Millions of people all over the world suffer from lactose intolerance, wherein they are not able to digest lactose present in milk. Lactose sensitivity or being lactose intolerant is not deadly and the problem can be tackled.
Around 30 to 50 million Americans are affected by lactose intolerance. The condition is more common in certain races, such as Latin Americans and African Americans as well as Asians and East Europeans.
What is Lactose Intolerance and Dairy or Lactose Allergy
Lactose intolerance should not be confused with milk allergy. Milk or dairy allergy is a more serious condition and could even be life threatening. In this case, the person is allergic to the proteins present in milk and milk products and not the sugar or lactose content. They cannot intake any milk or milk derivatives. However, with lactose intolerance, you can drink little amount of milk and dairy products and it is certainly not life threatening.
What is Dairy Intolerance?
It’s a digestive issue in which the body is not able to digest this sugar present in milk as well as other dairy products. The person’s body does not produce enough of lactase enzyme, an enzyme present in the small intestine, and is not able to metabolize the lactose present in milk. Lactose is present in milk as well as other dairy products containing milk.
The undigested lactose moves to the colon and is not absorbed. The bacteria present in the colon interact with it and cause the typical symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Important: Not all dairy products cause discomfort. For instance, yogurt contains live cultures and this helps breaking down lactose helping in digestion. Fermented food also contains less lactose, as the probiotics eat the lactose sugar present in milk/dairy products.
Do You Have Lactose Intolerance?
What is lactose to begin with? It is a sugar present in milk and milk products. So how do you find out whether you have milk intolerance? What are the lactose intolerance symptoms? There are varying degrees of lactose intolerance, ranging from mild to extreme intolerance.
Here are some of the red alerts or signs of lactose intolerance symptoms in adults, felt half an hour to 2 hours after consuming milk or milk derivatives.
- Bloating or swelling of abdomen
- An upset stomach is one of the effects of lactose intolerance
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Abdomen cramps
- Headache or migraine
Tip: Remove milk and milk foods from your diet and see whether the symptoms still continue.
What Causes Lactose Intolerance?
Primary Intolerance: Genetic
It’s the more common type. Normally, your body produces a lot of lactase as an infant but it reduces when you start eating other foods replacing milk, normally by the age of 5. However, it could also reduce production as early as 2 years in case of African Americans. In primary intolerance, the lactase production stops abruptly after the infant stage, so digesting milk and milk products becomes difficult.
It is a genetic condition common to people of Asian as well as Hispanic and African origin.
Secondary Intolerance: Illness or Surgery
Can you develop lactose intolerance later on in life? This condition occurs after a surgery or an illness or injury connected with the small intestine. The intolerance could also be connected to some diseases like celiac or Crohn’s disease or overgrowth of bacteria in the intestine. If you treat this condition, the lactose levels could increase.
Developmental Intolerance: From infancy
This is rare but occurs in infants right from the time of birth. It can be passed on genetically and the person experiences the effect of lactose intolerance. Prematurely born infants show such type of low lactose levels.
A rare condition and a genetic disorder, with very little lactase being produced right from birth. The condition only occurs when both the parents pass on the gene and is a case of lactose intolerance in babies.
- Milk and dairy products. Check out the lactose intolerance foods to avoid list.
- Hidden sources like bread; baked goods; cereals; artificial sweeteners; processed meat; pancake mix; potato chips.
Tip: Keep a food diary and not down patterns of discomfort caused by eating a specific food in order to determine the food causing the problem.
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Tracking Your Food
If you want to pinpoint the symptoms and diagnose whether you have lactose intolerance or a milk allergy, start by tracking what you eat:
- Write down all that you eat and the time when the symptoms occur.
- After ten days, start checking for correlation.
- The reaction could occur anywhere between a few hours to even 72 hours.
- Check ingredients on packaged foods that you eat.
