Lactose intolerance is a condition when a person cannot fully digest the sugar (lactose) in milk. As a result, they experience diarrhea, gas, and bloating after eating or drinking dairy products. Also known as lactose malabsorption, this condition is usually harmless, but its symptoms may cause discomfort.
Too little of an enzyme produced in the small intestine (lactase) usually contribute to lactose intolerance. You can have low and steady levels of lactase to digest dairy products. However, if the levels are too low, you will experience it. Symptoms will appear after you eat or drink dairy products.
Most people with this condition can resolve the condition without having to stop consuming dairy products.
Causes of Lactose Intolerance
This condition occurs when the small intestine does not produce enough enzymes (lactase) to digest milk sugar (lactose).
If you are lactase deficient, lactose in your food travels to the colon instead of being processed and absorbed. In the colon, normal bacteria interact with undigested lactose – causing the condition’s common signs and symptoms.
Types of Lactose Intolerance
There are three types with different factors.
1. Primary lactose intolerance
Primary lactose intolerance is the most common type. People who develop it are able to produce enough lactase. Infants, who get all of their nutrients from milk, need lactase.
When children replace milk with other foods, the amount of lactase they produce usually drops, but remains high enough to digest the amount of dairy products in an usual adult diet.
In cases such as these, lactase production drops significantly by adulthood, making it difficult to digest dairy products.
2. Secondary lactose intolerance
Secondary lactose intolerance occurs when the small intestine decreases lactase production after an illness, injury, or surgery involving your small intestine.
Treatment may help restore lactase levels and improve signs and symptoms, although it may take a long time.
3. Congenital or developmental lactose intolerance
Babies may be born with this condition due to lactase deficiency, but this condition is rare.
This condition is passed from generation to generation in an autosomal recessive inheritance pattern – meaning both the parents must pass on the same gene variant in order for the child to be affected.
Premature babies can also develop it due to insufficient levels of lactase.
When to See a Doctor
Your doctor may diagnose lactose intolerance based on the symptoms you experience and your response to reduce the amount of dairy foods in your diet.
Your doctor can confirm the diagnosis by performing one or more of the following tests:
- Hydrogen breath test. After you consume a high level of lactose-containing liquid, your doctor measures the amount of hydrogen in your breath periodically. Inhaling too much hydrogen indicates that you are not fully digesting and absorbing lactose completely.
- Lactose tolerance test. Two hours after drinking a liquid that contains high levels of lactose, you will undergo blood tests to measure the amount of glucose in your bloodstream. If your glucose level does not rise, it means your body is not digesting and absorbing the lactose-filled drink properly.
Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance
Symptoms usually develop within a few hours after consuming foods or drinks that contain lactose. Symptoms may include:
- Feeling sick
- Stomach churning
- Cramps and abdominal pain
The severity and time of the symptoms depends on the amount of lactose you consume.
Some people may still be able to drink a small glass of milk without triggering any symptoms, while others will not even be able to drink milk in their tea or coffee.
Treatment for Lactose Intolerance
There is no exact cure, but most people can control their symptoms by changing their diets.
Some cases, such as those caused by gastroenteritis, are temporary and may improve within a few days or weeks.
Other cases, such as those caused by genetic disorders or long-term underlying conditions, tend to last long.
In most cases, reducing or avoiding foods and drinks that contain lactose and replacing them with lactose-free alternatives is enough to control symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Take the following steps to help lower the amount of lactose in your diet:
- Limit consumption of milk and other dairy products.
- Consume ice cream and milk that reduce lactose.
- Include small portions of dairy products in your daily diet.
- Add the enzyme liquid or powder lactase into your milk to break down lactose.
Treatment for lactose intolerance depends on the diagnosis method used, medications, hospital costs, and your choice of nutritionist.
To calculate the estimated treatment cost at home or abroad, contact Smarter Health.
Prevention of Lactose Intolerance
There is no cure for lactose intolerance, but the condition is treatable. Limit the amount of food and drinks that contain lactose. You can also take lactase enzyme supplements to help your body digest lactose.
You can also try to build up your lactose tolerance by gradually incorporating dairy products into your diet.
If you limit milk and other dairy products, you may not get enough calcium and vitamin D. Consult a nutritionist about the need of vitamin D supplements and eat calcium-rich foods, such as leafy greens, broccoli, soy, and salmon.
Home Remedies for Lactose Intolerance
Most people with lactose intolerance can enjoy some dairy products without symptoms. You may tolerate low-fat dairy products, such as skimmed milk rather than whole milk products.
Below are some ways that can help you minimize the symptoms, such as:
- Consume lactose-free food and beverage products.
- Experiment with an assortment of dairy products. Not all dairy products have the same amount of lactose.
- Drink milk with other foods to slow down the digestion process and lessen the symptoms.
- Drink milk in smaller portions, as it is less likely to cause gastrointestinal disorders
Book a consultation with a nutritionist at home or abroad through Smarter Health if you have symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Smarter Health‘s online consultation (teleconsultation) service allows you to get treatment whenever you need it without leaving the house – thus minimizing the spread of COVID-19.