Does the thought of cheesy pasta or a thick milkshake make you feel more anxious than excited? We often hear that about 68% of adults are lactose intolerant.
Discussing lactose intolerance can be embarrassing for many. Dealing with diarrhea, bloating, flatulence, abdominal pain, and nausea can be very discouraging. But don’t be concerned; in the next video, we’ll talk about everything that you need to know about lactose intolerance. We won’t let that awkwardness get you down. Is milk the only cause of symptoms?
What exactly is lactose intolerance?
We often confuse a milk allergy with lactose intolerance. However, they’re not the same. Milk and milk products contain a sugar called lactose. It is the primary carb in dairy. When you drink a glass of milk it passes through your stomach and down the small intestine. This is where everything breaks down and gets digested. But your body cannot absorb lactose as it is. It needs to be broken down. Your small intestine digests lactose with the help of an enzyme called lactase. When your small intestine is incapable of breaking down lactose, the sugar passes from the small intestine to the large. After that, it is the responsibility of the large intestine to break down lactose. Unfortunately, the large intestine cannot digest lactose, producing lactose intolerance symptoms.
Are you wondering what causes lactose intolerance?
Both children and adults can be lactose intolerant. It is usually a familial trait. Sometimes your body may start producing less lactase over time. The symptoms might begin in adolescence or adulthood. It is called primary lactose intolerance. Some injuries, illnesses, and infections cause the small intestine to stop producing lactase. Gastrointestinal disorders, including Crohn’s and celiac disease, drugs, surgery, or radiation are a few conditions that alter the small intestine. The good news is you might regain the capacity to digest lactose once your small intestine has recovered. This usually happens in secondary lactose intolerance.
Now let’s see how it affects kids.
It’s possible that some premature infants can’t produce enough lactase. This is called congenital lactose intolerance. A rare inherited gene called lactase or LCT, from both parents causes it. But when it mutates, it is unfit to digest lactose. Breast milk contains lactose. And when the newborn ingests it, it can lead to high calcium levels and diarrhea. Doctors treat it right away to avoid fatality. People are rarely lactose intolerant from birth due to mutations in the LCT gene. Developmental lactose intolerance can be another type seen in premature babies. The chances of lactose intolerance is very high if the infant is born before the digestive system is fully developed. The infant could need lactose-free formula rather than breast milk. Let’s now
Talk about the symptoms of this condition.
Urgent need to go to the bathroom, vomiting, or abdominal pain with cramps, sometimes accompanied by constipation, are the most typical symptoms. You can have them in about half an hour to two hours of eating dairy. However, the symptoms will depend on the amount of lactose-rich foods you have eaten and how much lactase your small intestine is making. The symptoms are sometimes accompanied by diarrhea because the undigested lactose promotes water pooling in the digestive tract. The partial digestion of lactose produces short-chain fatty acids and gas. This causes watery stool, flatulence, and bloating.
Do you want to find out if you are actually lactose intolerant?
Then eliminate dairy from your diet for at least 2 weeks. This is a simple elimination test that you can do yourself at home. Reintroduce dairy and check whether you have any digestive disturbances. Alternatively, you can also get the lactose intolerance test. This test shows how much lactose gets absorbed in the digestive tract. You will have to fast for about 8 hours before. Avoid eating anything after dinner and go for the test first thing in the morning. The doctors will give you a lactose-containing liquid to drink. Lactose is a sugar and can spike sugar levels. If you are lactose intolerant, it won’t affect your blood sugar levels as your body will be incapable of breaking down lactose. The next test they might do is a hydrogen breath test. You again will have to drink a lactose-rich liquid. Your breath will be analyzed and checked for the presence of hydrogen gas. High amounts of hydrogen are indicative of lactose intolerance. The next test is the stool acid test, usually done for young infants and children. It tells how much acid is present in your stool sample. When you cannot digest lactose, your stool will contain high amounts of glucose, fatty acids, and lactic acid. It will also have a lower pH. Now let’s talk about a few remedies so you can enjoy dairy.
Ever tried enzyme supplements?
Supplemental lactase enzymes are miracle workers. They are available as gels, liquids, capsules, or tablets and are produced from fungi or yeast. The doctors will recommend consuming 6,000–9,000 international units of lactase enzyme before a meal containing dairy. Start with a modest dose and gradually increase it. Lactase supplements significantly improve hydrogen breath test outcomes and gastrointestinal symptoms. Generally, these supplements are risk-free and have no known side effects. However, people with diabetes should monitor their blood sugar levels after. Just be sure they are not absorbing too many simple sugars after the breakdown of lactose. The lactase enzyme can occasionally cause allergic reactions. If left untreated, it can cause unconsciousness and, in the worst cases, death. Pregnant and breastfeeding folks should avoid it altogether.
Expose your gut to lactose.
This may sound weird, but it is a well-known treatment for lactose intolerance. The amount of lactose you can tolerate without experiencing noticeable symptoms is up to 18 grams, which is about one glass of milk. Increase the tolerance by spreading out consumption throughout the day. Pair lactose-containing foods and beverages with other foods rather than having them on their own. Add a splash of milk in your coffee or in your cereal bowl or lightly butter your toast. Having unflavoured yogurt is also well tolerated by many. But remember to have these foods in moderation. Studies find high-fat dairy, such as whole milk, to be the best choice as your body gradually digests it. This will give your gut bacteria more time to digest the lactose.
Have some probiotics and prebiotics.
These foods need no introduction. They give your gut a soothing effect thru-gut friendly bacterial streams like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus strains. Grab a cup of probiotic yogurt when you are on the go. Likewise, there are numerous probiotic and prebiotic supplements as well.
Let’s talk about the foods to avoid while lactose intolerant.
Milk, yogurt, ice cream, butter, half and half, cream, and sometimes even goat’s milk are obvious sources of lactose. Soft cheeses like brie are high in lactose whereas Parmesan has only a small quantity. Lactose can also hide in many foods like cakes, biscuits, chocolates, scrambled eggs, custards, cheese-based sauces, creamy soups, bread, cereal, energy bars, salad dressing, mayonnaise, and the list goes on. That is why you should read the labels whenever you buy them from the store. You can check for “Lactose-free” products. Whey, curds, milk by-products, dry milk, or nonfat dry milk powder can cause many digestive symptoms too. You will be surprised to know that even a few birth control pills and drugs for treating stomach acid contain lactose as fillers. So be cautious.
Ensure you don’t miss out on the nutrition of dairy.
Although vegans stay away from dairy, milk, and dairy products they’re an excellent source of nutrition, especially for vegetarians. Dairy is a powerhouse of calcium, protein, and vitamins A, B12, and D . That is why it’s crucial to obtain these nutrients from other sources while cutting out dairy. For calcium, eat more nuts, seeds, figs, beans, collard greens, okra, dandelion leaves, kale, and fortified foods like orange juice. Broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, squash, spinach, pumpkin, apricot, papaya, and mango, are all excellent sources of vitamin A. You can focus on having more fruits and veggies with a reddish hue. Step out in the sunlight for vitamin D and eat fatty fish, egg yolks, fish liver oils, and some fortified breakfast cereals. Plant-based milk like soy, oat, and almond milk are great alternatives and loaded with vitamins. A healthy gut ensures a rock-solid immunity. So healing your gut means healing your mind and body. That’s why eating various foods, growing good bacteria and other gut-friendly habits are so important.