Galactosemia – despite the long and confusing name – is a simple condition. It basically means that your body is unable to use the simple sugar known as galactose. It’s similar to a glucose intolerance, as glucose is another kind of sugar. Given that galactose is half of lactose – the sugar from milk – it can be considered an extreme form of lactose intolerance.
Galactosemia is particularly dangerous for infants and children and must be diagnosed early. People with Galactosemia are completely unable to handle any kind of milk – animal or human. Giving an infant milk causes the galactose to build in their system and damage their liver, kidneys, eyes, and brain.
What Causes Galactosemia?
There’s some good news and bad news about galactosemia. The good news is that it’s impossible to just “catch” it. The bad news is that it’s a hereditary condition. So it’s caused by your genetics. It’s caused when both parents with an inactive version of the gene responsible for galactosemia have a child; which itself has a 25% chance of developing the condition.
There are three forms of glactosemia:
- Galactose-1 phosphate uridyl transferase deficiency – this is the most common form of the disease, as well as being the most severe.
- Galactose kinase deficiency
- Galactose-6-phosphate epimerase
It can take just a few days for the first signs of galactosemia to develop in infants after they are given formula or breast milk containing lactose. The symptoms could also be related to a serious blood infection caused by E coli.
The symptoms of galactosemia include:
- Refusal to eat formula containing milk
- Inability to gain weight
- Yellowing skin and eyes – otherwise known as jaundice
As a genetic condition, there are no real treatments for galactosemia.
The only cure is prevention. If you have galactosemia then you must avoid any product containing milk – including dry milk – and any other foods containing galactose. These products must be avoided for life. It’s as simple as that.
You need to be vigilant and read through product labels carefully to ensure that there is no galactose in the products that you buy for yourself or your children with galactosemia. The good news is that there are alternatives out there for children as well as adults. Everyone knows the importance of milk for proper development of infants.
Rather than giving your infant regular milk or formula, the following alternatives are recommended:
- Soy formula
- Another kind of lactose-free formula
- A meat-based formula
- Nutramigen – a formula made from protein hydrolysate
- Calcium supplements to ensure they get the calcium they need
Galactosemia is a serious condition, but being diagnosed early can prevent any damage. People with the condition are still able to live normal lives, as long as they avoid milk. Given the continued rise of lactose-free products, there has never been more choice for people with galactosemia. Keep an eye out for the symptoms with your baby and take the necessary steps to keep them happy and healthy for life. You were going to do that as a good parent anyway.