What is lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance means the body cannot easily digest lactose, a type of natural sugar found in milk and dairy products.
When lactose moves through the colon (large instestine) without being properly digested, it can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as gas, belly pain, and bloating. Some people with lactose intolerance cannot digest any milk products, while others can eat or drink small amounts of milk products or certain types of milk products without problems. Lactose intolerance is common in adults.
What causes lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance occurs when the small intestine does not make enough of an enzyme called lactase. The body needs lactase to break down, or digest, lactose. Lactose intolerance most commonly runs in families, and symptoms usually develop during the teen or adult years.
Most people with this type of lactose intolerance can eat some milk or dairy products without problems. Sometimes the small intestine stops making lactase after a short-term illness such as the stomach flu, or as part of a lifelong disease such as cystic fibrosis. In these cases, the problem can be either permanent or temporary.
In rare cases, newborns are lactose-intolerant. A person born with lactose intolerance cannot eat or drink anything with lactose. Some premature babies have temporary lactose intolerance because they are not yet able to make lactase. After a baby begins to make lactase, the condition generally goes away.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of lactose intolerance can be mild to severe, depending on how much lactase the body makes. Symptoms usually begin 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming milk products. The symptoms may include:
- Pain or cramps.
- Gurgling or rumbling sounds in your belly.
- Loose stools or diarrhoea.
- Throwing up.
What is the treatment?
There is no cure for lactose intolerance, but the symptoms can be treated by limiting or avoiding milk products. Some people use milk with reduced lactose, or they substitute soy milk and soy cheese for milk and milk products. Some people who are lactose-intolerant can eat yoghurt without problems. One can take dietary supplements called lactase products that help digest lactose. In time, most people with lactose intolerance get to know their bodies well enough to avoid symptoms.
One of the biggest concerns for people who are lactose-intolerant is making sure they get enough of the nutrients found in milk products, especially calcium. Calcium is most important for children, teens, pregnant women, and women after menopause. There are many non-dairy foods that contain calcium like broccoli, sardines, tuna, and salmon, calcium-fortified juices, cereals and almonds.