A worried woman is positioned between two dairy labels that are looking at her, also concerned - a milkman and a cow. Milk splashes in the background.

Is It IBS Or a Dairy Allergy?

This article will be talking about bodily functions that may come off as personal or off-limits, but it is necessary to bring up the topic of discussion. I will also be referring to my body with accurate terms so that everyone is clear about what I am referring to. As I share my experiences and symptoms, I want to note that this article cannot be used as a tool for self-diagnosis, only for self-realization. Please talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your personal health.

For the past 2 years, I thought I had IBS that was mainly triggered by dairy products and byproducts. And even though I knew that information, I did not want to give up dairy completely. Instead, I kept consuming dairy even though my body warned me that the consequences would not be good. Did I listen? No.

How did I know that something was wrong?

The moment I knew something was off was when my symptoms became significantly worse in the span of 1 month. For my first set of symptoms, I noticed that it occurs when I eat dairy that is uncooked (e.g. yogurt). I went from my normal bowel movements that occur after eating dairy to being constipated. And after about a week, nausea, vomiting, extreme bloating, and an escalation of chronic pain were added to my symptoms. What was weird was that the vomiting only occurred ~3 hours after consuming a dairy product and it lasted for 3-4 hours. These symptoms still occurred after I took lactose medication and allergy medication. I wanted to see if it would alleviate my symptoms, but they did not. The allergy medication only alleviated remaining nausea I had but it did not prevent any of the symptoms listed above.

My second set of symptoms only occur when I consume cooked dairy (e.g. white bread). And it was important to notice that they never overlapped, it was always one or the other depending on what I ate. When I ate cooked dairy products, I noticed that my chronic pain was still increased, but the symptoms of vaginal pain and headaches were tacked on to my already existing chronic pain.

Where did I go from there?

After having 4 experiences with these symptoms, I decided that I needed to make an appointment to see my doctor. But since it is Covid-19 season and I am an at-risk individual, I set up a video call. I told my doctor exactly what I told you, and I was given a referral to an allergy specialist to be tested for a dairy allergy.

I was able to get my results back within the timespan of my appointment with the specialist. He determined that I have a dairy allergy, but more specifically, a dairy protein allergy. This diagnosis explains why I have two different sets of symptoms depending on if the dairy is cooked or not. According to the textbook, APUS: An Introduction to Nutrition, “During cooking the applied heat causes proteins to vibrate. This destroys the weak bonds holding proteins in their complex shape (though this does not happen to the stronger peptide bonds). The unraveled protein strands then stick together, forming an aggregate (or network)”.1

The specialist came to this conclusion because the skin test did not show signs of a dairy allergy, but I still had symptoms of a dairy allergy. He also stated that there is no researched explanation as to why this allergy occurs or why it can possibly go away if I avoid dairy for an undecided period of time.

Can this be treated?

As I have experienced, lactose medication did not work and the only way to prevent any of the symptoms I had was to avoid dairy completely. So that is what I started to do, and let me tell you, it is not easy.

What did I learn?

A dairy allergy is not the same thing as lactose intolerance or IBS. The reason I say this is because I never have delayed vomiting or vaginal pain with my IBS symptoms. Paying attention to your body is the only way to know if something is off or wrong. I wish I had listened to my body sooner when I just had the symptoms of lactose intolerance. But like most people, I ignored my body because I was too stubborn to give up my favorite food category.

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