What is lactose intolerance?
People with lactose intolerance cannot fully digest the sugar (lactose) in milk. As a result, they experience diarrhea, gas, and bloating after eating or drinking dairy products. The condition, also called lactose malabsorption, is usually harmless, but its symptoms can be uncomfortable.
Usually, very little of the enzyme produced in the small intestine (lactase) is responsible for lactase deficiency. You could have low levels of lactase and still be able to digest dairy products. But if your levels are too low, you have lactose intolerance, which leads to symptoms after eating or drinking dairy products.
Most people with milk intolerance can manage the condition without having to give up all dairy products.
Types of lactose intolerance
There are three main types of lactase deficiency, and they have different causes:
1. Primary lactose intolerance (the normal result of aging)
- This is the most broadly perceived sort of lactose intolerance.
- Most people are born with enough lactase. Babies need the enzyme to digest their mothers’ milk. The measure of lactase an individual makes may diminish after some time. This is because, as people get older, they eat a more varied diet and rely less on milk.
- The decrease in lactase is gradual. This type of milk intolerance is more common in people of Asian, African, and Spanish descent.
2. Secondary lactose intolerance (due to illness or injury)
Intestinal diseases such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), surgery, or injury to the small intestine can also cause lactase deficiency. Lactase levels can be restored if the underlying disorder is treated.
3. Congenital or developmental lactose intolerance
- In very rare cases, milk intolerance is inherited. The defective gene can be passed from parents to children, which leads to the complete absence of lactase in the child. This is referred to as congenital lactose intolerance.
- In this case, your baby will not tolerate breast milk. They will develop diarrhea as soon as they introduce human milk or a formula containing lactose. If not recognized and treated early, the condition can be life-threatening.
- Diarrhea can cause dehydration and electrolyte loss. The condition can be easily treated by giving the baby a lactose-free formula instead of milk.
4. Developmental lactose intolerance
Sometimes, a type of lactase deficiency called developmental lactose intolerance occurs when a baby is born prematurely. This is because a baby’s lactase production begins later in pregnancy, after at least 34 weeks.
What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance?
Do you often feel bloated and gassy after drinking milk or eating ice cream? If you do, you may have a very common condition called milk intolerance. It makes it difficult or impossible for your body to digest a type of sugar found in milk and dairy products called lactose.
Your doctor can tell you if you have lactase deficiency and how to adjust your diet to stay healthy.
How do I know if I have lactose intolerance?
These are several signs of lactose intolerance. How bad your product depends on how much dairy you have and how much tolerance you have.
- Upset stomach
If you get it about 30 minutes to 2 hours after drinking milk or consuming dairy products, you should talk to your doctor. Milk intolerance is one of the many things that can cause these symptoms.
Lactose intolerance just means that you don’t make enough of a specific enzyme that helps your body break down the sugar in milk. The sugar ends up in the colon instead of being absorbed into the bloodstream. And in the colon, it ferments and can cause these symptoms.
Millions of people suffer from lactose intolerance. It can be managed, but it cannot be cured.
Symptoms are common
Most of us experience gas, bloating, and nausea in our life. Frequently, it has nothing to do with lactose intolerance.
What causes lactose intolerance?
Lactose is a sugar molecule made up of smaller saccharin, glucose, and galactose. In order for lactose to be absorbed from the gut into the body, it must first be broken down into glucose and galactose. Then glucose and galactose are absorbed by the cells lining the small intestine. The enzyme that breaks down lactose into glucose and galactose is called lactase, and it is found on the surface of the cells lining the small intestine.
Lactose intolerance results from a lack of lactase activity or absence that prevents lactose from breaking down (lactase deficiency). Lactase lack may happen for one of three reasons, inborn, auxiliary, or formative.
Congenital causes of lactose intolerance
Lactase deficiency may be caused by an inborn (absent from birth) lactase due to a mutation in the gene responsible for producing lactase. This is a very rare cause of lactase deficiency, and symptoms of this type of lactase deficiency begin shortly after birth.
Secondary causes of lactose intolerance
Another reason for lactase inadequacy is optional lactase insufficiency. This type of deficiency is caused by diseases that destroy the lining of the small intestine with lactase. An example of this disease is celiac disease (SPR).
