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Children's Health

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Lactose Intolerant Kids Need Dairy

Dairy Foods Still Necessary for Strong Bones
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 5, 2006 -- Most children who are lactose intolerant can and should eat some dairy foods to ensure they get enough calcium and vitamin D, the nation's leading pediatric group says.

In a report published today, the Committee on Nutrition for the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against eliminating dairy products as the primary treatment for lactose intolerancelactose intolerance. The condition is extremely common among many racial and ethnic groups, including Asians, Native Americans, Hispanics, and blacks.

"Not enough kids are getting enough calcium in their diets, and one of the reasons is that parents often eliminate dairy, thinking that it is the cause of stomach pains and the other discomforts that are associated with lactose intolerance," committee member Melvin B. Heyman, MD, MPH, tells WebMD.

Instead of banning dairy foods from a sensitive child's diet, the report recommends slowly introducing them to determine the child's level of tolerance.

"Some children are able to tolerate one glass of milk, but get symptoms with a second," Heyman says. "Some can't tolerate milk, but can tolerate yogurt because the lactose is partly broken down by bacteria; and some can tolerate hard cheese."

AAP Recommendations

People often confuse lactose intolerance, in which the body has a hard time digesting milk sugar (lactose), with cow's milk protein intolerance, which is an allergic reaction triggered by the immune system.

Lactose intolerance is caused by a shortage of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose in the small intestine.

Typical symptoms of lactose intolerance include abdominal pain, nausea, bloating, flatulence, and other digestive discomforts.

While uncomfortable, the symptoms do no permanent damage to the bowel, Heyman points out.

The AAP report stresses the importance of accurately diagnosing lactose intolerance.

Parents can get a good feel for their child's tolerance by systematically eliminating and then reintroducing specific dairy foods over time, carefully recording changes in symptoms.

Other recommendations include:

  • Drink small portions of milk (4 to 8 ounces) with meals and other foods throughout the day.
  • Try yogurt, which may produce fewer lactose intolerance symptoms.
  • Choose aged cheeses, which have less lactose than other varieties.
  • Drink lactose-free or lactose-reduced milk, which is easily found in most grocery stores; or take lactase-replacement capsules.

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