Q: What happens to people that are lactose intolerant?
A: Lactose is a natural sugar found in milk. People with lactose intolerance can’t digest lactose, which is the natural sugar found in milk. This is because they lack an enzyme called lactase. Some people with lactose intolerance cannot digest any milk or milk product at all, others are able to digest small amounts of milk and milk products.
Lactose intolerance occurs more commonly in adults and in the African, Asian and South American races. It appears to run in families. So, a positive family history means one has a higher risk of developing this. Lactose intolerance usually occurs during the teenage or adult years but some of these people are able to take some milk or milk products. Severity of symptoms depends on the degree of lactase deficiency and the amount of lactose in the person’s diet. Some cases of lactose intolerance can develop after diseases of the small intestine, as a result of ageing or even after stomach surgery. It could be permanent or temporary.
Some children are born with lactose intolerance and thus cannot tolerate any food that contains lactose. This includes milk and all milk products. Some pre-mature babies have lactose intolerance just because their bodies cannot make the enzyme needed to breakdown lactose yet. This is temporary though. As soon as the body starts making lactase, then the problem disappears.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance typically include bloating, gas, diarrhea and tummy ache when you’ve had excessive amounts of milk. Anyone with this condition can reduce the symptoms of lactose intolerance by trying the following:
- Try staying off dairy for a day and see if your symptoms decrease. . If the symptoms reduce, then gradually add back some dairy products and see if your symptoms start up again
- Reducing the amount of dairy you take at any one time. Eg take a small amount of milk and sip slowly.
- Try out different dairy products and see what works for you. There are varying amounts of lactose in different dairy foods. Quite a number of people with lactose intolerance are able to tolerate yoghurt with live cultures. You could try different things and see what works for you.
- Taking lactase tablets prescribed by your doctor to help digest your dairy products. These are usually taken before you take the lactose. This may help but is not useful in all cases.
- Try taking milk with other foods as this may slow down the digestive process, changes the way the body absorbs it and ultimately produce less symptoms.
The main challenge that people with lactose intolerance have is figuring out other food sources that can replace dairy in their diets with the right amount of calcium. Dark green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals and almond milk are excellent sources of calcium. So stock up on those!
Finally, ensure that your doctor is part of the solution.
All the best!