Lactose is the sugar found in milk and all dairy products. Some people are unable to digest lactose, leaving them with a condition called lactose intolerance, which produces painful abdominal symptoms, gas, belching and vomiting. Consuming certain enzymes before drinking milk and eating dairy products can often control this very uncomfortable and embarrassing condition.
Lactose intolerance is caused by the lack of lactase, the natural enzyme that breaks down lactose, or milk sugar. The lactose is ordinarily broken down in the small intestine, being converted to a form that can be easily digested by your body. In the case of lactose intolerance, those sugars remain in the whole form and proceed to cause the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Who Gets Lactose Intolerance?
Over 50 million Americans suffer from lactose intolerance, according to The Ohio State University Medical Center, and certain populations are more prone than others are. African Americans, Native Americans and Asian Americans are more likely to experience this condition, notes the University. Those from northern European descent are least likely to have lactose intolerance. However, lactose intolerance can also affect a wide range of individuals who may have diseases affecting the intestines and digestive tract; and both children and adults are prone.
Common symptoms of lactose intolerance range from nausea and vomiting to bloating, flatulence, abdominal cramping, chest pain from trapped gas bubbles, and diarrhea after drinking milk, or eating cheese and other dairy products. In some cases, those who are extremely sensitive may also have an allergy to dairy products alongside their lactose intolerance. However, milk allergies and lactose intolerance are not the same things, according to the University of Georgia. Individuals with milk allergies must usually avoid all dairy products, whereas those with lactose intolerance may be able to consume some dairy in small amounts. Other symptoms of lactose intolerance may be the formation of phlegm and mucous in the airways, throat and chest.
Treatment depends on your age and the severity of your symptoms. Lactose intolerance in adults can often be controlled by taking lactase enzymes before consuming dairy products or processed foods containing whey, casein and other dairy products. These enzymes are available at pharmacies. For those whose symptoms are severe or do not respond to lactase enzymes, elimination of dairy products is sometimes necessary. Certain dairy products may cause more extreme symptoms than others may. It’s always best to try each product by it self to test for which items you can digest and in what quantities. You may be able to eat certain things and not others.
Consuming fermented foods by adding them to your diet daily may reduce or eliminate lactose intolerance. These foods are high in prebiotics and probiotics, whose natural healthy bacteria build the gut and protect it. Certain fermented foods are mad from milk such as kefir and yogurt and may help someone who is lactose intolerant be able to consume diary with little to no side effects.
Pediatric Lactose Intolerance
Many children suffer from this condition. The American Academy of Pediatrics released guidelines reported in the journal of Pediatrics in September of 2006 recommending that children be encouraged to continue consuming dairy products for their calcium content. The guidelines recommend that individual foods should be tried on their own to determine which foods, if any, and in what quantities the lactose intolerant child can tolerate these foods. Additionally, children can be given a wide variety of fermented foods and lactase enzymes to help manage their symptoms. Other types of milk such a goat, sheep and raw cow’s milk are often less reactive and provide active enzymes to control lactose intolerance. Children with lactose intolerance should be under the supervision of a medical practitioner.
Pediatrics; “Lactose Intolerance in Infants, Children, and Adolescents”; Melvin B. Heyman, MD, MPH; September 2006
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