Scoop of Whey Protein

Whey protein is the liquid portion of whole milk that is produced once the milk solids have been removed. Because of this, unfortunately there are a lot of people who cannot consume whey due to lactose intolerance or milk allergy.

Lactose intolerance is a condition in which your body is unable to break down lactose, the sugar found in cow’s milk. Common symptoms of lactose intolerance include diarrhea, nausea, and bloating.

This reaction is a result of having a lack of lactase, the enzyme that normally breaks down lactose into its individual sugars, and makes it more easily digestible. Needless to say, lactose intolerance isn’t very pleasant, but it isn’t life-threatening.

But this common intolerance impacts many people. Nearly two-thirds of people around the world are affected by some degree of this condition. Many people begin losing their ability to digest lactose shortly after infancy, which explains why there are so many adults that cannot tolerate dairy products.

That being said, lactose intolerance is not the same as a milk or whey allergy. A true allergy is an immune response, whereas an intolerance to lactose means you’re missing the lactase enzyme. A whey protein allergy could become life threatening, whereas lactose intolerance is not. 

If any of this sounds like you, and you suspect you may have an allergy to whey protein or are lactose intolerant understanding why your body is reacting this way is the key to dealing with the problem.

So what should you do if you want to use whey protein powder but are concerned that you may have a whey allergy or issue with lactose? Ultimately, you may need to change your protein powder choice or adjust your dosage to avoid symptoms of allergic reaction to protein shakes or lactose intolerance. 

Understanding a Whey Allergy

Again, a whey protein allergy is not the same as lactose intolerance. However, if you are lactose intolerant, you may have trouble with whey protein powder depending on how sensitive you are, as it does contain some lactose.

An allergy is different from an intolerance. An allergy occurs when your body overreacts to a common substance, like milk. Because your immune system is in place to protect you from harm, it goes into overdrive, producing antibodies. This then causes the physical reactions you feel in an allergic reaction. Basically, your body goes into attack mode against the whey and you suffer the consequences.

When you are having an allergic reaction, you can go into a reaction called anaphylaxis, which can become life-threatening as it prevents you from breathing. 

So what exactly is a whey allergy then?

If you’re allergic to cow’s milk, you are allergic to protein in milk. You may be allergic to whey or casein. Some people can be allergic to both. 

Unfortunately, if you find out you are allergic to casein, you still should avoid whey protein products. There is no guarantee that whey protein powders don’t contain small amounts of casein that could trigger an allergic reaction.

If you suspect that you have a milk or whey protein allergy, it’s important to first be aware of the symptoms. 

Whey Allergy Symptoms

If you have a whey allergy, you won’t necessarily experience allergic symptoms the first time you consume it. However, once you’re sensitized to it, your body can react poorly in the future upon contact. 

Whey allergy symptoms can be experienced differently depending on the person. Some people are so sensitive that they might develop a rash on their skin when they simply open a container of whey protein. This is because the tiny dust-sized particles of whey protein floating around in the air can trigger an allergic reaction on the skin, leading to a rash or even an outbreak of hives. .

People with this form of whey allergy will experience serious itching on their skin. This is due to immune compounds called histamines that are released by the body when you suffer an allergic reaction of the skin. Your hands and arms may become very sensitive or even swollen from fluid retention caused by the reaction. Those with whey protein allergies who ingest the protein may find that the skin around their mouth becomes irritated and their lips may swell up upon contact.

And that’s what happens BEFORE you consume whey protein! Most people do not have an allergy so severe, most people will only react if they consume whey directly. 

If you are allergic and you consume whey, once in your digestive system, you may experience red and watery eyes, a runny nose, sneezing and coughing. Whey protein may also trigger an allergic reaction that affects your lungs, preventing you from breathing. 

If things are really bad, you may find that your breathing is impaired and your throat begins to tighten or close. This is a full-blown anaphylactic reaction, and is very serious. It can even be fatal if you aren’t treated immediately. If you ever think you are experiencing this, please treat it as an emergency and seek immediate medical attention.

You can also experience digestive problems, similar to lactose intolerance. When the protein hits your stomach and intestines, it can trigger diarrhea, nausea, stomach pains, intestinal cramps, bloating and gas.

Note: Consult with your doctor if you notice any of the symptoms of a whey allergy listed above. There’s a chance that it may not be caused by the whey protein at all, but by an added ingredient or another food altogether, so it’s best to be evaluated by a medical professional.

Dangers of Ignoring Your Whey Allergy Symptoms

If you do research on whey allergies, you’ll find that most people only experience either a mild allergic reaction to whey protein or digestive upset caused by lactose intolerance. 

In fact, a real cow’s milk allergy is fairly rare in the United States. This is great news! A true cow’s milk allergy is most prevalent in children, impacting between 2.5% of children under the age of three. 

However, technically an allergy can develop at any age. It’s important to be aware of what can potentially happen if you completely ignore signs of whey allergy, even if they’re mild.

