What is lactose intolerance, and what are the symptoms
Lactose intolerance is a condition in which people have difficulty digesting lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products. Lactose intolerance is caused by a lack of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to break down lactose. Lactose intolerance is not the same as a milk allergy. People with a milk allergy are allergic to the proteins in milk, not the lactose. Symptoms of lactose intolerance may include bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. These symptoms usually start 30 minutes to 2 hours after eating or drinking milk or other dairy products. Lactose intolerance can be treated by avoiding foods that contain lactose or by taking supplements that contain the enzyme lactase. People with severe symptoms may need to take prescription medications.
How to diagnose lactose intolerance
People with lactose intolerance experience abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea after consuming dairy products. Lactose intolerance is caused by a lack of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose into simpler sugars that can be absorbed into the bloodstream. Lactase production typically decreases after childhood, but some people continue to produce high levels of lactase into adulthood. Lactose intolerance is more common in people of East Asian, African, Middle Eastern, and South American descent than in people of European descent. Diagnosing lactose intolerance can be difficult because its symptoms are similar to those of other digestive disorders, such as celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome. A comprehensive medical history, physical exam, and laboratory tests can help rule out other conditions and confirm a diagnosis of lactose intolerance. Treatment for lactose intolerance typically involves avoiding foods that contain lactose or taking supplements that contain the enzyme lactase before consuming dairy products. Lactose-intolerant people can usually tolerate small amounts of lactose-containing foods without experiencing symptoms. Some people with lactose intolerance may be able to drink Lactaid milk or eat yogurt or cheese, which contain lower levels of lactose than other dairy products. Lactaid milk is available without a prescription at most grocery stores.
Treatment options for lactose intolerance
Lactose intolerance can cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea. People with lactose intolerance are unable to produce enough of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose. Lactase production typically declines after weaning. Some people with lactose intolerance can tolerate small amounts of milk or other dairy products. Others can’t tolerate any dairy at all. There are several treatment options for lactose intolerance. People with lactose intolerance can take Lactaid pills or drops, which contain the enzyme lactase. Lactase supplements can be taken before consuming dairy foods to help prevent symptoms. Dairy products that have been treated with enzymes to break down the lactose, such as Lactaid milk, are also available. People with lactose intolerance can also try reducing their intake of dairy foods or eating them in combination with other foods to make them more tolerable. Some people find that they can eat yogurt and hard cheeses without problems because the fermentation process reduces the amount of lactose in these products. Ultimately, each person with lactose intolerance will need to experiment to find the diet that works best for them.
Foods to avoid if you have lactose intolerance
Dairy products are the primary source of lactose in the diet. Milk, cheese, and ice cream are all high in lactose and should be avoided if you have lactose intolerance. Some people with lactose intolerance can tolerate small amounts of dairy, while others must completely eliminate it from their diet. If you’re not sure how your body will react to dairy, it’s best to avoid it altogether. Other food sources of lactose include processed foods and baked goods that contain milk or whey. Be sure to read labels carefully to avoid these foods if you have lactose intolerance. With a little careful planning, you can easily manage your lactose intolerance and enjoy a variety of delicious and nutritious foods.