Are You Lactose Intolerant?
By Paul Rothbart
Lactose intolerance is a term you have certainly heard frequently. In fact, you probably have some idea what it is. People who are lactose intolerant experience digestive problems when consuming dairy products. It is a very common affliction, estimated to affect about 75 percent of the population worldwide. What exactly is lactose intolerance, how can you tell if you have it, and what can you do about it? Here are some facts about this digestive issue.
What It Is
Lactose is a disaccharide. This means it consists of two different sugars, glucose and galactose. These two simple sugars combine at the molecular level to form lactose. In order for the body to break lactose down into its component parts, it needs an enzyme called lactase. The simple sugars can then be absorbed into the bloodstream and used for energy. If a person's body contains insufficient levels of lactase, lactose is not digested and moves through the gut, causing digestive problems. Lactose is in all dairy, even in breast milk. For this reason, it is very rare to see lactose intolerance in children under the age of 5.
Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance
The symptoms of lactose intolerance all present as digestive issues. Bloating is very common. The gut fills with gas and can be quite painful. Abdominal cramps is another common symptom. Nausea and vomiting may also occur. The undigested lactose causes water to move into the digestive tract, causing problems. Upon reaching the colon, undigested lactose ferments and forms short-chain fatty acids and gas. Severity of symptoms is variable, depending on the degree of intolerance and the amount of lactose consumed.
What to Do About It
There is no cure and no medication to help the body produce the proper enzymes. The simple solution to lactose intolerance is to avoid dairy. There are underlying complexities, however. First, you must be vigilant in reading food labels. Obviously, any type of milk -- cow, goat, sheep -- as well as ice cream, butter, and yogurt must be avoided. There are many foods that you would not consider dairy that do contain milk and milk byproducts. Creamy sauces, cookies, and biscuits commonly use milk or cream. Chocolate and other confections often contain dairy. Baked goods, cereals, processed meats, and many desserts are made with dairy products. The importance of reading ingredient labels cannot be stressed enough. As dairy contains significant amounts of nutrients, care must be taken to find alternate sources of these nutrients, especially calcium.
Lactose intolerance is common and quite distressing. While it can't be treated with medication, taking care to avoid any and all dairy in the diet will allow you to manage this condition successfully.
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