The study published in the journal Allergy, Asthma and Clinical Immunology used skim milk powder as the basis for a milk-based “food challenge” – the method of slowly reintroducing food substances into the diet in order to diagnose or lessen allergic reactions. The research concluded that 76.9% of the children passed the challenge, meaning they were able to eat heated milk foods such as baked goods containing milk or cheese.
Cow’s milk allergy is the most common allergy among children, stemming from an adverse reaction to milk proteins. Milk allergy effectively makes up 13% of known fatalities induced by food anaphylactic reactions. But the process of heating milk can change the nature of milk proteins, thereby making it more tolerable for allergic children.
“Because it is present in so many processed foods, cow’s milk protein allergy is associated with a major burden for patients and families,” the study’s authors, who conducted the research at Sainte-Justine University Hospital Center in Montreal between November 2008 and January 2013, say. “The regular introduction of heated milk into the diet could accelerate the development of fresh milk tolerance.”
The study follows up on other research in which baked goods containing milk products served as the basis for the milk challenge, also producing positive results for long-term milk tolerance.
While food allergies continue to be a public health concern, how we deal with them has begun to change. Past practice almost exclusively involved strict avoidance of the offending food, whereas current trends look to combat the allergy, either by immunotherapy and desensitization or by the introduction of anti-Immunoglobin E (IgE) antibodies to neutralize allergic reaction.
Confusion and misperception about allergies remain prevalent, however. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that almost one-third of Americans believe that they have a food allergy, whereas in reality food allergies affect less than 8% of children and 5% of adults.
Other problems include overdiagnosis of food allergies, controversy over the accuracy and effectiveness of various allergy tests and a general lack of awareness of the differences between true food allergies, food intolerances and food sensitivities. Lactose intolerance, for example, is an inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in dairy products, which is different from both an allergy to milk (a response by the immune system) and a sensitivity (a vague label for an unpleasant reaction to certain foods).
“Food allergies are definitely being overdiagnosed,” says Dr. David Fleischer, a pediatric allergist at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado. “People are looking for answers to some of their problems and they’re blaming food because food is easy.”
The powdered milk study, conducted with children between the ages of two and 17, involved the ingestion of progressive amounts (0.5, 5, 30 and 85 ml up to a total of 120 ml – roughly 4 ounces) of powdered skim milk mixed with water, equal to 4 grams of milk protein. For those patients who tolerated the milk powder, there were no serious adverse reactions upon reintroduction of heated milk products at home up to the amount of 4 g milk protein.