it should not be undertaken without the guidance and supervision of a physician who specializes in food allergy.
For more information on food allergies, visit Living well with food allergies, Food allergies and travelling, and ABCs of food allergies.
Ashley Murphy, MHSc (c), RD
Nutrition Communication Intern, AboutKidsHealth