Symptoms of lactose intolerance often start from about 30 minutes to two hours after eating or drinking foods which contain lactose.
People who suffer from lactose intolerance are usually unable to digest the sugar (lactose) in milk fully. And as a result, they have usually had diarrhea, gas and bloating after eating or drinking dairy products.
This condition is also called lactose malabsorption, and is usually harmless, but its symptoms can be very uncomfortable.
What is lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, the sugar (lactose) primarily found in milk and dairy products. This is caused by a shortage of the enzyme lactase in the body, which is an enzyme that is produced by the small intestine which is needed to digest lactose. While lactose intolerance is not dangerous to the body, the presenting symptoms can be distressing.
Some people have low levels of lactase but are still able to digest milk products without problems. If you’re lactose intolerant, your lactase deficiency would lead to symptoms after you’ve had dairy foods.
Most people suffering from lactose intolerance can also manage the condition without having to give up all dairy foods.
Causes Of Lactose Intolerance
Lactose intolerance occurs when your small intestine is unable to produce enough lactase, which is an enzyme that digests lactose (Milk sugar).
In a normal case, the enzyme lactase turns milk sugar into two simple sugars which are glucose and galactose. These simple sugars are then absorbed into the bloodstream through the intestinal lining.
If you are lactase deficient, the lactose in your food moves into the colon instead of being processed and absorbed. While in the colon, they are interactions between normal bacteria with the undigested lactose, which causes the signs and symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Types Of Lactose Intolerance
There are three main types of lactose intolerance. Different factors can also cause the lactase deficiency underlying each type.
Primary Lactose Intolerance
This is the most common form of lactose intolerance. People with primary lactose intolerance start their life producing plenty of lactase, which is a necessity for infants, who get all their nutrition from milk.
When children replace milk with other foods, their lactase production decreases which is normal, but remains high enough so as to be able to digest the amount of lactose in a typical adult diet.
In primary lactose intolerance, the lactase production falls off sharply, which makes milk products difficult to digest by adulthood. Primary lactose intolerance is also genetically determined and occurs in a large proportion of people with African, Asian or Hispanic ancestry.
Secondary Lactose Intolerance
This type of lactose intolerance occurs when your small intestine decreases its production of lactase after an illness, injury or surgery which involves your small intestine. The diseases associated with secondary lactose intolerance include celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and bacterial overgrowth. Treatment of this underlying disorder may restore lactase levels and also improve signs and symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Congenital Or Developmental Lactose Intolerance
It happens, but also rare, for babies to be born with lactose intolerance that is caused by a complete absence of lactase activity. This disorder can be hereditary, and is passed from generation to generation in a pattern of inheritance called autosomal recessive. This means that both father and mother and must pass on the same gene variant for a child to be affected. Premature infants may also suffer from lactose intolerance because of insufficiency of the enzyme lactase.
Symptoms Of Lactose Intolerance
Symptoms of lactose intolerance often begin 30 minutes to 2 hours after eating or drinking foods that contain lactose.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance occur when there isn’t enough lactase being produced by the body to digest the lactose that is consumed.
The severity of symptoms varies in people and depends on the amount of lactose an individual can tolerate.
Some people may even be sensitive to extremely small amounts of lactose-containing foods while others can eat very large amounts before they notice any symptoms.
Age and digestion rate may also influence how much lactose an individual tolerates.
Some common signs and symptoms of lactose intolerance include:
- Abdominal cramps
When To See A Doctor
You should make an appointment with your doctor if you frequently experience symptoms of lactose intolerance after eating dairy foods, particularly when worried about getting enough calcium.
Foods High In Lactose
The following are high-lactose foods, and include:
- Milk-based beverages
- Whipping cream
- Coffee creamer
- Ice cream
- Ice milk
- Cream soups
- Cream sauces
- Foods that are made with milk
Other foods that may also have lactose in smaller quantities include:
- Bread and baked goods
- Milk chocolate
- Salad dressings and sauces
- Breakfast cereals
- Cereal bars
- Candies and other snacks
- Mixes for pancakes
- Sugar beets, peas, lima beans
Depending on how severe your symptoms of lactose intolerance are, you may need to avoid or limit foods that contain these ingredients.
Lactose is also present in about 20% of some prescription medications, such as the birth control pills (oral contraceptives), and about 6% of over-the-counter medications, such as some tablets for stomach acid and gas. Viactiv® calcium chews also contain lactose and should be avoided if you’re following a lactose-free diet.
Risk Factors Of Lactose Intolerance
Factors that can make you more prone to lactose intolerance include:
- Increasing age.Lactose intolerance often appears in adulthood. The condition is mostly uncommon in babies and young children.
- Ethnicity. Lactose intolerance is most common in people of African, Asian, Hispanic and American Indian descent.
- Premature birth.Infants who are born prematurely may have reduced levels of lactase as a result of the small intestine not developing lactase-producing cells which are until late in the third trimester.
- Diseases that affects the small intestine.Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and bacterial overgrowth are some of the problems of the small intestine that can cause lactose intolerance.
- Certain cancer treatments.You have an increased risk of lactose intolerance if you have received radiation therapy for cancer in your abdomen or have intestinal complications from chemotherapy.
Treatments For Lactose Intolerance
There is currently no way to boost your body’s production of lactase, but you can avoid the discomfort of lactose intolerance by the following ways:
- By avoiding large servings of milk and other dairy products
- By adding small servings of dairy products in your regular meals
- By eating and drinking lactose-reduced milk and ice cream
- By drinking regular milk after adding a liquid or powder to it to break down the lactose