I am often asked if the Gluten and Dairy Free (GF/CF) diet is really necessary. While that answer really depends on each individual child, in my practice up to 80% of the children I see clearly benefit from removing foods that contain dairy and gluten!
Some Clues About Dairy Intolerance:
You may have noticed that your child was having trouble with certain foods even as an infant. The first food an infant is exposed to, if not breast feeding is usually a cow milk or “dairy” derived formula. Dairy intolerance presents in many ways in an infant. Many children are diagnosed with reflux which is frequent spitting up or small vomits around 2-3 months of age, although it can be even earlier, usually shortly after dairy was introduced. Reflux can alert the parents and physicians that whatever the child is currently ingesting is not being tolerated and the stomach is trying to push it back out.
Colic is another common symptom exhibited by children that are not tolerating dairy. Colic describes a child who at about 4-8 weeks of life has a 3-4 hour fussy period during the day or evening. Otherwise, they are a delight to be with. This kind of colic usually has nothing to do with dairy. However, colic, as it is used “today”, is a term for any fussy infant no matter how frequently he or she is cranky during the day. This kind of colic definitely extends beyond the 4-8 weeks old marker. The dairy sensitivity I have observed in my practice can cause colic behavior, be responsible for recurrent ear infections, asthma, eczema or dry skin, chronic diarrhea or constipation, and sleep disturbances. Later on the child can actually become addicted to milk and crave milk as well as any products derived from milk.
Much has been written about what the dairy can actually be doing in these children’s bodies. Obviously there can be an allergy or sensitivity involved. The allergic reaction may include dry skin or eczema as well as frequent infections including ear infections, sinus infections, asthma, pneumonia (from reflux) and chronically enlarged tonsils. In addition, when a doctor examines the urine for what is called casomorphin, a morphine-like substance derived from dairy, it is frequently positive. This test is a simple laboratory test that can tell us quickly if the child is not processing dairy products appropriately, and if not, small proteins, more aptly called “peptides”, derived from partial break down of dairy foods in the digestive tract, are present. What is clinically significant is that these proteins as like opiates and have a profound impact on behaviors.
These behaviors, seen all too commonly in my clinic include:
• Sleepless nights
• Resistance to potty training
• Aggressive behaviors
• Dark circles under the eyes
• Bloated belly
• Flatulence (lots of gas being passed)
• Red cheeks and or red ears
• Severe self imposed dietary restriction (craving only milk containing products)
Doctors often switch infants suspected of dairy intolerance to Neocate Infant Formula® which is usually well tolerated and a great alternative to dairy containing foods. We usually do not recommend soy formulas in our clinic because many children who cannot tolerate milk cannot tolerate soy either.
Older children can be switched to Rice Milk or Almond Milk. Please note, the “milk” used in these titles are a great marketing ploy….there is nothing “milky” about these products, as rice and almonds are not mammals! With that said, they are great in cereals and for cooking. Many children will drink them like they would normal milk but some children have to be weaned slowly from their milk. A good way to do this is to dilute the milk with rice milk, and every few days, make sure the dilution moves away from milk and toward the rice milk. This may take 4-6 weeks for some children!
It is important to understand that during the transition away from dairy, there can be 2-3 weeks of increased behaviors that include worse tantrums, increased aggression, worse sleep, etc. Remember when I said this can act like an opiate? If it is, they are addicted to it. Josh, my son, was drinking a gallon of milk per day before we removed it from his diet. When you remove an addict’s drug of choice, it is a bad thing around the house until they are finished detoxifying from it. During this period of withdrawal, it seems that whatever they do for “autism” they tend to do much more of it! That is, if they are runners, they run a whole lot more, if they are prone to tantrums, these tantrums can become much more intense and more frequent, etc.
In our clinic, when children seem to be exhibiting these “special” behaviors of withdrawal, we recommend ibuprofen (like Advil, Motrin, etc), charcoal, and magnesium sulfate (Epsom Salts) baths.
Finally, since many patients don’t have access to laboratory testing, they will just do a 3 month trial of strict dairy free removal from their child’s diet. Obviously, that means milk, ice cream and cheese. But milk products are very commonly used in packaged foods. Some packages will come out and tell you that the product contains NO MILK, but every packaged food must be examined for all the “code names” of dairy. You can see a list of these “code names” here.
And that’s my approach to removing dairy.