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More about milk allergy

Milk comprises water, protein, carbohydrates (a milk sugar called lactose), minerals, fats and a variety of other substances. There are over 30 different proteins in milk, and these are broadly categorised as members of the casein or whey group of proteins. When milk ferments, naturally or aided by chemicals in the dairy, the milk changes into a solid fraction (curd) and a watery fraction (whey). The solid fraction contains the proteins belonging to the casein group, in which there are 4 main proteins. The liquid portion contains most of the other proteins, and these belong mainly to the whey group of proteins.

What types of adverse reactions are possible?

Adverse reactions can be allergic (in this case, milk allergy), intolerance-based (in this case, lactose intolerance), or due to constituents that are less a matter of individual sensitivity.

Different mechanisms cause different adverse reactions. The resulting symptoms may be quite different from or confusingly similar to each other. The human body is able to mount a variety of defense mechanisms against proteins it regards as foreign or harmful. Scientists do not clearly understand why food proteins are regarded as harmful by the body, or how adverse affects occur. For example, some milk-sensitive individuals produce IgE antibodies to milk proteins, but some develop a milk protein "intolerance," which results from the body mounting a non-IgE immune response to milk protein.

What is milk allergy?

Milk allergy refers specifically to adverse reactions involving immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to one or more protein fractions of milk, whether belonging to the casein or whey protein group. Proteins belonging to the casein group are heat-stable, i.e., they cannot be broken down using heat. Thus, individuals allergic to casein proteins cannot tolerate any cow's milk, including boiled milk. In most instances, whey proteins can be broken down by heat.

The majority of IgE-mediated reactions to milk involve both the casein and whey fractions, which means that most milk-allergic individuals cannot tolerate boiled milk. Allergy to milk may occur in any individual. The group of people most commonly affected by milk allergy are young children, although people can develop milk allergy at any age.


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