- After identifying food that could have caused the problem, stop eating them, especially the ones you are sure of, for the next two weeks.
- Always check out the list of ingredients if you consume packaged foods.
- Check ingredients on prepared breads; fruits; desserts; grains and so on to see that lactose has not been added.
- After two weeks, start adding the suspected food item one by one and see whether the symptoms return.
Tip: You may need to stay of booze and coffee to get an honest, clear reading.
Lactose Intolerance Treatment
With a proper lactose intolerance diet, you can eliminate the symptoms and effects of the condition and consume reasonable amounts of milk and dairy products without discomfort.
Diet for Lactose
Fermented Dairy products, preferably Organic (probiotic foods)
- Microbes present in fermented dairy products help to break digest lactose.
- Probiotic foods contain gut bacteria that can enhance the production of enzymes to help in digestion.
Tip: Add these to your diet but be sure to add the organic version of probiotic foods rich in probiotics.
- Contains less lactose and is more easily digested.
- Less undigested residue left behind in the colon.
- The offending protein causing milk allergies is also absent in goat milk.
- Contains casein curd, which is softer with smaller fat globules, making it easier to digest.
- They break down the lactose in milk/milk products and form galactose and glucose. This is the purest form and is more easily absorbed.
- The best lactase supplements boosts energy levels and reduces intestine infections.
- It is useful for older people. As we age, our body produces lesser amounts of enzymes needed for digestion of lactose.
- There are many other probiotic benefits.
- Include probiotics containing food like cereals; granola bars; soy milk; sour cream; infant formula and cottage cheese.
Tip: Start probiotic supplements gradually and then increase the dose. Consume probiotic food such as asparagus and artichoke as well as tomatoes, onions and bananas, as they help feed the probiotics and help in their multiplication.
Foods Rich in Calcium and Vitamin K
To make up for the deficiency of calcium arising out of intolerance to lactose in milk, consume more calcium rich foods. Lactose intolerance reduces Vitamin K levels in the body, with grass fed dairy being the major source of Vitamin K2.
- Lack of calcium can cause deterioration of bones, muscle and even heart health.
- Consider alternate sources of calcium like kale, tofu, collard greens and broccoli.
- Take foods rich in Vitamin K to funnel the calcium to the bones. For instance, Natto, organic egg yolks, green leafy veggies and Brussel sprouts.
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Swapping This for That
Think Coconut Oil
- Use coconut oil as a substitute for butter if you are lactose intolerant. It does have a distinctive flavor, but you can develop a taste for it.
Tip: Use raw, organic, unadulterated coconut oil. Another benefit is that you need lesser amounts for a recipe. For instance, if a recipe suggests 100 grams of butter, use only 75 grams of coconut oil. Just toss veggies in coconut oil instead of coating them completely.
- Use coconut oil in pastries, cakes, chocolate and in white sauce and toast spreads.
Use Ghee Instead of Butter
- All the milk proteins are removed from butter when it is transformed into Ghee. Those who have lactose intolerance or milk allergies can still eat ghee. It is free of lactose as well as casein. You can even try making ghee at home.
Many people who are lactose intolerant still continue to have milk and milk products and don’t give up milk derivatives completely.
Good health starts with the gut. The problem is that many people don’t go through proper medical testing for lactose intolerance and start avoiding all dairy products at the faintest sign of gastrointestinal symptoms. It is perfectly possible that they are suffering from some other disorder like SIBO or celiac disease.
But if you’re not able to manage the problem, take the following steps:
- Consult your doctor immediately, especially if you’re not getting sufficient calcium, and get a lactose intolerance test done.
- Take a break and keep away from milk and dairy products for a few weeks.
- Follow a diet for lactose intolerance, as your immune system as well as muscle strength could be affected by a deficiency of lactose in your body.
- There is no lactose intolerance cure, so just make the necessary changes to your diet and the symptoms will improve.
If you want to know more about how you can improve your daily health check out our health section.