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Lactose Intolerance: Symptoms, Causes And Treatments

Dr. SatabdiNov 10, 2022

Do you suffer stomach pain and indigestion after having milk and milk products? Well, you might be lactose intolerant! A lactose-intolerant person suffers from digestive symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea, and gas after consuming lactose-containing food items or drinks. This is known as Lactose Intolerance. Learn about Lactose Intolerance, its symptoms, causes, and ways to manage it.

Lactose Intolerance

Contents

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What is lactose?

Lactose is a sugar found in milk, whereas lactase is an enzyme that our bodies produce and use to break down sugar so that it may be absorbed. A lack of lactase causes Lactose Intolerance. Some people can digest milk products even if they have low lactase levels. Lactose intolerant persons have symptoms after consuming dairy due to decreased lactase levels.

What are the symptoms of Lactose Intolerance?

Here are some symptoms in case you are intolerant to lactose.

  • Bloating, diarrhoea, gas, vomiting tendency, and stomach discomfort are all common symptoms of Lactose Intolerance.

  • Lactose is mainly present in milk and milk-containing products, which serve as the primary source of calcium to us. If you cannot take your daily dose of milk, your diet might lack enough minerals. This can lead to general weakness, bone pain, and low bone density. In the long run, you may suffer from frequent bone fractures.

What causes Lactose Intolerance?

Here are four varieties of Lactose Intolerance. 

  • Primary Lactose Intolerance: The most prevalent kind is Primary Lactose Intolerance. Lactase production in our bodies typically ceases at the age of five. Dairy products become more challenging to digest as lactase levels fall.

  • Secondary Lactose Intolerance develops due to an injury, sickness, or surgery. Any of these can cause your small intestine to produce less lactase. Celiac and Crohn's disease are two of the most frequent intestinal disorders associated with decreased lactase levels.

  • Developmental Lactose Intolerance: Premature newborns experience developmental Lactose Intolerance. It usually fades away on its own within a short time following birth.

  • Congenital Lactose Intolerance: Congenital Lactose Intolerance is extremely rare and occurs when the small intestine does not produce lactase (or only makes a tiny quantity of it) from birth. It's a hereditary condition that requires both parents to transmit the gene to their child.

How to diagnose Lactose Intolerance

Lactose Intolerance is a widespread condition among adults. Most individuals worldwide cannot digest milk; studies reveal that 40% of people stop making enough lactase to digest milk as early as 2 to 5 years.

Your doctor may instruct you to keep a food diary, to note when you experience symptoms, and to stop eating an offending item to see whether your symptoms improve. Your doctor may order more tests to confirm the diagnosis, such as the following.

1. The hydrogen breath test: Normally, people's breath contains relatively little hydrogen. However, if your body does not digest lactose, hydrogen accumulates in your intestines and eventually appears in your breath. This test determines how much hydrogen is in your breath after drinking a lactose-containing beverage multiple times in a few hours.

2. Lactose tolerance test: When your body breaks down lactose, it releases sugar into your blood. After you fast, a small sample of blood is taken. Another one is taken after taking a high-lactose drink. Those who are Lactose Intolerant will show a low rise in blood sugar.

How to manage Lactose Intolerance

Here are some simple ways to manage Lactose Intolerance.

  • There is no known cure for this yet. But by managing the consumption of lactose-containing products, you can avoid this acute condition.

  • Consider consulting your doctor or a nutritionist about altering your diet to help control Lactose Intolerance symptoms and ensure adequate nutritional intake. Though most persons with Lactose Intolerance can consume some amount of lactose without experiencing symptoms, some may need to limit the quantity of lactose they consume. 

  • Lactose is more straightforward for your body to digest when combined with other meals. So, consider eating tiny amounts of milk or dairy items with meals.

  • There are several lactose-free dairy products available now. You can opt for these to avoid the symptoms.

  • You can take lactase supplements to break down the milk sugars. Expert advice before starting with supplements is a must.

Can I get enough calcium and vitamin D despite being lactose intolerant?

Yes, you can! Even if you give up on milk entirely, you can do with good substitutes to get your daily dose of calcium and vitamins. You can try out the following milk substitutes.

  • Soy milk (It’s high in protein, potassium, and antioxidants)

  • Lactose-free milk (It’s high in calcium, protein, and Vitamins like A, B, and K) 

  • Almond milk

  • Coconut milk

Frequently Asked Questions

Here is a list of frequently asked questions on Lactose Intolerance.

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What is Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose Intolerance is caused by lactose malabsorption, a disease in which your small intestine produces insufficient lactase and is unable to digest all of the lactose you consume.

How to diagnose Lactose Intolerance?

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, family and medical history, and dietary habits to determine Lactose Intolerance. A physical exam and tests may be performed by your doctor to help identify Lactose Intolerance or to rule out other health issues.

Is Lactose Intolerance manageable?

Lactose Intolerance symptoms can be managed by altering your diet to restrict or avoid foods containing lactose. Some people may merely need to reduce their lactose intake, while others may need to eliminate it entirely. 

What milk substitutes can I take if I am lactose intolerant?

You can try out soy milk, lactose-free milk, almond milk, and coconut milk.

References

  1. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/lactose-intolerance

  2. National Health Service (U.K.) Choices: “Lactose Intolerance.”

  3. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: “What are the symptoms of Lactose Intolerance?”

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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