Sunday, 20 May 2012

Becoming tolerant of the intolerance

I've been dairy intolerant since I was a child.  I grew up knowing that if I drank a glass of milk I'd get stomach cramps and associated digestive problems.  (We won't go into detail here!)  My mother always commented to me that if I didn't get my calcium intake I'd end up with rickety bones, so I would have the odd milky coffee or cheese sandwich just to keep her worry at bay.  Over the years I became complacent about my symptoms and although I suffered I never made much of a deal about it and certainly never saw fit to share my experience and condition with those around me.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself managing a young baby with severe dairy intolerance, soya intolerance and adverse reaction to msg.  It was nothing short of a nightmare - endless trips to the doctors and endless cases of misdiagnosis.  It was a usual thing to get through a packet of nappies PER DAY.  Constant vomiting, failure to thrive and at the worst point, a test for Leukemia.  Fast forward two years and an eventual referral to a paediatric dietician confirmed my suspicions as I noticed he displayed symptoms within an hour of eating.  Seven years of a strict exclusion diet for him followed (during which child number 3 was born and displayed similar symptoms and was fortunately diagnosed and managed much earlier).  I went out of my way to make foods for them at home that were as close to the shop examples as possible.  Sourcing a health food shop miles away that stocked a safe ice-cream, making bread for sandwiches, swapping food parcels with an online friend in Texas who had things I needed in exchange for goods the UK had that her daughter needed.  It was worrying, exhausting and expensive.

Over 90% of the food stocks in shops ten years ago were not suitable for my children to eat and food manufacturers were not required, as they are today, to label allergens. It was all done by reading labels, researching the ingredients and finding out what E number to avoid.  It was alarming to find that the UK were still allowing additives to their foods that the American government and many European governments, in particular Switzerland, Sweden and Germany had banned.  Food that was rarely labelled 'dairy free', in fact wasn't - it was just lactose free - the sugar in the milk, not the protein.  I spent many a night up until the early hours either reading or cooking to make sure I protected my children as much as I could.  Invitations to parties would consisnt of me ringing the mother, not only to ask what the child wanted for a present, but also to check out the party food menu, so I could recreate a safe replica on a party plate for the children to enjoy so they didn't miss out. 

Being a hereditary condition, it is a major contributory factor to two of my children having to deal with it.  They've pretty much outgrown their intolerances, but if they overload, they know it.  So you'd think that with my own experience, that of my two children and the increase of my own symptoms over the last two years I'd have realised what was creeping back up on me again.

So, about two years of trips to the doctor to find out why I'm putting on weight and not losing it despite diet and exercise, why I'm constantly wiped out and tired, why I have digestive problem and returning dark rings under my eyes, it dawned on me that the intolerance has returned. A quick blood test to check and bingo, zero tolerance of the stuff.  My diet is now being revised - I'm fortunately able to do this without a referral to a nutritionist or dietician as I'm experienced with it, but it hasn't stopped me doing my research to make sure the chemical food names for milk proteins haven't changed.  It's a minefield - milk is in pretty much 70% or more of the food in the shops.  Lactose is obvious and labelled well, but milk protein is the hidden demon. Did you know that milk protein is added to potatoes to make them taste like smoky bacon?  Did you know that milk is injected into meat to make it easeir to slice?  Did you know that milk is added to soya alternatives to bulk out the protein as the soya itself is far too concentrated?  So, if you're dairy intolerant and turn to a soya alternative, you're likely to experience the same symptoms.  Did you know that anything labelled 'flavouring' is likely to be made from whey protein, which is milk?  This is just the tip of the iceberg.

We're so used to just picking up food and consuming it - we're not aware of the ridiculous amount of additives that are added to flavour our food and the misleading part is that they're all either scientifically named in such a way we have no clue or they're called 'natural flavouring'. Without knowing their derivative source, we really have no clue what we're pumping into our bodies.  The return of my symptoms has reawakened the call in me to seriously readdress what I'm feeding myself and my family.  50% of my family suffer and I'm responsible for the majority of what they eat.

So, for the next few weeks, the household shopping will be replacing many items and much closer attention will be paid to milk, soya and even msg (a signicant addition to food that caused my elder son as an infant to be excessively aggressive) and is now believed to be a significant contributor to primary serious liver disease.

Next time you pick up a jar of sauce from your larder or eat a bag of crisps, have a look at the label.  You'll be surprised (and maybe a bit horrified), to see what the manufacturers have added to it to make it so 'tasty'.