Casein Intolerance Guide

Dairy consumption is high worldwide, in that up to 36% of people drink two to three glasses of milk daily. Dairy is recommended as part of a healthy diet because of how nutritious and beneficial it can be. However, dairy can have negative side effects on you, especially if you’re casein intolerant. Casein is a protein present in milk and other dairy products that contain high amounts of protein. The most common type of intolerance we link to dairy milk is lactose intolerance which has similar symptoms to casein intolerance. Casein intolerance tends to result in gastrointestinal symptoms {1}.

Causes of casein intolerance

Most food intolerances result from the body reacting to the proteins present in those foods or the body lacking the enzymes to break down certain proteins. The main cause for casein intolerance symptoms is the body’s reaction to casein protein. You will find casein in dairy foods containing high proteins like cheese, kefir, ice cream, and yoghurt. But when it comes to dairy products like butter and ghee, people with casein intolerance can still tolerate these products.

But if you’re allergic to casein, you should stay away from aunty foods that contain even trace amounts of this protein. Casein intolerance is the body’s reaction to casein protein by releasing IgG antibodies. The symptoms of casein intolerance tend to get delayed for up to 72 hours sometimes, whereas allergy symptoms always show up almost immediately. People have casein intolerance because casein accounts for 80% of proteins in cow’s milk, in contrast with 40% in human milk. So, humans can’t tolerate high levels of casein.

What are the symptoms of casein intolerance?

Casein intolerance symptoms vary in severity from one person to the next. Because our bodies take a while to digest casein, the symptoms can delay for up to a few days, which makes it difficult to figure out what you’re intolerant to. But the most common symptoms of casein intolerance you’ll observe include:

  • Diarrhoea, gas, and constipation 
  • Stomach ache, bloating, and cramps
  • Hives, eczema, and rashes
  • Joint pain and fatigue
  • Behavioural changes

Casein intolerance vs lactose intolerance

These two relate to each other because they both stem from consuming dairy products. Lactose is a carbohydrate (milk sugar) found in milk, while casein is a protein found in milk. The two vary because of the way the intolerance symptoms show up. Even though the symptoms are similar, the body reactivity isn’t the same. Casein intolerance occurs because the body finds it difficult to break down the protein, thus causing an inflammatory response by reeling IgG antibodies.

But in the case of lactose intolerance, the symptoms occur because the body lacks the necessary enzyme (lactase) to break down lactose sugar {2}. So, even though these two conditions stem from dairy products and have similar symptoms, the body reacts differently to the casein and lactose, leading to lactose or casein intolerance.

Foods to avoid with casein intolerance

Casein intolerance symptoms aren’t life-threatening, but they can be super uncomfortable and make your life difficult. Once you’ve realized that you have casein intolerance, you should avoid foods like:

  • Whey
  • Protein powder
  • Powdered milk
  • Dairy cream
  • Custard
  • Dairy cheese
  • Artificial butter flavour
  • Artificial cheese flavour
  • Cow’s milk
  • Yoghurt
  • Protein powder
  • Kefir

Foods alternatives for casein intolerance

Most, but not all, dairy products contain casein. For example, the above list contains dairy products that are rich in casein. However, some dairy products like cream and butter contain very little amounts of casein, and people who aren’t severely tolerant to this protein can tolerate it. Even though one can consume these two in small amounts and not get casein intolerance symptoms, it is not advisable for those with severe symptoms to consume them.

Another dairy product that you can consume is ghee. Ghee is clarified butter and doesn’t contain casein, making it safe for those with casein intolerance to consume it. If you need dairy-free milk, you can always purchase nut milk like:

  • Almond milk
  • Soy milk
  • Hemp milk
  • Rice milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Oat milk

When you eliminate casein from your diet, you will also eliminate some of the foods with the highest calcium level, like milk, yoghurt, and cheese. So, it will be best if you find other calcium-rich foods to replace them. You can try:

  • Soy products
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Dried fruits
  • Homemade bone broth (with fresh bones and a splash of vinegar to leach minerals from the bone).

