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16 May 2008

Do You Have a Lactose-Intolerant Child?

I have many stressed-out mothers in my practice who are convinced that their children are intolerant to cow’s milk-based formulas. I explain that children are rarely born lactose intolerant and most likely their son or daughter has an allergy to processed, pasteurized cow’s milk. I usually try to get the mother to exclusively breast feed and not supplement with a commercial formula, which usually fixes the problem because human breast milk is the perfect food for infants.

However, if breast milk was never started, a soy milk formula is often recommended because it’s not a cow-based milk. There can be a problem with that since 30 percent of the children are also allergic to soymilk, and soymilk presents its own challenges. (Visit to learn about the potential dangers of soy-based formulas.) In these cases, we often have to resort to elemental formulas on the market.

I also tell the parent that when the child is older and weaned off the breast, I recommend trying goat’s milk before they try cow’s milk again. Children manifest an allergy to cow’s milk formula by gastrointestinal symptoms through vomiting and diarrhea, respiratory symptoms like constant sneezing, coughing, and congestion, and even with skin complications, like eczema. Those who are highly allergic need to use goat’s milk or another formula, like Jordan’s homemade formula.

My response is that nearly all infants drink breast milk—their tender stomachs can’t handle any solid foods—but breast milk has lactose. So breast milk, a food that nourishes and sustains newborns and infants while carrying the mother’s antibodies to the baby, is obviously a good thing.

When infants are weaned from breast milk, they are fed formula—a highly processed dried dairy product made from cows that are not fed well or raised properly. Babies sometimes react poorly to commercial formula by screaming to the high heavens, prompting concerned mothers to immediately blame “lactose intolerance” as the cause of their child’s ills.

Many switch to soymilk or a soy-based formula, but as I stated earlier I’m not a total fan of soy products. Here's why: most soy protein comes from genetically modified soybeans. According to Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions, soybeans are high in phytic acid, which can block the complete intake of essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc into the intestinal tract. Soy protein must be processed at high temperatures to reduce phytic acid levels, which pretty much destroys the “good proteins” in soy, such as lysine.

Ms. Fallon also points out research showing that soy formulas lack cholesterol (essential for brain development) and lactose and galactose, which play equally important roles in the development of the nervous system.

Most children are not lactose intolerant; otherwise they couldn’t tolerate breast milk. The reason for their stomach distress has more to do with an allergy or sensitivity to the processed protein in the formula, not any abdominal intolerance to lactose.

If your child does not respond well to conventional infant formulas, look for a natural and organic infant formula at your local health food store or try Jordan’s formula recipe found in this issue’s recipe section.

by Dr. Fiona Blair, contributing author for Jordan Rubin’s Children’s Health book

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