By Kristen Chandler
In the United States, approximately one out of every 13 children lives with a food allergy. Of those allergies, the most common among children is an allergy to cow’s milk. Most children outgrow a cow’s milk allergy between the ages of three and five, but some remain allergic well into their teen years.
As in most cases of a food allergy, the treatment for a cow’s milk allergy is to completely avoid milk and anything containing it. Going without milk isn’t so bad now that there are a variety of dairy substitutions available these days. But can the absence of cow’s milk from one’s diet harm the body?
A recent study was conducted that compared children with an allergy to cow’s milk and children without. There has been evidence to support the theory that an allergy to cow’s milk decreases bone density in adults. However, this theory had not previously been tested on large groups of children.
The goal of the study was to assess bone mineral density (BMD), the presence of vitamin D in the bloodstream, and the consumption of vitamin D and calcium between the two groups. Fifty-two children with a cow’s milk allergy and 29 with allergies other than cow’s milk were tested. Of the children who were allergic to cow’s milk, 6 percent had a lower BMD than the others. Their calcium intake was also remarkably lower. The amount of vitamin D in the blood of both groups tested was below the recommended quantity. Furthermore, fewer than half of the children who had a cow’s milk allergy reported that they did not take any kind of vitamin or supplement.
While the study did not show a direct association between cow’s milk allergy and low bone density in children, researcher Dr. Luis Gonzales-Mendoza noted that it was a situation that needed to be watched. Dr. Mendoza was not a part of this study.
Other research has shown that children who do not reach their peak bone mass are at higher risk for osteoporosis as they get older. Children who aren’t getting enough calcium are at an even greater risk. Dr. Mendoza said that calcium intake among children who allergic to cow’s milk should be monitored, to ensure that they are getting the recommended amount.
What are some alternative sources of calcium for children allergic to cow’s milk? You can encourage them to drink orange juice that is rich in calcium. Soy and almond milks are the best non-dairy milk substitutions where calcium is concerned. In fact, some soy milks contain as much or more calcium than cow’s milk.
If your child is allergic to cow’s milk and you are concerned with their calcium and vitamin D consumption (or lack thereof), talk to your child’s doctor. They may be able to suggest other ways to supplement calcium and vitamin D, and determine if a bone density scan would be needed.