What Is Lactose Intolerance And How It Will Affect Your Life
Are you wondering if you are lactose intolerant? If so, you’re not alone. Lactose intolerance is a common condition that affects more than 70 million Americans. The good news is that testing for and treating this condition is relatively easy.
You might have lactose intolerance if you’ve ever experienced stomach pain and bloating after eating dairy products. It can be a little confusing because it doesn’t always present in the same way. It can come with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, gas, and abdominal cramps. But other symptoms could mean you’re lactose intolerant—like fatigue, headaches, and trouble digesting other foods.
If you’re concerned about whether or not you’re lactose intolerant, pay attention to how your body reacts to dairy products like milk and cheese. If they give you some of the symptoms mentioned above (or others like fatigue), it’s probably worth talking to your doctor about it to rule out any other causes of your discomfort.
What Is Lactose Intolerance?
When lactose intolerant, your body doesn’t produce enough lactase enzyme to digest lactose, the sugar in dairy products. Without this enzyme, your body can’t properly break down the lactose, and it causes gas.
When you drink milk or eat foods that contain dairy products (like ice cream), your body can’t break down the lactose properly, so it goes through your system undigested.
Lactose Intolerance – Diagnosis
Lactose intolerance can be diagnosed with a breath test. If you have lactose intolerance, the breath test will show higher-than-normal levels of hydrogen and methane gases after drinking a liquid containing lactose.
In people with lactose intolerance, undigested lactose passes into the colon, where bacteria break it down and cause gas production. Because of this process, many people with lactose intolerance experience symptoms such as bloating, cramping, diarrhea, and nausea.
It’s important to know that not everyone who experiences these symptoms has lactose intolerance. For example, suppose you’re having loose stools or diarrhea from eating dairy products. Still, the breath test shows no detectable hydrogen or methane in your exhaled air sample after drinking a solution containing lactose. In that case, you may have irritable bowel syndrome instead of being intolerant to dairy products!
Some Facts About Lactose Intolerance
Lactose is the predominant carbohydrate found in breast milk. It is a disaccharide composed of one galactose sugar and one glucose sugar. The enzyme lactase hydrolyzes lactose into two simpler sugars. A person who is really lactose intolerant will lack the enzyme lactase and will be unable to break down lactose.
Lactose intolerance is relatively common in adults because many people stop producing the enzyme lactase by age 2 to 5. For example:
- 90% of Asian adults are lactose intolerant
- 50% of Hispanic adults are lactose intolerant
- 10% of White American adults are lactose intolerant
However, it is very, very rare that infants are lactose intolerant. If you are told that your baby is lactose intolerant, you should consult another doctor before abandoning breastfeeding. According to this article, food allergies in babies are often misdiagnosed as lactose intolerance.
If your baby is lactose intolerant and cannot metabolize lactose, baby formulas are a savior! There are soy-based formulas and lactose-free formulas. Be sure to ask your doctor which is best for your baby.
Types of Lactose Intolerance
You may wonder: “How do I know if I’m intolerant?” This can be tricky because there are many types of lactose intolerance! They are:
A) Primary lactose intolerance is an inherited disorder in which your body does not produce enough of the enzyme needed to digest milk sugar (lactose). In these cases, the person either cannot digest milk or only tolerate small amounts.
B) Secondary lactose intolerance—This type of lactose intolerance develops later in life, usually after age two. It occurs when a person has lost the ability to make enough of the enzyme because something else has gone wrong with their digestive system, such as cancer treatment or surgery for ulcers or Crohn’s disease. The most common cause is chronic diarrhea from another illness or condition that damages the stomach lining, so it cannot make enough lactase enzyme anymore (such as celiac disease). It can also happen because too many antibiotics were taken during childhood—even if prescribed for other infections!
C) Congenital lactose intolerance—This type of lactose intolerance is present from birth and affects 1 in 20 people worldwide. It is caused by a genetic mutation that stops the production of lactase enzyme in infants before they are weaned off breast milk. The mutation is most common in African, Asian, and Jewish populations.
D) Conditions that cause temporary lactose intolerance: Some conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or celiac disease may cause temporary loss of lactase enzyme production that goes away once treatment begins for those conditions. Lactase deficiency means that your body had enough of this enzyme as a child but stopped producing it as you grew older.
Another pertinent metabolic deficiency is galactosemia. A person with galactosemia cannot break down galactose (one of the sugar units in lactose). Typically, galactose is converted to another molecule of glucose. The two glucose levels are carbon dioxide, water, and energy. The conversion of galactose to glucose requires three enzymes. Defects in any of the three enzymes will result in one of the three types of galactosemia. Galactosemia occurs about 1 per 47,000 births (or 1 per 85,000 births in the USA).