So What is Lactose Intolerance?

By DeDe Hausmann

If a person is deemed lactose intolerant by medical testing, it means that he/she can’t digest lactose (a sugar found in milk and milk products).  It’s a deficiency of the enzyme LACTASE which is produced by the cells lining one’s small intestine.  LACTASE’s job is to break down lactose into two simple sugars, glucose and galactose, which then can be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Two Types

Lactose intolerance (primary lactase deficiency) develops over time and usually begins after 2 years of age, when bodies produce less lactase.  Most don’t even know they have this until late childhood or even into adulthood.

Secondary lactase deficiency happens when one has an injury to the small intestine which can result in severe cases of diarrhea, Celiac disease, or Crohn’s disease. Chemotherapy can also cause this problem. It’s common in infancy but can occur at any age.

Those with lactose intolerance are usually uncomfortable from 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming milk products.   Symptoms include: abdominal pain and/or bloating, gas, diarrhea and nausea.

A medical history and a physical exam are necessary for one to know if he/she has lactose intolerance.

Two tests have proven to be great predictors of lactose intolerance: Hydrogen Breath Test and Stool Activity Test.

In a Hydrogen Breath Test a patient drinks a lactose-laden drink and then his/her breath is measured over a specific time period to measure hydrogenUndigested lactose produces high levels of hydrogen. NOTE: smoking, some foods and meds can affect the accuracy of the results.

A Stool Acidity Test is used for little ones.  Undigested lactose creates lactic acid and other fatty acids which can be found in stool samples. It’s good to know that kids under 2 years of age rarely are lactose intolerant so health professionals need to be consulted if there seems to be a problem.

So what can be done if one is lactose intolerant?

Dietary changes are needed such as introducing milk/milk products in SMALL amounts and by consuming them with meals.  Some health professionals recommend milk products with lower levels of lactose, such as yogurt and hard cheeses. There are many lactose-free and reduced lactose milk products readily available in the market place now. And there’s always lactase enzyme drops or tablets that can be added to milk products to make them more tolerable for lactose intolerant people.

Don’t Jump to Conclusions

If you think you are lactose intolerant, consult your family doc and get tested.  You may have other medical issues that produce similar symptoms. Don’t deprive your body of 9 essential nutrients that are found in milk and milk products until you know if you are lactose intolerant or not. And if you are proven to be lactose intolerant, there are great dairy products available now that are lactose-free so there is no need to give up on dairy.

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