Dairy Intolerance also known as Lactose intolerance is a common condition that affects millions of people around the world. It is caused by a deficiency of the enzyme lactase, which is responsible for breaking down lactose, the sugar found in milk and other dairy products. When lactose is not properly digested, it can cause various symptoms, including bloating, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
While dairy intolerance can be uncomfortable, it is not a serious condition. There are a number of things that people with dairy intolerance can do to manage their symptoms and live a healthy life. This blog post will provide a comprehensive guide to lactose intolerance, including its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options.
What is Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is a digestive disorder when people have difficulty digesting lactose, the sugar found in milk and other dairy products. This is caused by a deficiency of lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose into glucose and galactose, two sugars that are easily absorbed by the body.
When lactose is not properly digested, it remains in the digestive system and is fermented by bacteria. This fermentation process produces gas and other acids, which can cause the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
What are the Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance?
- Bloating: Excess gas production in the colon can lead to abdominal bloating and discomfort.
- Diarrhea: The presence of undigested lactose in the colon can draw in water and lead to loose, watery stools.
- Flatulence: Increased gas production can result in excessive gas passing through the rectum.
- Abdominal pain or cramps: The fermentation of lactose in the colon can cause discomfort or cramping.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance typically occur within 30 minutes to two hours of eating or drinking dairy products. The severity of symptoms can vary from person to person and may depend on the amount of lactose consumed.
What can Cause Lactose Intolerance?
The primary cause of lactose intolerance is a genetic fault known as primary lactase deficiency. It’s inherited and common globally, especially in African, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American populations. This deficiency arises when lactase production decreases due to reduced reliance on milk and dairy in one’s diet.
Other causes of dairy intolerance include;
1. Secondary Lactose Intolerance
In some cases, lactose intolerance can be a secondary condition resulting from an underlying medical issue. Conditions or factors that can lead to secondary lactose intolerance include:
- Gastrointestinal Infections: Infections such as viral gastroenteritis or bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine can damage the lining of the intestine and temporarily reduce lactase production.
- Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD): Conditions like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis can affect the digestive system and may result in lactose intolerance.
- Celiac Disease: Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine’s lining and can lead to lactose intolerance.
- Chemotherapy or Radiation Therapy: Cancer treatments can harm the digestive system and temporarily cause lactose intolerance.
Some individuals naturally produce less lactase as they age, leading to lactose intolerance later in life. This is known as adult-onset lactose intolerance.
Lactose Intolerance Test
A few different tests can be used to diagnose lactose intolerance. The most common test is the Hydrogen breath test, which helps detect increased hydrogen levels in your breath after lactose consumption.
1. Hydrogen Breath Test
The most common diagnostic tool for lactose intolerance is the Hydrogen breath test. This test comprises several phases:
- Fasting: First, an overnight fast, the individual abstains from all food and beverages.
- Baseline Breath Sample: A baseline breath sample captures the initial hydrogen levels in the breath.
- Lactose Solution: Next, the patient ingests a lactose solution with a known lactose content.
- Breath Sampling: Subsequently, breath samples are collected at fixed intervals (typically every 30 minutes). These samples monitor hydrogen levels.
- Elevated Hydrogen Levels: In cases of lactose malabsorption, undigested lactose enters the colon and undergoes bacterial fermentation, producing hydrogen gas. Elevated hydrogen levels in breath samples relative to the baseline indicate malabsorption.
2. Lactose Tolerance Test
Another diagnostic avenue is the Lactose Tolerance Test:
- Fasting: Similar to the hydrogen breath test, fasting starts the test.
- Lactose Solution: The individual consumes a lactose solution.
- Blood Glucose Monitoring: Blood samples are collected at regular intervals to measure blood glucose levels. Efficient lactose digestion should lead to a rise in blood glucose levels.
- Incomplete Digestion: If blood glucose levels do not significantly increase, it suggests incomplete lactose digestion.
3. Stool Acidity Test
In the case of infants and young children, the stool acidity test may be preferred. Undigested lactose can lead to the production of lactic acid and other acids in the stool. Assessing stool acidity can provide insight into lactose malabsorption.