Genetically programmed causes of lactose intolerance
The most common cause of lactase deficiency is the low amount of lactase that occurs after childhood and continues into adulthood and is referred to as adult-type lactase deficiency. This decrease in lactase is genetically programmed. Lactase deficiency (and lactose intolerance) is more common among Asians, affecting more than 90% of adults in some societies. On the other hand, people of northern European ancestry had 5% lactase deficiency. In addition to the variation in the prevalence of lactase deficiency among ethnic groups, there is also variation in the age at which symptoms of lactase deficiency (and lactose intolerance) appear.
As people get older they may develop lactose intolerance. However, the extent of intolerance appears to be mild and not associated with clinical symptoms. Therefore, the development of lactose intolerance in the elderly should not be underestimated.
Lactose intolerance treatment
- The best treatment for someone with lactose intolerance is to avoid foods that contain lactose.
- Some people believe that it is normal not to drink milk, since humans are the only mammals that continue to eat dairy products after weaning. They argue that lactose intolerance is not a problem but rather a normal occurrence.
- People who do not consume dairy products may have an intolerance without knowing it and without this being a problem.
- However, if a person has an underlying condition, it is important to seek treatment for this condition.
- Avoiding lactose may require some trial and error, but food labels can help, as a product containing lactose must be labelled as containing “milk”.
- Our experts suggest following a lactose-free diet for two weeks and then re-introducing foods containing lactose to assess tolerance levels. They say people with an intolerance may be able to take 12 grams of lactose at a time without any effect.
Risk factors for lactose intolerance
Factors that can make you or your child more likely to develop lactose intolerance include:
- Old age: Lactose intolerance usually appears in adulthood. This condition is uncommon in infants and young children.
- Ethnic origin: Lactose intolerance is more common in people of African, Asian, Spanish, and Indian American ancestry.
- Premature birth: Babies born prematurely may have low levels of lactase because the small intestine does not produce the lactase-producing cells until the late third trimester.
- Diseases affecting the small intestine: Small digestive tract issues that can cause lactose intolerance to incorporate bacterial excess, celiac sickness, and Crohn’s infection.
- Certain cancer treatments: If you have had radiation therapy for cancer in your stomach or have had intestinal complications from chemotherapy, your risk of developing lactose intolerance increases.
How is lactose intolerance diagnosed?
Your health care provider will talk to you about your past health and family history. He or she will perform a physical examination. You may be asked not to have any milk or dairy products for a short time to see if your symptoms improve.
You may also undergo some tests to check for lactose intolerance. These may include:
- Lactose tolerance test: This test checks how the digestive system absorbs lactose. You will be asked not to eat or drink anything for around 8 hours before the test. This often means not eating after midnight. For the test, you will drink a liquid that contains lactose. Some blood samples will be taken over a period of two hours. These will check your blood sugar level (blood glucose). If your blood sugar levels are not rising, you may be lactose intolerant.
- Hydrogen breath test: You will drink a liquid that contains a lot of lactose. Your breath will be checked several times. High levels of hydrogen in your breath may mean that you are lactose intolerant.
- Stool acidity test: This test is utilized for babies and little youngsters. It checks how much corrosive is in the stool. If someone does not digest lactose, the stool will contain lactic acid, glucose, and other fatty acids.
Adjusting to a lactose-free diet and lifestyle
Symptoms will disappear if milk and dairy products are removed from the diet. Read food labels carefully to discover ingredients that may contain lactose. Aside from milk and cream, look for ingredients that are derived from milk, such as:
- Whey or whey protein concentrate
- Casein or caseinate
- Solids or dry milk powder
Many foods that you would not expect to contain milk may contain milk and lactose. Examples include:
- Salad stock
- Frozen waffles
- Lunchmeat is non-kosher
- Dry breakfast cereal
- Bread mixes
- Many instant soups
Milk and dairy products are often added to processed foods. Even some medications and non-dairy medications may contain dairy and lactose.
It cannot be prevented. Symptoms of lactase deficiency can be prevented by eating less dairy products.
Drinking low-fat or skim milk might also reduce symptoms. Try dairy milk alternatives like:
- Rice milk
Milk products are also available with lactose removal.