Allergy to milk and alternative milks

Allergy to milk: causesAlternatives to cow’s milkHeat treated milksPartial hydrolysis of cow’s milk proteinsMilks other than cow’s milkVegetable milksOther formulations

According to FAO statistics, among the eight foods considered most allergic, the primacy certainly goes to milk, followed by soy , eggs , fish , peanuts / nuts , shellfish , wheat and fruit ( banana , kiwi , apple , strawberry , melon ) .

Allergy to milk: causes

Cow ‘s milk allergy is very common, especially among children: the organism manifests allergy after taking milk, because the proteins present in it are considered foreign to the young organism, therefore potentially dangerous for health and deserving of an attack. immune.
Although all milk proteins can be considered possible allergens, caseinsand some serum proteins (in particular β-lactoglobulin, serum albumin and immunoglobulins) are believed to be responsible for sensitization. Caseins, which represent about 80% of milk proteins, resist the heat treatment to which it is subjected: consequently, they are not denatured and are able to maintain the ability to bind precise antibodies .
For a newborn, a milk-based diet is essential: if the maternal diet is not available and there is an allergy to cow’s milk , the need to find a correct alternative to cow’s milk is understandable, absolutely necessary to guarantee the health of the baby. .

Alternatives to cow ‘s milk

See also: therapeutic or “special” milks

The market offers a wide range of milk-based formulations, which can be a valid alternative to cow’s milk: unfortunately, however, it is not always immediate to identify the most correct alternative, considering that they are “small patients”.

The possible solutions can be summarized in:

  • Heat treated milks
  • Partial hydrolysis of cow’s milk proteins
  • Milks other than cow’s milk
  • Vegetable milks
  • Other formulations

We will now try to shed some light on these possible alternatives to cow’s milk.

Heat treated milks

With heat sterilization (i.e. cooking the milk at a temperature of 120 ° C for a time equal to 20-30 minutes) a partial denaturation of the milk proteins is obtained: the results, however, are not exciting, because caseins and whey proteins , in this process, they lose many vitamins and sugars , despite the loss, albeit slight, of their allergenic power. For these reasons, this process tends to be unsuitable for the production of a valid substitute for cow’s milk.

Partial hydrolysis of cow’s milk proteins

To understand the treatment behind this product, one must take a small step back and explain what is meant by ” food antigen “: all high molecular weight proteins (5,000-10,000 Dalton) are potential food antigens. All other proteins with a molecular weight of less than 5,000 Daltons cannot be considered allergens, because their peptide chain is too short. So the importance of milk-based formulas with hydrolyzed proteins is now understandable : the goal is to “break” the proteins into small, low molecular weight fragments, in order to make the milk more digestible. To hydrolyze proteins, you can use:

  • proteolytic enzymes
  • Ultrafiltration, which retains high molecular weight fragments
  • high enzymatic hydrolysis: the best solution since it reduces the proteins to 1500 Dalton fragments.

Milks other than cow’s milk

Milks other than cow’s milk can be used, such as goat’s and sheep’s milk: often, however, these milks have amino acid sequences similar to cow’s milk (cross-reactivity). Consequently, those who are allergic to cow’s milk are also allergic to goat’s and sheep’s milk. Donkey milk
is very similar to breast milk : the only drawback is that its availability is very difficult and its cost is very high.

Vegetable milks

In the world of vegetables, legumes have proteins of very high nutritional value: for this reason many companies market vegetable milks. Of all, remember soy milk : the problem is that soy, like cow’s milk, can create sensitization, therefore intolerances or allergies .
Recently, rice milk has also been marketed as a possible alternative to cow’s milk: it is easily available and not very allergenic.

Other formulations

Elementary or semi-elementary milk represents the “last resort”, to be given to the child only if he is allergic to all the previously described milks. It is a drinking milk, made up of both vegetable proteins (soy) and animal proteins (once collagen was used), combined with mineral salts , vitamins and carbohydrates .


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