Lactose intolerance is a common stomach problem affecting many worldwide. It happens when the body doesn’t have enough lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose, the sugar in milk, and other dairy products. Lactose intolerance can cause anything from mild stomach pain to serious problems with digestion.
Even though lactose intolerance is not a life-threatening disease, it can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. Lactose intolerance is a problem, but there are ways to deal with it, such as avoiding dairy products or taking lactase tablets.
This article will provide an in-depth look at lactose intolerance, including its causes, symptoms, how it is diagnosed, and how it can be treated. Read on to learn more about dealing with lactose intolerance if you think you might have it or if eating dairy products hurts your stomach.
What is Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is when the body can’t fully digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and milk products. This happens because the small intestine doesn’t make enough lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose into simpler forms the body can use.
When lactose isn’t broken down properly, it stays in the digestive system and can cause uncomfortable symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea, and stomach pain. These signs can happen anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours after eating foods with lactose.
It’s important to remember that lactose intolerance is not the same as a reaction to milk. Lactose intolerance is a problem with the digestive system caused by not being able to break down lactose. A milk allergy is a reaction of the immune system to proteins in milk.
Diagnosis of Lactose Intolerance
Your doctor may suggest a lactose intolerance test if you have lactose intolerance signs. There are different lactose intolerance tests, such as:
- Lactose Tolerance Test
You will be asked to drink a liquid with lactose for this test. Then, your doctor will check your blood glucose levels to see how well your body can break down lactose.
- Hydrogen breath test
You will be asked to drink liquid with lactose in it for this test. Then, your doctor will check your breath regularly to see how much hydrogen gas is in it. This test measures how much hydrogen gas is made when bacteria in your large intestine process lactose that hasn’t been broken down.
- Stool Test
After consuming lactose-based food, your doctor will measure how acidic your stool is. Lactose that isn’t broken down in the large intestine can make the stool more acidic, which can be tested in a lab.
- Smart Blood test
In addition to traditional lactose intolerance tests, a newer option is available, the Smart Blood test. This test checks for specific biomarkers in the blood that are linked to lactose intolerance. You can do it at home.
The patient receives a test kit in the mail, collects a blood sample, and returns it to the lab in a pre-paid envelope. Within three days, the results are posted online, and patients get a 30-minute phone call with a trained nutritionist to help them improve their diet while taking lactose-containing foods out of it.
Causes of Lactose Intolerance
Lactose intolerance is usually caused by insufficient lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose in the small intestine. This can happen for several reasons, such as:
Lactose intolerance can be passed down through genes, meaning some people are more likely to get it than others.
As people age, they may be less able to make lactase. This means that lactose intolerance could happen to some people as they age.
- Medical conditions
Some medical diseases, like Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and chemotherapy, can hurt the small intestine’s lining. This makes less lactase, which is needed to digest lactose, and makes it hard to digest lactose.
Some medicines can stop lactase from being made, which can cause lactose intolerance as a side effect.
Babies born too early might not have enough cells that make lactase, which can make them unable to digest lactose.
Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance
Lactose intolerance usually shows up 30 minutes to two hours after eating or drinking something that has lactose in it. Some of these symptoms are:
- Bloating and abdominal pain
When there isn’t enough lactase enzyme in the gut, gut bacteria digest lactose, which can cause abdominal pain and bloating. Lactose that isn’t broken down moves through the gut and stomach, making gases and short-chain fatty acids that cause pain and bloating.
The intensity of the symptoms does not depend on how much lactose a person eats but rather on how sensitive they are to lactose. Some people get sick and throw up after eating dairy products. This is a sign of extreme lactose sensitivity, which means they should never eat dairy again.
Gas is one of the signs of being unable to digest lactose. Lactose that isn’t broken down in the small intestine is fermented by gut bacteria, which makes methane, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide. But this kind of gas usually smells good. The amount of gas made depends on several things, like how well bacteria in the gut break down lactose and how well the gas is absorbed in the stomach. The extent to which a person produces gas is variable and might be affected by lactose sensitivity.
Lactose intolerance can cause diarrhea because gut bacteria ferment lactose, making the body make more water. This makes stools come out more often and more easily. It is important to remember that diarrhea alone is insufficient to diagnose lactose intolerance because it can have other causes.
Constipation is another sign of lactose intolerance. When lactose isn’t broken down properly in the small intestine, gut bacteria in the colon can ferment it, making methane. This methane gas can slow down bowel movements, making some people feel like they can’t go to the toilet.
But it’s important to remember that constipation can have many different causes, and lactose intolerance shouldn’t be thought to be the only one without a proper diagnosis from a doctor.
- Other Symptoms
In addition to the usual digestive symptoms of lactose intolerance, there may be other signs you should talk to a doctor about. Some of these are tiredness, brain fog, eczema, headaches, mouth sores, stiff muscles or joint pain, and trouble urinating.
It’s important to remember that some of these symptoms are also linked to a milk allergy, and people can have both lactose sensitivity and a milk allergy. When you go to the doctor, it’s important to tell them if you have a rash, asthma, or eczema after eating milk products. This could be a sign of a milk allergy instead of lactose intolerance. By telling the doctor or nurse everything they need to know, you can help them make the best decision.
Treatment of Lactose Intolerance
Even though lactose intolerance can’t be cured, it can be managed by changing your food. In the past, people who couldn’t handle lactose were told to stay away from all dairy goods. But today, health experts say to try different dairy products to see which ones cause fewer symptoms so that you can still get essential nutrients like calcium and vitamin D.
Those with serious lactose intolerance may need to stop eating milk, ice cream, and other processed foods containing milk powder to avoid symptoms. Food labels can be helpful because anything with lactose must say on the sticker that it comes from “milk.”
Many lactose-intolerant people can handle up to 10 grams of lactose, like a glass of milk, without getting sick. Small amounts of lactose-containing foods throughout the day and with meals can help build tolerance.
Lactose in milk and other dairy products can be broken down with the help of lactase enzyme tablets. Before you start any supplement routine, talking to a doctor is essential.
It’s important to remember that kids who can’t handle lactose need to see a doctor. Dairy products are a major source of calcium, which is good for bone growth and health, and they also contain other important nutrients for their growth.
Different Alternatives To Dairy
Dairy products are essential to the diet because they provide important nutrients like calcium, protein, and vitamins A, B12, and D. Still if you don’t eat dairy, getting these nutrients from something else is essential. There are other natural ways to get these nutrients, some of which are listed below.
People who can’t digest lactose can get calcium from foods other than dairy, like leafy green veggies, nuts and seeds, fortified plant milk, and orange juice. You can also eat broccoli, kale, collard greens, almonds, chia seeds, and soy or almond milk with added vitamins and minerals.
- Vitamin A
People who are lactose intolerant can get vitamin A from fruits, veggies, and animal foods like liver and egg yolk. Carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, spinach, pumpkin, watermelon, apricot, papaya, and mango are good places to get vitamin A.
- Vitamin D
You can get vitamin D by spending more time in the sun, eating fatty fish, egg yolks, and fish liver oils, and looking for plant-based milk and breakfast foods that have been fortified. It’s important to know that getting enough vitamin D from food alone can be hard, and you may need supplements to meet your daily needs.
- Lactose-free milk
Lactose-free milk can be a good option to regular milk for people who can’t handle lactose. But you should check the label to ensure no lactose since some goods may still have small amounts. Vegetable-based kinds of milk, like soy or almond milk, are lactose-free but don’t have as much protein as cow’s milk.
Lactose intolerance is a common disease that can cause many symptoms, from mild discomfort to serious digestive problems. Even though lactose intolerance can’t be cured, people can manage their symptoms by changing their diet.
It’s important to ensure you get enough nutrients, especially calcium for strong bones, to support your health. People who can’t digest lactose can live a healthy and happy life by working with their doctor and making the necessary changes.