Lactose intolerance is a condition in which consuming milk or other dairy products causes uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms, including cramping and bloating. If you've gone some time without eating dairy, you may notice that you're less able to digest it next time you try. Generally, however, this is due to normal effects of aging rather than to a hiatus from dairy.
While there are many reasons you might have trouble digesting dairy products -- milk allergy among them -- many individuals who can't consume dairy without discomfort have lactose intolerance. This digestive disorder results from insufficient production of lactase, which is the enzyme that your digestive tract uses to digest lactose. Dr. Lauralee Sherwood, in her book "Human Physiology," notes that lactase breaks lactose into smaller particles that your intestine can absorb easily.
Causes of Lactose Intolerance
Almost all babies and children produce sufficient intestinal lactase; they need to in order to be able to digest breast milk. Often, however, lactase production drops off as you age, explains Jodi Sawyer, RN, on the Dr. Oz website. This results in development of lactose intolerance, which becomes increasingly likely the older you get. There are other reasons you can become lactose intolerant. For instance, if you have an intestinal illness, you may experience either temporary or permanent lactose intolerance as a result.
Not Eating Dairy
It can sometimes feel as though the avoidance of dairy renders you less able to digest it when you do try to consume it again. Generally, however, humans don't produce digestive enzymes in response to need -- you don't stop producing lactase simply because you've stopped drinking milk. It's much more likely that any symptoms experienced when adding dairy back into your diet after a long period of abstinence are simply the effects of aging that lessen lactase production.
If you find you have trouble digesting dairy after a dairy hiatus, there are a few things you can try. Over-the-counter lactase supplements can provide you with a short-term supply of the lactase enzyme that will allow you to enjoy milk and other dairy-based foods. You can also use lactose-free dairy products, which have been processed in such a way so as to remove the offending lactose. Finally, most lactose intolerant individuals have no trouble with yogurt, which is naturally low in lactose.
- “Human Physiology”; Lauralee Sherwood, Ph.D.; 2004
- The Dr. Oz Show: Living with Lactose Intolerance
- got milk image by Leticia Wilson from Fotolia.com
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.