Those diagnosed with lactose intolerance cannot digest the sugar (i.e. lactose) in milk. Consequently, symptoms such as diarrhea and bloating develop after consuming any dairy product.
An insufficiency of lactase (an enzyme which is synthesized by the small intestine) is responsible for lactose intolerance. The good news is that most people with lactose intolerance are able to manage the condition fairly well without giving up all dairy products.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance commence about half an hour to two hours after consuming milk products. Common manifestations are:
- Bloating and abdominal distension
- Cramps in the abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
What Are The Causes Of Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose intolerance develops when the small intestine fails to synthesize adequate amounts of the enzyme lactase to digest lactose or milk sugar. The enzyme lactase converts milk sugar into glucose and galactose, which get absorbed into the blood via the intestinal lining.
In cases of lactase deficiency, lactose in the food travels to the colon instead of being digested and absorbed. The normal bacterial flora present in the colon interacts with the undigested lactose, and gives rise to the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
There are three types of lactose intolerance.
- Primary lactose intolerance: This is the commonest type. These individuals start life synthesizing adequate amounts of the enzyme lactase — a requirement for infants, who get all their nourishment from milk. Normally, as a child replaces milk with other foods, the production of lactase tends to reduce, but remains high enough to digest the dairy in a typical adult diet. In case of primary lactose intolerance, the synthesis of lactase drops radically, making it difficult to digest milk products by adulthood.
- Secondary lactose intolerance: Secondary lactose intolerance develops when the small intestine reduces the synthesis of lactase after an injury, illness or surgery involving the small intestine. Secondary lactose intolerance is seen in celiac disease and Crohn’s disease.
- Congenital lactose intolerance: Some babies are born with lactose intolerance. It is an autosomal recessive condition, i.e. both the mother and the father need to pass on the same gene for the child to get afflicted. Premature infants also tend to develop lactose intolerance because of an inadequate lactase level.
How To Overcome Lactose Intolerance Naturally?
There is no way to pep up the body’s synthesis of lactase; nonetheless, you can circumvent the symptoms of lactose intolerance by:
- Steering clear of large servings of dairy products.
- Having small servings of dairy products; have about 4 ounces of milk at a time. This does not trigger GI discomfort.
- Consuming lactose-reduced milk. With some trial and error, you will be able to calculate your body’s response to various foods containing lactose and understand how much you can eat or drink without experiencing any discomfort.
- Confer with your doctor and start calcium as well as vitamin D3 supplements to make sure that you do not have insufficient amounts in the daily diet.
- Limit your intake of dairy products and gradually introduce them into your diet.
- Not all dairy products have the same amount of lactose. Hard cheese, such as Swiss or cheddar, has lesser quantity of lactose and usually causes no symptoms. Also, cultured milk products, such as yogurt, are better tolerated given that the bacteria used in the culturing process manufacture the enzyme which breaks down lactose.
- Buy lactose-reduced or lactose-free products.
- Use lactase enzyme tablets. Over-the-counter tablets containing the lactase enzyme are known to help digest dairy products. You can take tablets just before a meal or snack.
- Probiotics have also found to be significantly useful. Probiotics are available as active or “live” cultures in yogurts and as supplements. These help the body digest lactose.