I have known Maneka Gandhi for over ten years.
Mrs. Gandhi is the daughter-in- law of India's
First Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru
was a close ally of Mahatma Gandhi.
Maneka Gandhi is India's best-known animal rights
activist, and has begun her own Notmilk movement
in India. I am proud to call her my friend, and
publish her latest commentary with joy.
Drink Milk and Get Sick
by Maneka Gandhi, April 9, 2008
If you drink a glass of milk, a pizza or ice cream do you
get a rumbling in your stomach, gas, bloating, cramps or
diarrhea? Does it happen to anyone in your family? Do you
suffer from migraines, colitis, Crohn's disease or asthma?
Do you have bad breath in spite of keeping your teeth clean?
You probably have lactose intolerance, a genetic disorder
that runs in the family, so if a sibling or parent is
afflicted, you may be too.
Lactose is the sugar in milk and anything made with milk.
As with everything else you eat, your body needs to digest
lactose to be able to use it for fuel. The small intestine
normally makes an enzyme called lactase that breaks lactose
down into simpler sugars called glucose and galactose. These
sugars are easy for your body to absorb and turn into energy.
People who have lactose intolerance do not make enough of the
lactase enzyme in their small intestine. Without lactase, your
body cannot digest food that has lactose in it. This means that
if you eat dairy foods, the lactose from these foods will stay
in your intestines.
The bacteria that live in your colon pounce on any undigested
lactose that reaches them and ferment it, producing huge amounts
of gas. This causes gas, cramps, a bloated feeling and diarrhea
from two hours to three days later. Children have vomiting as
How prevalent is lactose Intolerance? About 70% of the world's
population just can't drink milk or eat dairy products without
getting an upset stomach. Lactose Intolerance is genetic and
happens most often in people of African, Asian and Mediterranean
People of northern European descent alone are likely to be able
to drink milk as adults while most people of other heritages
cannot. Many people with lactose intolerance do not even know
they have the condition. Some maybe misdiagnosed as having a
serious bowel disease.
What problems milk can cause depends on the severity of your
lactase deficiency. If you suspect you may be lactose intolerant,
stop drinking any milk or eating any dairy products for at least
two weeks. If you feel better -and the gastrointestinal symptoms
have diminished - you can do a test.
Drink a little milk or eat a little cheese and wait for two or
three days to see what happens. It may take that long for symptoms
of lactose intolerance to show up. While most lactose intolerance
is genetic, people can also develop lactose intolerance for other
Sometimes another illness, like inflammatory bowel disease or
Crohn's disease or amoebiosis keeps the intestine from producing
enough lactase. People can also develop lactose intolerance if
they're taking antibiotics or have just had an infection that
You can be lactose intolerant if you drink alcohol. In any case,
the older you get the more trouble you have digesting dairy foods.
Your body starts making less lactase when you're around 2 years old.
Humans are genetically programmed to be able to survive and thrive
on mother's milk for years but they are also programmed to lose
this ability sometime after the age of weaning.
Human milk has the highest lactose content of any mammal's milk,
about 7% on average. Other primates are next, followed by members
of the horse family. Cows and their relatives have just under 5%
lactose in their milks.
If you have lactose intolerance, your body will usually start
acting up within 2 hours of eating or drinking something that
has lactose in it. Not everyone reacts in the same way - or
within the same amount of time - because some people can handle
more lactose than others can. But when your body starts trying
to digest your food, you'll begin to feel awful.
You can expect to see any of a variety of symptoms anywhere
from a half-hour to several days after eating dairy products.
Many people make the mistake of taking an antacid. This
doesn't work because it works on acid in the stomach whereas
the problem is in the intestine.
Antigas or anti flatulence medicines (like chooran) won't do
anything to the bacteria that are the source of the problem.
Anti-diarrhea medicines actually backfire. After all, you want
to get the lactose out of your body as quickly as possible.
Is there anything that works after you've swallowed the lactose?
The answer is no. You can lessen the awfulness, but as long as
your colon harbors bacteria churning out gas you'll have symptoms
after having dairy products.
At what age does lactose intolerance begin? In Bangladesh, 59%
of children under three are lactose intolerant, 10% of children
under eighteen months. The numbers are similar in Singapore and
Native Americans in Canada and Peru show an effect about half
as large. Barely a handful of L.I. studies have ever been done
on infants. Those that have been done agree on two points. Babies
under six months old do not test as being lactose intolerant.
But studies in Jordan, Tunisia, Nigeria, Thailand, and Bangladesh
that include infants up to 18 months of age all show from 10-32%
lactose intolerance among their subjects. Children who have
recurring stomach infections and bouts of diarrhea caused by viral
infections can become lactose intolerant because the delicate villi,
the finger-like projections on the inside of the small intestine
that actually manufacture the lactase, get damaged repeatedly and
every time the child is given milk, more damage sets in.
Asian children are particularly subject to this permanent loss.
Some babies are born without any ability to manufacture the lactase
enzyme that digests lactose. This condition, known as Congenital
L.I., used to be fatal before artificial non-milk formulas were
developed. Cases of Congenital L.I. should be quickly diagnosed.
If your child starts showing signs of diarrhea, general gas and
bloating, and foul-smelling stools it may very well be milk-related,
even if you are still breastfeeding. Get a test. Don't let ignorance
on doctors' part stand in the way of your child's health. If you
think you might have lactose intolerance, the next step is to see
your doctor. He or she will check your breath for hydrogen.
When lactose sits in your intestines and isn't digested, it
makes hydrogen gas. The doctor will have you drink something with
lactose in it. After 15 to 30 minutes, blow into a bag to check
the hydrogen level in your breath. If it's high, you have lactose
intolerance. Babies have a stool test.
What has lactose in it? : whey, curds, paneer, cheese, dry milk,
milk powder, butter milk, ice cream, anything with cheese on it
like pizza. Processed cheese and cheese products have much high
lactose than milk.
Whey is the liquid part of milk. Once manufacturers discovered
that they could give their products that good milky taste and
feel at a fraction of the cost of whole milk, they started using
whey in cookies, cake and pancake mixes, bread and cereals and
can be found in frozen foods, cold meat cuts, salad dressings,
and canned soups.
Whey contains the same lactose content as whole milk when liquid.
But when dried and powdered and used in commercial food products
whey powder is two-thirds or more lactose. Birth Control pills
also have lactose in them. In fact, lactose is the inactive
ingredient for most pharmaceutical firms.
Sprayed, lactosedries to a hard, impervious, slippery surface
that helps a pill go down. In powder form, lactose is
slightly-sweet, non-reactive, and anti-caking, the perfect
filler to bulk out the tiny bit of actual medicine that a pill
contains. While the amounts are small, there are documented
cases of people who do prove to be susceptible even to these.
Seniors, especially, and those others who take dozens of pills
a day are most at risk. Additional discomfort when you are
already sick is the last thing you need.
Stop all milk related foods. Since all you are eating dairy
is for the calcium and you can easily get that from soy milk,
orange juice, spinach or any other deep green vegetable.
There are hundreds of non-dairy alternatives for coffee ad
tea ,"milks" based on soy, almonds, oats, rice, corn syrup
and potato starch. Also there are milk-free margarines on
To join the animal welfare movement contact Mrs. Gandhi at:
14 Ashoka Road, New Delhi 110001 or: