Lactose intolerance is a common digestive problem in which the body is unable to digest a type of sugar typically found in milk and dairy products, called lactose. Lactose intolerance is not the same as an allergy to milk or dairy, however. Rather, food allergies are caused by the immune system reacting to a certain kind of food or food group. Most people with lactose intolerance can still consume small amounts of lactose and see no symptoms, but even a tiny particle can be enough to trigger a reaction when you have a food allergy.
Symptoms of a food allergy can include:
Evidence and research have shown that in the UK, there is a higher proportion of the population affected by lactose intolerance that are of African-Caribbean or Asian descent. In fact, some studies show that around 65% to 75% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant. The reasons for this are still being debated.
Lactose intolerance can affect anyone at any age. It can affect a newborn baby or a 90-year old person. However, many cases initially develop in people aged around 20 to 40 years old.
Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance
The symptoms of lactose intolerance can develop around a few hours after consuming food or drink that contains lactose as it moves through the digestive system.
- Bloated stomach
- Flatulence (wind)
- Stomach cramps
- Stomach pains
- Stomach rumbling
- Feeling sick or being sick
The symptoms you experience and the severity of them depends on the amount of lactose you have consumed, as well as how bad you are personally affected.
Some will be able to have a small glass of milk without experiencing any symptoms, while others who have it much worse cannot even add diary to other foods, or have milk in their tea or coffee.
Causes of lactose intolerance
When the body digests lactose, it uses a substance called lactase. Lactase is an enzyme (which is a protein that causes a chemical reaction to occur) normally produced in the small intestine .Lactase breaks down lactose into the two sugars called glucose and galactose, both of which are easily absorbed into the bloodstream.
However, people who have a lactose intolerance do not produce enough lactase, therefore the lactose stays in the digestive system where it is fermented by bacteria. As a result, this leads to a production of various gases which causes the symptoms that are associated with lactose intolerance.
Depending on the reason why the body is not producing enough lactase, the intolerance to lactose can either be temporary or permanent. The majority of cases which develop in adults are inherited and are usually life-long because of the inherited nature of the intolerance. In contrast, cases found in young children are often caused by an infection of the digestive system and are more likely to be temporary, lasting a few weeks usually.
Treating lactose intolerance
There is no known cure for lactose intolerance, so getting health insurance to treat this is not likely. Instead, treatment is focussed on relieving symptoms wherever possible. Most people are able to achieve relief from symptoms but controlling their intake of food and making overall changes to her diet.
It is very common though for people to grow out of being lactose intolerant whether through childhood, puberty or adulthood.
Changing your diet
Foods and drinks containing lactose include:
- Salad cream
- Packet mixes of cakes or pancakes
- Instant soup
- Some processed meats
- Boiled sweets
Always check the ingredients on the back of the packets of food and drinks, as milk and lactose are often hidden ingredients.
Most people find that the trick to controlling symptoms is cutting down or completely avoiding certain food groups or types. There are plenty of lactose-free alternatives and people who suffer with lactose intolerance tend to completely replace food containing lactose with these readily available alternatives. Milk alternatives include:
- Soy Milk
- Rice Milk
- Coconut Milk
- Almond Milk
- Flax Milk
See: Alpro Soya and Arla
The changes you need you make are personal to how badly you are affected by lactose and how sensitive you are too it. As mentioned, some people can still consume small levels of lactose without experiencing any problems, whereas others may have to cut it out completely to live comfortably again. Also important is if you are taking any supplements such as protein shakes after exercise, many of these are made from whey (a by-product of cheese) and other milk derivatives. If you are lactose intolerant, it is preferable to seek out dairy-free options such as vegan protein powder products.
The best way to decide what’s best for you, if you do not know already, is to experiment with foods and keep a food diary. This way you will be able to keep track of what foods react badly or which have little to no effect on you. Be sure to introduce new foods gradually so you don’t end up feeling too unwell.
Eating a significantly lower amount or cutting lactose out completely can result in you missing out on certain vitamins and minerals, essential in your diet, which can increase complications. You will need to make sure you make up for these lost minerals and vitamins by consuming dietary supplements or lacto-free foods. This is especially important for children who are growing and developing. Milk products are rich in calcium and promote healthy bones, so you or your child may need to get regular bone checks.
For more information about help with the available treatment for this, feel free to contact us here.