What is lactose intolerance, and what causes it?
Lactose intolerance is one inability to digest lactose properly. Lactose is a disaccharide, which means it is a sugar that is composed of galactose and glucose subunits. The sweetness of milk comes from lactose. 2 – 8% of milk weight is lactose.
A deficiency of the enzyme lactase causes lactose indigestion. Lactase is produced in the brush border of the small intestine, where it breaks down lactose. Lactose intolerance is seen mostly in adults but can affect children as well.
The symptoms of lactose arise about 2 hours after consuming a meal with lactose in it. Also, the majority of the people with lactose intolerance can eat specific amounts of lactose without having any signs or symptoms, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance?
Symptoms of lactose intolerance include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Gurgling stomach sounds
- Floating stool (Steatorrhea)
Lactose intolerance foods to avoid
Some of the milk product and foods that contain lactose to avoid for a lactose intolerance person:
- Most milk in general
- Whipped Cream
- Milk Puddings
- Ice cream
- Egg nog
- Hot chocolate
- Macaroni and cheese
- Mashed potatoes
Types of lactose intolerance:
- CONGENIAL LACTOSE INTOLERANCE: Is the deficiency of lactase due to genetic predisposition. This occurs from birth and is quite rare.
- PRIMARY LACTOSE INTOLERANCE: occur as a result of age. The older we get, the lesser the intestine produces less lactase. Primary can start developing after two years of age.
- SECONDARY LACTOSE INTOLERANCE: is the decreased production of lactase due to a short term or a long term illness, which could be an injury that occurs after surgery, after persistent diarrhea, intestinal cancer or bacteria overgrowth. If the trigger is managed correctly, lactose intolerance can resolve within two weeks.
Who is more likely at risk for developing lactose intolerance?
The risk factors that can make a person predisposed to lactose intolerance include:
- Age: lactose intolerance is more common in adults than in children
- Celiac disease
- The risk of developing lactose intolerance increases in people who are on chemotherapy or have undergone chemotherapy
- Radiation therapy increases the risk of intolerance to lactose
- Premature infants
- Crohn’s disease
How do you test for lactose intolerance?
It is usually done as a diet of exclusion. Patients remove all known triggers for a while then watch their symptoms to see if they get better over this period, then they slowly add the food items removed from the diet and see how they feel.
For each food item they bring back into the diet, they take a minimum of one week to see how their bodies respond to the food and overtime figure out the root cause of the problems. If milk or milk products are found to be the cause of symptoms, then the patient is classified as lactose intolerant.
How do you treat lactose intolerance symptoms?
There’s no any cure for lactose intolerance. The best management for lactose intolerance is to stop the intake of milk and milk products. There are, however, lactose-free milk that has been produced to combat this problem, so buying lactose-free milk when at the supermarket is a much better choice for a lactose intolerance person.
Other lactose intolerance treatment options include:
- Over the counter lactase tablets that can be taken before a meal or drops containing lactase that can be added to milk before consumption (example are Lactaid, Diary ease).
- There are cheeses with low lactose content, and patients can consume these types of cheese depending on the amount of lactose needed for symptoms to flare-up.
- Vegan cheese is lactose-free as well.
- It is also good to take lactose-free products with added calcium such as soya beans, nuts, broccoli, cabbage, sardines, salmon, and even bread made with fortified flour, so you can get enough calcium, which will help build up strong bones and teeth, says the NHS.
Lastly, this is an educational article about lactose intolerance. If you experience any lactose intolerance symptoms, make sure to consult a doctor for a proper check-up.