4. Genetic Testing
Genetic testing is an option to identify specific genetic variants associated with lactase persistence or lactase non-persistence (the genetic basis for lactose intolerance). However, it’s less commonly employed in clinical practice.
How to Treat Lactose Intolerance
There is no cure for lactose intolerance, but there are a number of things that people with lactose intolerance can do to manage their symptoms. The most effective way to manage lactose intolerance is to avoid or limit dairy products.
For people who choose to eat or drink dairy products, there are a few things they can do to reduce their symptoms:
- Eat or drink dairy products with meals. This can help to slow down digestion and reduce the amount of lactose that is not digested.
- Choose low-lactose or lactose-free dairy products. These products have less lactose than regular dairy products, making them easier to digest.
- Take lactase supplements. Lactase supplements are enzymes that can help to break down lactose in the digestive system.
Lactose Intolerance – 9 Foods to Avoid
Effectively managing lactose intolerance involves making informed diet choices. Here’s a comprehensive guide on foods to avoid and suitable alternatives to consider, However, keep in mind that other products may also contain these foods as ingredients and should also be avoided if you are lactose intolerant.:
1. Dairy Products
Avoid: Traditional milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream are rich in lactose and should be limited or omitted.
Opt for: In their place, consider lactose-free versions of dairy products, such as lactose-free milk, yogurt, and cheese. Alternatively, explore non-dairy alternatives like almond milk, soy yogurt, or coconut-based ice cream.
2. Cream-based soups and Sauces
Avoid: Cream-based soups, creamy pasta sauces, and gravies often contain lactose.
Opt for: Instead, opt for soups and sauces made with lactose-free milk or dairy-free alternatives. Tomato-based sauces and broths are usually lactose-free.
3. Processed and Packaged Foods
Avoid: Many processed and packaged foods, such as bread, cereal, and salad dressings, may contain hidden sources of lactose like whey or milk solids.
Opt for: To navigate this, read labels carefully and choose lactose-free or dairy-free versions of these products. Fresh, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains are naturally lactose-free.
4. Butter and Margarine
Avoid: Although butter contains minimal lactose, it may still cause discomfort in some individuals.
Opt for: To mitigate this, consider using clarified butter (ghee) or lactose-free margarine as a substitute.
5. Processed Meats and Sausages
Avoid: Some processed meats, like sausages, may contain lactose as a filler.
Opt for: When dealing with processed meats, choose fresh cuts of meat or inquire about lactose-free options at the deli counter.
6. Baked Goods
Avoid: Pastries, cakes, and cookies may contain lactose.
Opt for: When it comes to baked goods, try baking your own treats using lactose-free milk or dairy-free alternatives in recipes.
7. Non-Dairy Creamers
Avoid: Non-dairy creamers can sometimes contain lactose derivatives, so check labels.
Opt for: For a lactose-free option, consider using non-dairy creamers made from almond, soy, or coconut milk.
8. Certain Medications
Avoid: Some medications, particularly chewable or liquid forms, may contain lactose as a filler.
Opt for: If you require medication, consult your healthcare provider or pharmacist for lactose-free alternatives.
9. Hidden Lactose Sources
Avoid: Stay vigilant regarding hidden sources of lactose in restaurant dishes, processed foods, and even some over-the-counter supplements.
Opt for: When dining out, inquire about lactose-free options or modifications to dishes. Additionally, scrutinize food labels diligently to spot lactose-containing ingredients.
By avoiding these lactose-rich foods and opting for suitable alternatives, individuals with lactose intolerance can enjoy a more comfortable and symptom-free dietary experience. Consulting with a registered dietitian can be especially helpful in creating a personalized lactose-free diet plan that meets your nutritional needs.
Lactose intolerance is a common digestive disorder that can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. However, it is important to remember that lactose intolerance is not a serious condition. There are a number of things that people with lactose intolerance can do to manage their symptoms and live a healthy life.
The most important thing is to avoid or limit foods that contain lactose.
It is also important to read food labels carefully to look for lactose and other dairy ingredients.
If you accidentally eat or drink something that contains lactose, you may be able to reduce your symptoms by taking lactase supplements. Lactase supplements are enzymes that help to break down lactose.
If you have any questions about how to manage your lactose intolerance, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian. They can tailor a meal plan to meet your individual needs.