What is lactose intolerance?

What is lactose intolerance?

For many the bloat and stomach pain after drinking animal milk or dairy can be unbearable due to a lactose intolerance. The severeness of the symptoms will vary from person to person and can develop at any age, although generally cases develop in people aged 20 to 40. In the following article we cover some commonly asked questions about lactose intolerance.

What is lactose?

Lactose is a type of sugar commonly found in animal milk and dairy products.

What is lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is caused by insufficient lactase in the body. Lactase is an enzyme required to digest lactose and break it down into sugars (glucose and galactose) which can easily be absorbed into the bloodstream.

The unavailability can be genetic or a result of some digestive diseases (eg chromes and celiac diseases), stomach or intestinal infections and injuries to the small intestine.

What are the symptoms of a lactose intolerance?

Symptoms may vary from person to person but generally they will include bloating, stomach irritation, nausea and diarrhoea 30 mins to 2 hours after consuming. The severity will change from person to person and be dependent on how much lactose has been consumed.

It is quite common for a someone to mis-diagnose a lactose intolerance for other conditions such as Irritable Bowl Syndrome, so it is suggested that you seek medical advice for diagnosis.

How can you treat a lactose intolerance?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for a lactose intolerance. However, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate the severity by cutting down the products which include lactose. Common foods which contain lactose include:

  • Made by milks
  • Cheese
  • Butter
  • Whey
  • Curds

In addition, some less known items which contain lactose include the contraceptive pill and a number of tablets for stomach acid and gas. To reduce the risk of consuming lactose alternatives, include plant-based milks and soy yogurts and cheeses in your diet as alternatives.

Challenges with lactose intolerance?

Milk and other dairy products contain calcium, protein and vitamins such as A, B12, and D. Lactose also helps the body absorb a number of other minerals such as magnesium and zinc which are important for the development of strong, healthy bones. Therefore, such foods are part of an existing diet it is important to assess if you will be deficient when they are removed and potentially adjust your diet accordingly to combat this. Fortunately, it is possible to combat any deficiency through diet and supplementation. 

How to test for Lactose intolerance?

The most common test for the diagnosis of lactase deficiency is the hydrogen breath test. This will g involve the collection of a breath sample after blowing up a balloon like bag, then giving the patient a drink containing lactose, with breath samples collected every 15 to 20 mins. The samples are then reviewed to detect an increase in hydrogen with increased hydrogen signalling an issue with digestion.

As we have described a lactose intolerance can be both uncomfortable and painful.  However, with plant based options in abundance, the availability of supplements to counter deficiencies and more robust testing it is possible to mitigate the impact and likelihood of the symptoms.

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