Some people ignore the problem with whey protein, particularly if it doesn’t seem too serious and is just lactose intolerance. If taking whey protein just causes mild indigestion or an upset stomach, it’s not too bad, right? Maybe, but maybe not.

If you ignore the symptoms, however mild, you may end up suffering from more serious health problems down the line.

For example, if you train yourself to ignore the mild indigestion that sets in as a result of your whey allergy or intolerance, you may end up ignoring more serious stomach and digestive problems caused by another problem. As a result, you could have no idea that you have a stomach virus or other infection in your digestive system, all because you are accustomed to the mild problems caused by your inability to process lactose.

For those who try to keep whey protein as a regular part of your diet despite an intolerance, there is a risk of damage to your digestive system. The villi in your intestines are designed to absorb the food you eat, but they become damaged over time when there are allergens in your digestive system.

Although the cause is somewhat of a mystery, research suggests that damaged intestines could eventually lead to a condition called leaky gut syndrome, where food is improperly digested and/or absorbed.

In this scenario, your intestinal permeability — or how easily things pass through the walls of your intestines — increases. This ultimately causes whey allergy diarrhea, cramps, bloating, gas, and more. This is definitely not one of the problems you want to ignore, but studies show that it can be repaired and managed partly through dietary changes

So again, it’s important to give your body the attention it needs if you experience anything strange when consuming milk products or whey protein.

Regularly consuming whey protein despite your allergy or sensitivity could actually cause the symptoms to worsen. You may learn to tolerate the symptoms of whey protein allergies. However, you may increase your body’s susceptibility of becoming sensitive to other foods, like gluten, seafood, etc.

For this reason, it’s best to find the right whey allergy treatment to help you deal with the problem or stop taking whey protein altogether to avoid more serious problems!

Whey Protein Isolate vs. Whey Protein Concentrate for Allergies

With so many whey protein products on the market, it can be hard to know which are most likely to cause allergy symptoms or be most irritating to someone with lactose intolerance.

Well Wisdom protein powders are all whey protein concentrates. Whey protein concentrates have higher proportions of the beneficial immune fractions in whey (Immunoglobulins, Lactoferrin, etc) but they can also have higher amounts of lactose than other forms of whey protein. This is because concentrates don’t undergo the extra intensive processing to remove the lactose which is part of the process to make an isolate.

This means that those suffering from severe lactose intolerance may experience symptoms when taking whey protein concentrates, depending on the amount present in the concentrate and the serving size. This may cause protein powder diarrhea or other digestive symptoms. 

If so, it might be better to decrease your serving size or switch to a whey protein isolate altogether. While the native quality of the protein in an isolate will be lower, it will also contain less lactose, and thus may be easier for those with lactose intolerance to consume without suffering allergic reactions or otherwise annoying side effects.

Dairy Free Alternatives to Whey Protein

If you are allergic to whey protein or find that it triggers digestive symptoms due to lactose intolerance you will have to use a different product. Luckily, there are many alternatives on the market made of a variety such as plant-based proteins and other protein sources. 

Egg protein is a complete protein that might be a good option. But eggs are also one of the 8 major allergens, so it is best to avoid this type of protein if you think you might also be allergic to eggs. 

Plant-based proteins are a great choice and tend to be less allergenic than animal-based options. Soy protein is a plant-based complete protein, but might not be ideal for everyone. Most of the soy on the market is genetically modified, so this is something to be aware of when choosing a plant-based protein.

For an alternative to whey protein post workout, a blend of brown rice and pea protein might be ideal. These have been found to promote increased muscle strength and are also hypoallergenic. 

Overall, there are many dairy free alternatives to whey protein that can be used if you have a true whey allergy. 

Bottom Line

If you suspect that you may have a whey allergy, but aren’t sure what’s triggering it, it’s best to seek an evaluation by a medical professional trained in food allergies. This is particularly important if you have the classic allergy symptoms, like hives, itchy eyes, or a scratchy throat after consuming whey. These symptoms can become more severe over time and it is best to avoid the food that is triggering them.  

Speaking to a professional can help you figure out your symptoms and you’ll know exactly what your body doesn’t like about whey protein or if it is another ingredient or food that is causing the problem. This way it will easier to prevent unwanted allergic reactions to protein shakes or other whey-based supplements. 

 

 

 

References

  1. Allergic Reaction. Accessed April 18, 2021. https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions-dictionary/allergic-reaction
  2. Camilleri M. Leaky gut: mechanisms, measurement and clinical implications in humans. Gut. 2019;68(8):1516-1526.
  3. Lactose intolerance. Accessed April 18, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/lactose-intolerance/
  4. Allergies and Hay Fever. Published March 1, 2021. Accessed April 18, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/allergies.htm
  5. Malik TF, Panuganti KK. Lactose Intolerance. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2021.

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