Ever went to bed with the feeling that gases reign supreme in your system? Do constipation and diarrhea manifest more often than you would like? If you have ever questioned whether you have lactose tolerance, that is also enough of a hint that you might actually be lactose intolerant.
What is lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is a health condition in which the body is not properly able to digest a sugar called lactose. Since lactose is primarily found in milk and other dairy products, the symptoms of lactose intolerance bud within half an hour or two of taking them. Research states that by reaching adulthood, 70% of people have a lack of lactase, which is the enzyme responsible for the breakdown of lactose.
Can lactose intolerance be life-threatening?
While lactose intolerance can be difficult to spot without a professional guiding hand, and it can also be severely annoying, it is not fatal. Lactose intolerance comes in varying forms; for some, it can be mild, for others it can be extreme. Some people suffer with this issue because it runs in their heredity while others may develop lactose intolerance due to viruses, bacteria or surgery.
Though the symptoms birth on the consumption of doses of lactose, one cannot entirely avoid milk and other dairy products that contain the element. This is because these dairy products are a vital source of calcium and other vitamins and minerals. A shortage of these nutrients can result in an array of health concerns, specifically those related to the bones.
This is why it is essential to diagnose lactose intolerance and consume alternative food options that do not contain lactose. Certain medications can also come to one’s aid in lowering the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance
Explored below are the main symptoms that accompany the condition.
For some people, the consumption of products that contain lactose can result in nausea along with stomach pain, gas, bloating, and a grumbling tummy. This nausea can also result in an episode of vomiting. However, vomits are more likely to be experienced by children rather than adults.
Bloating and cramps:
Other reasons can also cause bloating and stomach pain. In the case of lactose intolerance, however, bloating results when the amount of water and gas in the colon increases. This, in turn, stretches the gut wall causing distention.
On the other hand, stomach pain in the navel area and the lower abdomen occurs because of the fermentation of lactose by the microflora when it is unable to be absorbed by the colon. This fermentation releases gases and acids which trigger the cramps.
However, it must be noted that the amount of pain or bloating is co-related to how sensitive a person is to lactose not to the quantity of lactose present in his food.
Diarrhea refers to a situation in which your stool is more liquid. This liquid form of stool is more voluminous and frequent. While there can be several triggering factors of this condition, one is lactose intolerance.
Lactose intolerance causes diarrhea when the gut’s bacteria, aka the microflora, ferment lactose into gases and short-chain fatty acids. Those fatty acids and the lactose that are not absorbed by the colon increase the amount of water in the colon and hence, welcome diarrhea.
Much like the opposite of diarrhea, constipation is when one faces straining in the stool, incomplete bowel movements, bloating, discomfort and hard, infrequent toilet tenures. It occurs when the amount of methane gas released by the fermentation process in the colon slows down the movement of food through the gut.
It must be noted that constipation can be categorized as a symptom of lactose intolerance. However, it is an uncommon one. It mostly is a symptom of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, bacterial overgrowth or other ailments such as diabetes, hemorrhoids, etc.
Been farting a lot lately along with struggling with some of the other symptoms mentioned above? There’s a high chance your flatulence is a result of lactose intolerance. As discussed above, the microflora in the gut cause an increase in the fermentation process which produces gases.
These gases cause flatulence. A foul odor does not accompany the gas that results from lactose intolerance. It doesn’t come from carbohydrate breakdown but from protein breakdown. Therefore, it is odorless. How much gas is produced varies from one person to another greatly.
Several other symptoms can also indicate lactose intolerance. However, these can also be hinting at some other problem rather than lactose intolerance. These signs include headaches, fatigue, mouth ulcers, etc.
Diagnosis of lactose intolerance
Lactose intolerance can often be confused for another underlying issue behind these symptoms. It can also be that a person is allergic to milk, a condition that can cause death as well. This is why, it is necessary to head to a doctor for the diagnosis.
You can also figure it out on your own as a first step. This you can do by ditching lactose-containing products such as milk for several days. Notice if the above symptoms reduce. Then drink a glass full of milk to see if the signs revisit. If so, you are most probably lactose intolerant.
Here are some tests your doctor may perform to diagnose the condition:
- Hydrogen breath test
- Stool acidity test
- Lactose intolerance blood test
- Genetic test
- Intestinal biopsy
What to do about it?
There are numerous ways you can decrease the symptoms of lactose intolerance. However, presently no means of increasing lactase production in one’s system have been introduced. If you are lactose intolerant, you can avoid dairy products and incorporate the nutrition you get from them through other healthy foods.
A large number of people who are lactose intolerant can enjoy other dairy products if not milk. You can change your lifestyle by adding fewer servings of dairy to reduce the gastrointestinal problems. You can also take milk at mealtimes to face reduced symptoms of the condition. You may go for lactose-free products in the dairy section as well. Lactase enzyme tablets or drops can also be taken. Additionally, some probiotic supplements can be of help.
Dairy products most people can enjoy despite being lactose intolerant
Some dairy products can be consumed without having to suffer through the symptoms of lactose intolerance. These are the following:
High in fats, butter only has a slight amount of lactose present which is unlikely to cause an annoying reaction.
Certain types of cheeses can be had without having to undergo symptoms. Cheeses that have aged longer contain low markers of lactose. Cheddar and Swiss cheese are examples.
For those who are intolerant to lactose, yogurt is a lot easier to digest when compared to milk. Specifically, probiotic yogurt. That is because it contains live bacteria.
This fermented milk drink can also be consumed easily by lactose intolerant people. That is because, like yogurt, it also contains live bacteria that cause lactose to break down, allowing convenient digestion.
Not only dairy but other products that contain a hidden content of lactose can also flare up symptoms of lactose intolerance. Such products include certain processed meats, soups, etc. Research shows that one’s ethnicity also determines his chances of being lactose intolerant.
Accordingly, non-Europeans are more likely to develop or inherit the condition. These include Africans, Asians, Americans, and people belonging to a Hispanic background. WebMD mentions that about 30 million Americans have lactose intolerance.
Other less known facts about lactose intolerance:
- At some point, almost everyone becomes lactose intolerant. According to research, 75% of the entire globe’s population becomes lactose intolerant at one point
- Not everyone is affected by this condition in the same way. For some, it can be harsher, for others it can be mild
- Not a lot of research has been carried out on lactose intolerance. However, the difference in symptoms might have something to do with a person’s gut bacteria
- A better option than eliminating all of your dairy consumption is to experiment and see what works for you
Lactose intolerance is not a serious cause for concern. It can be frustrating to deal with, however, and the bloating plus cramps can keep one up at night. The condition is often mixed with IBS as well with which it shares several similarities.
Lactose intolerance happens as a result of the body’s impaired ability or inability to digest lactose due to lactase deficiency. The issue’s symptoms can be combated by taking supplements or probiotics. You can also reduce your intake of dairy products and eat a healthier diet for complete nourishment and nutrition.