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Interesting Facts on Lactose Intolerance

by Stephanie Haun

About Stephanie Haun

Stephanie Haun is a psychotherapist, musician and lawyer in Miami, Fla., who began writing in 1972. She covers a variety of topics including mental health, social issues, animals and music and has been published in numerous publications. Haun earned a Juris Doctor, a Doctor of Musical Arts in music and a Master of Science in Education in educational and psychological studies.

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If you experience mild to severe discomfort after eating or drinking milk products, you might suffer from lactose intolerance, a condition in which your body can't properly digest the sugar found in milk. While there is no cure for lactose intolerance, you can treat it by making dietary adjustments. The severity of the condition can vary from person to person.

How Lactose Intolerance Happens

Ordinarily, lactose, the sugar in milk and milk products, is broken down by the enzyme lactase and causes no problems. However, when there is too little lactase in a person's digestive tract, unprocessed food ends up in the colon where normal bacteria interact with it, causing abdominal discomfort anywhere between 30 minutes to about two hours after consuming it. There are three types of lactose intolerance: Primary lactose intolerance is the normal result of aging in some people, secondary lactose intolerance results from an injury or disease and congenital lactose intolerance, the rarest kind, is a congenital condition in infants. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include abdominal pain, abdominal bloating, gas, diarrhea and nausea.

Diagnosing Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance might not be diagnosed by symptoms alone so a doctor will suggest stopping milk products for a couple of weeks and then adding them back into your diet gradually to see if the problem stops or recurs. There are also three tests used to make or confirm the diagnosis: A lactose intolerance test measures glucose levels over time to see if abnormal levels of sugar are in the blood. A hydrogen breath test is used to determine if too much hydrogen is in the breath, indicating the presence of undigested lactose. A stool acidity test checks for too much lactic acid-producing fat and glucose in the stool.

Lactose Intolerance Versus Milk Allergies

Lactose intolerance does not implicate the immune system, but a milk allergy does. A milk allergy usually occurs before the first year of life and causes allergy symptoms like hives. It could be life-threatening if the allergy is severe enough to cause anaphylactic shock. Many children outgrow a milk allergy by age 3, according to MayoClinic.com.

Treatment for Lactose Intolerance

Reduction or deletion of milk products from the diet stops the discomfort of lactose intolerance. Sometimes, taking over-the-counter lactase enzyme tablets can reduce the symptoms that come with eating dairy products. Probiotics, found in yogurts and supplements, can also be effective in helping your body digest lactose.

Foods to Avoid

If you are lactose intolerant, you should read food labels carefully to avoid foods containing any form of milk. Words on the label indicating the presence of lactose include whey, curds and milk by-products. Soy or other non-dairy milk may be a good substitute. Other foods that can contain lactose include bread, baked goods, waffles, biscuits, processed cereals, instant potatoes, breakfast or protein drinks or bars, potato chips, corn chips, processed meats, margarine, salad dressings, hot dogs and candies. Some medicines, including birth control pills, may also contain lactose.

Obtaining Calcium

Avoiding dairy products to help with lactose intolerance may cause low levels of calcium, important especially for bone health. You can obtain calcium from many foods including rhubarb, oranges, broccoli and pinto beans. Yogurt containing active and live cultures is also a good source of calcium and its cultures help lower the level of lactose. Pregnant and nursing mothers must be especially careful to obtain enough calcium.

Photo Credits:

  • pouring milk image by Nikolay Okhitin from Fotolia.com

This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.