Lactose intolerance is a congenital disorder characterized by an inability to digest lactose, a large sugar molecule present in milk and milk products.
This is usually caused by a shortage of an enzyme called lactase, which is produced by the cells lining the small intestine. This enzyme breaks down lactose in simple sugars, that is, glucose and galactose.
Deficiency of lactase, however, causes symptoms of lactose intolerance only in some individuals. Moreover, it has been observed that several people suffering from lactose intolerance can tolerate a little lactose in the diet.
The most common symptoms of this disorder are bloating, gas, flatulence, nausea, stomach pain, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea. These digestive problems are caused by undigested lactose in the intestines due to lactose intolerance.
It is more common in adults and older adults than babies and infants (unless born prematurely). In addition, it is believed that African Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, and Hispanic Americans are more susceptible to lactose intolerance, also known as lactase deficiency.
Besides, conditions such as celiac disease, crohn’s disease, gastroenteritis, diabetic gastropathy, giardiasis (intestinal parasite infection), carcinoid syndrome, iron deficiency, alcoholism, etc. may also contribute in causing this problem in the form of secondary lactase deficiency by damaging the cells lining the intestines.
Furthermore, individuals who have received cancer treatments like radiation therapy of chemotherapy for cancer in the abdomen are at a higher risk of developing this problem.
How to Manage and Control Lactose Intolerance
Lactose intolerance cannot be treated completely because it is not possible to change the body’s ability to produce lactase. Nevertheless, you can make some dietary changes to deal with this condition.
For instance, those of you who can tolerate small amounts of lactose can take a small quantity of milk or milk products along with meals rather than separately. Thus, consider having a healthy sandwich with your milkshake to slow down the digestion.
Milk is an excellent source of calcium (essential for growth and repair of bones). Hence, it can be limited but not completely eliminated from the diet unless absolutely necessary.
Here’s a video giving information on lactose intolerance and its symptoms.
Different individuals tend to have varying degrees of lactose intolerance. Therefore, some may have trouble digesting a small glass of milk, or even products like breads, pancakes, doughnuts, cookies, waffles, sweet rolls, margarine, salad dressings, protein bars, processed snacks, powdered coffee creamers, processed meats, etc. containing small amounts of lactose due to inclusion of milk, curd, milk by-products, whey, dry milk solids, and so on.
Others, on the other hand, may be able to tolerate milk products like hard cheese but not milk or other dairy products.
More often than not, people suffering from lactose intolerance are advised to opt for milk products having lower levels of lactose than milk.
Thus, they can try yogurt, parmesan, Swiss, cheddar, blue vein, romano, edam cheese, and other fermented dairy products.
Yogurt containing live active lactic acid bacteria is particularly useful as it releases enzymes that help improve the digestion of lactose.
Plus, you can find various lactose-free or reduced-lactose milk and milk products in the market. An infant with lactose intolerance can be fed lactose-free infant formula.
You can also take lactic acid bacteria through dietary supplements available at health-food stores, drug stores, or any grocery store. These bacteria break down lactose into substances that can be absorbed by the colon.
Lactobacillus acidophilus, Streptococcus salivarius, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Lactobacillus reuteri, and Streptococcus thermophilus are some lactic acid bacteria that are popularly used by those who are suffering from lactose intolerance to prevent and reduce the symptoms of this disorder.
Taking a lactase enzyme supplement before having foods containing milk or dairy products can aid in lactose digestion and hence, avoid or at least subdue the symptoms associated with lactose intolerance.
In addition, people often substitute milk and milk products with soy milk, soy cheese, other soy products or milk prepared from rice, oats, even potatoes and peas.
Furthermore, you can take steps like substituting ice creams with fruit pops and replacing Alfredo sauce with marinara sauce.
It is suggested to include other calcium-rich nondairy foods such as broccoli, turnip greens, collards, rhubarb, okra, spinach, kale, tuna, salmon, sardines, almonds, sesame seeds, and calcium-fortified juices and cereals, etc. in the diet. Plus, you may be required to take vitamin D supplements, too.
As already mentioned, certain bakery products and processed foods contain milk and dairy produces. Therefore, read the labels carefully before taking these items.