Healthy Living

Lactose Intolerance: Get the Facts

Lactose Intolerance: Get the Facts

Key Takeaways

  • A small number of infants are born with lactose intolerance and consume formula that is free of lactose as opposed to breast milk
  • Within 2 hours of consuming dairy, undigested lactose can generate many gastrointestinal symptoms
  • About 65% of the world's population is lactose intolerant

Lactose intolerance is a digestive problem where the body cannot digest the lactose present in milk and dairy products. Lactose is naturally occurring sugar found in dairy products. It is the main carbohydrate found in all types of milk.

In a very small number of cases the production of lactase may be affected due to an injury to the small intestine, or due to certain diseases like Celiac disease or Crohns disease.

Due to its regular inclusion in food, lactose intolerance can be mistaken for other dietary conditions. Here are ten facts that will help you understand this term and its application more fluently.

It is found in enzymes

When we are born, the body usually generates an enzyme known as lactase. This enzyme aids in breaking down sugars found in milk. The sugars are deconstructed, making it easier for them to be taken in into the bloodstream.  When you are devoid of lactase, lactose intolerance develops as a result. This can happen as we age; many people have a reduction in lactase levels after childhood, making them intolerant to lactose. When this undigested lactose is left in the gut, it is broken down by bacterial activity, producing lactic acid and hydrogen gas, which give rise to the symptoms of bloating, discomfort, wind or flatulence.

Many people have it

About 65% of the world's population is lactose intolerant. It mostly affects Africans, Native Americans, Asians or Hispanics, and is less common in west and northern Europe. Lactose intolerance is caused by a variation in our genetic makeup resulting from a branch in our ancestral tree thousands of years ago. It can be hereditary, so certain races and geographical areas are more prone to it. It is extremely rare for the lactase enzyme to be totally absent. For most people their body does produce some amounts of it, so some milk products can be tolerated. But, when you consume excess of milk products your symptoms may reappear.

Individuals may not show symptoms

Within 2 hours of consuming dairy, undigested lactose can generate many gastrointestinal symptoms. They include pain in the abdomen, diarrhea, flatulence, nausea and bloating. Other symptoms may include constant headaches, frequent colds, low iron levels and skin problems.  There are however, people who lack the enzyme lactase and fail to show any symptoms.

You normally grow into it

A small number of infants are born with lactose intolerance and consume formula that is free from lactose as opposed to breast milk. The majority of individuals born with lactose intolerance become unable to digest milk a short time after childhood. This can normally take place between the age of two and twelve, although symptoms may not be experienced until teenage years or middle age.

The doctor should be consulted

Symptoms of lactose intolerance may be similar to other symptoms of certain stomach conditions. It is important not to self-diagnose. Your doctor can assist you in determining the source of your problems. The doctor may recommend the elimination of all dairy products in your diet. Diagnosis is done through stool and breath tests. If you are concerned then ask your doctor to test you for lactose intolerance.

Symptoms can be relieved by change of diet

Dairy products have several health benefits including bone health, reduced risk of hypertension, type II diabetes and colon cancer. Rather than complete abstinence, lactose intolerant people can begin by taking small quantities of diary and increase the amount with time. Milk that is free of lactose or low lactose is widely available in soy milk and others. In addition, you can take over-the- counter lactase drugs that will assist in the digestion of diary. Consider consuming lactose containing products along with your meal.

Lactose is a better sugar

Compared to fructose, lactose is healthier and has numerous health benefits.

  • Essential in brain development of small children, galactose is deemed the sugar of the brain.
  • The galactose found in lactose helps heal wounds, minimizing inflammation, improve cellular communication, fighting the growth of tumors, and raising the absorption level of calcium.

Certain dairy products are good

Contrary to those who have allergies, the majority of individuals with lactose intolerance can consume half a glass of milk and fail to show symptoms. Foods containing milk are often tolerated well when they are hot. Eat only small amounts of lactose containing food at a time, this way you will get the vital nutrients, but avoid the unpleasant symptoms. Certain dairy products contain low lactose levels making digestion easier. They include yogurt and aged or hard cheeses.

Lactose can be found in unexpected places

Many processed foods contain dairy products. For example, cereals, baked goods, and sweets can all have lactose. Avoid products labeled as curds, and dry milk solids since they can upset your stomach. Many medications, including some anti-histamines, birth-control pills, contain lactose and this may not be marked on the label. You can either ask your doctor or pharmacist to give you more information about the fillers.

 Calcium is important

Lactose intolerance will put you at a higher risk of developing thin bones, since vitamin D and calcium are commonly found in dairy products.  These vitamins strengthen bone density. You should consume other foods with Vitamin D and calcium like egg yolks, leafy greens and fortified juices. Exposing yourself to adequate sunlight can enhance Vitamin D levels. Consult your doctor before taking any supplements.

It is not an allergic reaction

Milk allergy is often confused with lactose intolerance as the symptoms may be similar. But the two conditions are entirely different. Although the milk allergy is not as common as lactose intolerance, it is more detrimental..  The body battles diary like a dangerous intruder in these scenarios. The symptoms are more serious and can include rashes, itchy eyes, and wheezing. Individuals affected by this reaction should avoid dairy products.

End Note

People who are diagnosed as lactose intolerant must consult with a certified dietician to ensure that they consume adequate amounts of nutrients, like calcium in their diet. This is especially important for children.