Lactose intolerance, also known as lactase deficiency, is the inability of the body to digest lactose. Lactose is a natural sugar found in milk, cheese, butter, and other dairy products.
A person is deemed lactose intolerant when their small intestine isn’t producing enough lactase, an enzyme critical to the breakdown of lactose. The body will then transport the undigested lactose to the large intestine. The uncomfortable symptoms associated with lactose intolerance occur when the bacteria in the large intestine interact with the lactose. When this happens, you will experience symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, and bloating. Lactose intolerance isn’t the same as a milk allergy, which is a reaction to milk proteins. Presently, more than 30 million people in the US have some degree of lactose intolerance.
While lactose intolerance isn’t a life-threatening issue, it has a host of uncomfortable symptoms.
Types of Lactose Intolerance
Congenital Lactase Deficiency: This is a rare type of lactose intolerance. It occurs when a defective gene is transmitted from parent to offspring. The defective gene makes the body produce little or no lactase.
Secondary Lactose Intolerance: Secondary lactose intolerance isn’t hereditary. It is caused by intestinal diseases like irritable bowel syndrome, gastroenteritis, ulcerative colitis, and celiac disease. An injury to the intestine and chemotherapy may also result in this type of lactose intolerance.
Primary Lactose Intolerance: This is by far the most common type of lactase deficiency. Its symptoms appear when a baby starts consuming solid food.
Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance
The symptoms of lactase deficiency occur a couple of hours after consuming dairy products. Below are some of the symptoms:
The severity of these symptoms depends on the amount of lactose ingested and the amount of lactase one’s body can produce. Note that some people who are lactose intolerant can consume food that contains lactose and not experience these symptoms.
Diagnosis of Lactose Intolerance
Your doctor may carry out the following tests if you are experiencing symptoms like bloating, cramps, and diarrhea after consuming dairy products.
Hydrogen Breath Test: This test helps to ascertain the amount of hydrogen in the breath after consuming a drink that is rich in lactose. If the lactose isn’t digested by the body, it will be transferred to the large intestine where it will be broken through fermentation. Fermentation leads to the release of gasses like hydrogen. Eventually, these gases will be exhaled. If your body isn’t digesting lactose properly, the amount of hydrogen in your breath will be higher than normal.
Stool Acidity Test: This test helps to determine the amount of lactic acid in your stool. High levels of lactic acid are an obvious sign of lactose intolerance.
Lactose Intolerance Test: During this test, a patient will be asked to consume a solution rich in lactose. After a while, the patient’s blood will be tested to see if they change their glucose level. If the patient is lactose intolerant, their glucose level will remain the same.
How to Treat Lactose Intolerance
Since there are no medications that can make the body start producing more lactose, your doctor may recommend that you reduce or completely stop consuming dairy products.
To avoid lactose, you have to check the labels of the food or product you want to purchase. If you see “milk” on the label of a product, know that it contains lactose.
If you are mildly lactose intolerant, you may be able to take a small amount of milk or products that contain lactose without experiencing serious symptoms.
Stay away from anything containing lactose if you experience severe symptoms after consuming a small amount of milk or dairy product. Keep in mind that lactose-free milk is available in many grocery stores.
How To Manage Lactose Intolerance
Below are a few ways lactose intolerance can be managed:
Lactase Supplement: You should opt for a lactase supplement after consuming a large amount of lactose. Lactase supplements contain lactase and can help in the breakdown of lactose. Be sure to try out different lactase supplements to narrow down the one that works best for you.
Calcium Supplement: Milk is a rich source of calcium. If you stop consuming milk because you are lactose intolerant, you will become calcium deficient after a while. Eating food that is rich in natural calcium and taking calcium supplements can help address the deficiency.
- How can I tell if I am lactose intolerant? If you experience symptoms like diarrhea, gas, or pain in the lower belly after consuming dairy products, you are most likely lactose intolerant.
- Is there a cure for lactose intolerance? Unfortunately, there is no cure for lactose intolerance. However, there are ways to manage the condition like taking lactase enzyme supplements.
Healthier Me Today is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment, always consult with your healthcare professional. Stay healthy!