Even though it will be hard at first to consume dairy-free meals, you will get used to it after a couple of days, especially since those casein intolerance symptoms pass and you feel much better. You can always prepare your favourite meals like lasagna and cheese but without cheese or using vegan cheese. Vegan cheese doesn’t contain any dairy. You can also still have your favourite ice cream, but take the vegan version, which is in plenty in the market these days.

Casein intolerance test

complete-intolerance-front
Our Complete Intolerance Test Kit

If you get casein intolerance symptoms after consuming any dairy products frequently, you will need to take an Intolerance Test to determine the verdict. Since lactose and casein have similar symptoms, it will be nice to get a test so you can know exactly what you should look out for when reading food labels. An intolerance test is easy to purchase online, and all that’s required on your part is to collect the sample and send it back to the labs for the testing to occur. The test will check for casein and other common intolerances that you could come across in your food and environment.

Once you get your results and you have casein intolerance, you’ll need to eliminate dairy products from your diet for a couple of weeks, and if you want to try introducing them back to your diet in order to build tolerance, talk to your doctor so that they can help with this process. Otherwise, you can choose to keep away from casein, and the symptoms won’t reappear.

Casein intolerance treatment

Just like any other intolerance, you can build a tolerance for casein with your doctor, although the best way to keep the symptoms away for good is by avoiding anything with casein. If you consume casein accidentally, it is advisable to take over-the-counter antihistamines or antacids to help relieve the symptoms. Otherwise, you should be very careful when grocery shopping to ensure that you don’t purchase items containing this milk protein.

When eating out or at a friend’s place, you need to explain your intolerance to them to get casein-free food options. This may seem like too much work, but it will keep you from suffering casein intolerance symptoms which are problematic and can interfere with the quality of your life. You won’t want to go back after you’ve stayed for a while without any casein intolerance symptoms because of how great you’ll feel.

Final thoughts on casein intolerance

Since it’s difficult to narrow down your symptoms to casein intolerance, it is advisable to get yourself an Intolerance Test, which will help you determine whether you’re suffering from this intolerance. Once you confirm your results to be positive, you can start eliminating this milk protein from your diet to relieve your symptoms. After you’ve adopted a casein-free or dairy-free diet, you will feel so much better, and the quality of your life will improve. These days, it’s easy adopting a casein-free diet because you will find alternatives to all the dairy products you love, which won’t result in negative side effects.

About the Author

Kate Young joined Healthy Stuff in 2021 as our Laboratory Manager, following 7 years in Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) for the Oak Clinic Group in Japan. Coordinating a team of 6, her expertise in processing protocols and validations has allowed us to gain ISO 9001 accreditation status and work towards Good Lab Practice and further ISO. After completing her BSc Combined Science: Human and Environmental Biological Studies in 1995, she describes herself as having ’detailed research skills and a very innovative mindset’. See Kates Healthy Stuff profile here.

References

  1. Pal, S., Woodford, K., Kukuljan, S., & Ho, S. (2015). Milk intolerance, beta-casein and lactose. Nutrients, 7(9), 7285-7297. Source: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/7/9/5339
  2. Swagerty Jr, D. L., Walling, A., & Klein, R. M. (2002). Lactose intolerance. American family physician, 65(9), 1845. Source: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2002/0501/p1845.html?ref=Guzels.TV
About Kate Young

Kate Young joined Healthy Stuff in 2021 as our Laboratory Manager, following 7 years in Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) for the Oak Clinic Group in Japan. Coordinating a team of 6, her expertise in processing protocols and validations has allowed us to gain ISO 9001 accreditation status and work towards Good Lab Practice and further ISO. After completing her BSc Combined Science: Human and Environmental Biological Studies in 1995, she describes herself as having ’detailed research skills and a very innovative mindset’.

Whilst working in embryology, Kate worked on 14 different publications including, ‘trophectoderm biopsy and human blastocyst development’, and talked at the ‘European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology’. Kate is a trusted member of the Healthy Stuff team and her attention to detail ensures that each test is in safe hands and able to be validated. Kates enjoys working with the management team and has a close relationship with Dr. Fornari in the lab team.

You can contact Kate at: [email protected].

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