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 it’s relatively easy to test for and treat this condition.
If you’ve ever experienced stomach pain and bloating after eating dairy products, you might have lactose intolerance. 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 there are also other symptoms that 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 for your discomfort.
What Is Lactose Intolerance?
When you’re lactose intolerant, your body doesn’t produce enough of the enzyme lactase to digest lactose, which is the sugar found in dairy products. Without this enzyme, your body isn’t able to 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, if you’re having loose stools or diarrhea from eating dairy products, but the breath test shows no detectable hydrogen or methane in your exhaled air sample after drinking a solution containing lactose—you may have irritable bowel syndrome instead of being intolerant to dairy products!
Lactose Intolerance facts
Lactose is the predominant carbohydrate found in breast milk. It is a dissacharide composed of one galactose sugar and one glucose sugar. The enzyme lactase hydrolyzes lactose into the two simpler sugars. A person who is truly lactose intolerant will lack the enzyme lactase and they will not be able 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 Hispanics adults are lactose intolerant
- 10% of White American adults are lactose intolerant
However, it is very very rare that infants are lactose intolerance. If you are told that your baby is lactose intolerant, then you should consult another doctor before you abandon breastfeeding. According to this article, food allergies in babies are often mis-diagnose as lactose intolerance.
If your baby is lactose intolerance, and cannot metabolize lactose, then 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 be wondering: “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—This 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 any milk at all or can only tolerate small amounts of milk.
B) Secondary lactose intolerance—This type of lactose intolerance develops later in life, usually after the age of 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 there were too many antibiotics taken during childhood—even if those antibiotics were 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: This means that your body had enough of this enzyme as a child, but then stopped producing it as you grew older.
Another pertinent metabolic deficiency is galactosemia.. A person with galactosemia cannot break down galactose (which is one of the sugar units in lactose). Normally, galactose is converted to another molecule of glucose. the two glucoses are then further broken down to carbon dioxide, water, and energy. The conversion of galactose to glucose requires 3 enzymes. Defects in any one of the 3 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 USA).