Lactose intolerance is a common digestive problem which arises when a person’s body shows an inability to fully digest milk sugar or lactose. In this condition, a person may love dairy products a lot but his/her body shows unwillingness towards intake of dairy products.
The condition may bring you discomfort or embarrassment, but isn’t harmful to life. It is important to consider that being lactose intolerant is not the same as being allergic to milk.
What is Lactose?
The questions that might be hitting on your mind are what is lactose? How do we define it? Lactose word comes from two words, Lac meaning milk and ose meaning sugar. Lactose is basically a disaccharide, a sugar present in milk. It is a sugar which is composed of galactose and glucose. Lactose contributes from 2 to 8 % of whole milk.
Which foods have Lactose in them?
Lactose can be mainly found in dairy products like milk & ice-creams. Few more products that contain lactose in them are,
- A solid form of milk
- Dry milk powder with zero fat
- Whey, an extract of milk
- Sweet Candies
- Tablets for stomach gas
- Birth control pills
Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance:
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Though lactose intolerance is not very harmful, its symptoms can create discomforts for you. As you intake lactose with any of the food or dairy products, after 20 minutes to few hours you may notice its symptoms which are-
- Nausea, which sometimes extends to vomiting
- Cramps in abdominal regions
- Bloating in stomach
As these symptoms are quite common in almost every disease related to stomach, you must know if you are lactose intolerant or any other disease is affecting you. To confirm lactose intolerance, you can go for either Hydrogen Breath Test or Stool Acidity Test once you start experiencing the above-mentioned symptoms.
When to consult a Doctor
Lactose intolerance is harmless and most of the times you need not do anything to treat it. There might be few products having lactose in them that would not cause any problem for you. But you should consult your doctor once the symptoms become harsh on you, especially if you are a person who requires a lot of calcium.
Causes of Lactose Intolerance:
Our bodies have an enzyme called Lactase which is produced by the small intestine and helps in absorbing milk sugar. You would stop digesting the sugar found in milk (lactose) if your small intestine would stop producing Lactase.
What Lactase does is, it breaks milk sugar into two simpler sugars, galactose, and glucose which are easily digestible. But in some cases, where lactose is not broken into parts, it gets into the colon, where it further mixes with normal bacteria and later ferments. It can further cause things like gas, bloating and diarrhea.
For few people it starts with age, as they get older their small intestine will start producing lesser lactase which will eventually make them lactose intolerant.
In case of Crohn’s or Celiac disease, one’s small intestine may produce lesser lactase making them lactose intolerant.
There are few more factors you may want to look into-
- Lactose intolerance is very common and if you are living in Africa or Asia you are most likely to have it. Since the maximum number of cases has been found in these regions. 95% parts of Asia and Africa have cases of Lactose intolerance.
- Various diseases which affect small intestine can be one of the major reasons for lactose intolerance.
- Another factor which can affect lactase production is a premature birth. A baby for prematurely might not have developed the capacity of the small intestine to produce enough lactase.
- It can also be transferred genetically but chances are rare. Only if the male and female parent transfers the same gene to their child.
- Some cancer treatment which involves your abdominal region to undergo a radiation treatment is also a reason for lesser lactase production.
Types of Lactose Intolerance:
There are basically three types of lactose intolerance and they are-
1. Primary Lactose Intolerance
It is also known as Primary hypolactasia. It is genetic and usually affects adults only. Lactase production falls in patients under this category leading to lactose intolerance in the adulthood.
2. Secondary Lactose Intolerance
Another name for this is Acquired hypolactasia. It happens when your small intestine is injured, leading to lesser lactase production. It can occur both in adults and infants.
3. Congenital Lactose Intolerance
It is found very rarely and people under this category are unable to digest lactose from the birth and they cannot even digest breast milk. It is genetic and happens due to the absence of Lactase completely.
What to do..??
Lactose intolerance is quite easy to manage and most of the time self-diagnosable. It can’t be cured and may last for years and even lifetime. You can only reduce the symptoms to make you feel better. There could be various dairy products that might not harm you, what you need to do is pick up every product one by one and then figure out which is causing trouble for you.
There are many products at the store which are totally lactose-free and you can go for them. For fulfilling macronutrients requirements that are found in dairy products you can shift to soybeans, brown rice, veggies, and fruits. For other needs, you can choose from supplements like for calcium and vitamin D.
- Try consuming dairy products with other food options. It will lessen the effect of lactose on your body.
- There could be various dairy products that might not harm you like cheese, yogurt. Include these and you won’t miss the benefits of dairy products as well.
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Article Credits: Hafsa Zamindar | Mumbai | India