Am I Lactose Intolerant?
What Does It Mean to Be Lactose Intolerant?
Lactose intolerance is a condition caused by a deficiency of the intestinal enzyme lactase. This enzyme is responsible for helping your body to safely and efficiently digest food products that contain lactose. Lactose, in turn, is a natural sugar that’s present in high concentrations in milk.
If you are lactose intolerant, it means your body is not equipped to process lactose the way other people do. Lactase deficiency is generally understood to be a genetic condition, since lactase production is controlled by the LCT gene. Most people who experience lactose intolerance know about it early in life. However, it is also possible for an adult to develop the condition. This is because the LCT gene can become less active over time and lactase production may decline.
There is no cure for lactose intolerance, and it does not typically go away. That said, there are many ways for lactose intolerance people to lead rich and full lives which may, in some cases, include limited consumption of some dairy products.
Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance
Although people can be sensitive to a variety of foods, the symptoms of lactose intolerance are very easy to spot. Lactose intolerant individuals suffer from one or more symptoms anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours after eating products that contain milk. Lactose intolerance symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain and bloating, which may include cramps;
- Gurgling or rumbling sounds emanating from the stomach;
- Flatulence (“gas”) which can be accompanied by diarrhea;
- Nausea, which may or may not include vomiting.
These symptoms can persist for several hours after the food is consumed.
Occasionally, patients mistake lactose intolerance for a milk allergy. A milk allergy can create many of the symptoms above, but also frequently causes hives and wheezing. This characteristic reaction is caused by immune response and may mean you are allergic to milk proteins.
Lactose Intolerance Tests
Lactose intolerance tests can be interpreted by your doctor to provide a definitive diagnosis of your lactose intolerance. There are two simple tests that may work: A hydrogen breath test or a blood sugar test.
A hydrogen breath test measures the amount of hydrogen present when a person exhales. In the human body, only the anaerobic bacteria dwelling in the colon can produce hydrogen. Un-absorbed food thus results in a hydrogen release that’s measurable after drinking anything with lactose.
A blood sugar test relies on a small blood sample after consuming lactose. Blood sugar rises after you eat: If your blood sugar does not change after consuming lactose, it suggests your body is not absorbing it.
Several other tests, including genetic tests, may also be used.
Diet Changes and Tips to Help with Lactose Intolerance
- Find Dairy Substitutes: People with lactose intolerance usually cease consuming any lactose product. There are many beneficial and tasty alternatives: For example, soy and almond milk are delicious in coffee. Dairy-free deserts are available, including ice cream.
- Supplement Your Diet: Dairy products are high in Vitamin A, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin D. If you will no longer be eating dairy, it’s important to diversify your diet. Carrots, spinach, berries, eggs, and other foods are rich sources of Vitamin A. Meat, fish, and shellfish help with Vitamin B12.
- Try Out Over-the-Counter Solutions: Over-the-counter supplements can introduce lactase into your body, which may let you digest a wide range of dairy products more comfortably. When getting used to these, follow the directions carefully. Eat only a small amount of dairy to test its effects. OTC medications should only be used occasionally.