Symptoms & Treatment for Lactose Intolerance
What is lactose intolerance?
An extremely common food allergy across the world, lactose intolerance refers to a difficulty digesting food or drinks that contain lactose/dairy products. Some people who suffer from lactose intolerance can undergo testing and learn more about what they can and cannot eat in order to avoid discomfort. For instance, some who suffer from a dairy intolerance can handle eating small amounts of dairy or certain dairy products, but generally feel ill when consuming too much dairy or drinking/eating certain products.
What is the difference between lactose and lactase?
Lactose is the key sugar found in milk, which can be hard to digest for some. Not to be confused with lactose, lactase is an important enzyme produced by your small intestine. Lactase has the primary function of breaking down lactose that you consume. When lactase is only present in low levels, your stomach has a hard time breaking down large amounts of dairy. The result of this is stomach aches and other uncomfortable symptoms that are usually not dangerous but are nonetheless a pain–literally.
What causes lactose intolerance?
There are many known causes of lactose intolerance, including:
- Certain digestive diseases
- Injuries to the small intestine
- Congenital abnormalities
In addition to these known causes, sometimes a person will slowly develop an intolerance over time. In these cases, the body creates less lactase as the person ages, seemingly for no reason.
What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance?
The most common symptoms of lactose intolerance or lactase deficiency occur about thirty minutes after eating a dairy product but can onset up to two hours later in some cases. These symptoms most commonly include:
- Stomach ache
Depending on the severity of your dairy intolerance, your symptoms may vary.
Which diagnostic tests can be used to detect lactose intolerance?
There are various methods used to diagnose a dairy intolerance, including:
- Lactose intolerance test
- Hydrogen breath test (measures hydrogen levels in your breath, leftover from undigested lactose)
- Stool acidity test
- Clinical response to lactose restriction
How can I avoid discomfort after eating dairy products?
For those who are lactose intolerant, determining how to avoid stomach pain and other uncomfortable symptoms associated with lactose intolerance is of high concern. Some may choose to avoid dairy products altogether while others choose to consume smaller portions to control their symptoms.
In other cases, people might use medications (such as Lactaid ®) to help aid in their digestion of dairy products.
Additionally, there are numerous lactose-free grocery products that you can buy in place of traditional milk products in an attempt to avoid the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Will I miss out on important nutrients if I don’t drink milk?
No. Even when children or older women (prone to osteoporosis) can get the needed amounts of calcium and other necessary nutrients from non-dairy sources. The following foods are high in nutritional value for those who cannot eat dairy products:
- Flax seeds
In some cases, your doctor might also recommend taking calcium supplements to help balance your nutritional intake.