What is Lactose Intolerance?

lactose intolerance, stomachacheLactose intolerance is a common digestive problem where the body is unable to digest lactose – a type of sugar chiefly found in milk and dairy produce. Signs of this condition include a bloated stomach, flatulence (wind) or abdominal pain and diarrhea. This digestive problem is more common among natives of Australia, people from Africa, Asia, Middle East and some Mediterranean countries.

How does lactose intolerance occur?
Enzymes called lactase, which are found in the mucus of the small intestine breaks down the milk sugar or the lactose. The milk sugar is changed into two simpler sugars called glucose and galactose.

When the body does not produce enough lactase enzyme, this causes the lactose to stay in the digestive system where it is fermented by bacteria. This fermentation process causes the symptoms associated with lactose intolerance.

How to diagnose Lactose Intolerance
If someone is suspected of being lactose intolerant, it is best to consult with a doctor. People sometimes wrongly “self-diagnose” and this concerned many experts because this should be done by them to avoid missing out on the health benefits that milk products give.

Diagnosis of lactose intolerance can be done with the following methods:

  • Hydrogen breath test – the amount of hydrogen that is breathed out is measured in this procedure. More hydrogen is produced when lactose is fermented by bacteria in the bowel instead of being converted by lactase enzyme.
  • Elimination diet – this requires removing food that includes lactose to determine if the symptoms progress. If the symptoms happen again once the food is again given, then lactose intolerance is most probably the reason.

How to treat Lactose Intolerance
Regulating intake of food and drink containing lactose is the primary treatment for lactose intolerance.

People with this condition also vary in their level of tolerance. Some may need extra calcium and vitamin D supplements to maintain bone health and keep them strong.

Seeking consultation from dietitians is also suggested since they know what’s the best diet for a person.

Lactase drops is also an option and is available in the market. These can be added to the meals or drinks to better the lactose digestion.

Note that lactose intolerance is different from food allergy. If one is allergic to something, even a little amount can be sufficient to start a reaction . On the other hand, most people with lactose intolerance  can nevertheless eat small amounts of lactose with no ill-effects.

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