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Lactose Intolerance: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Lactose Intolerance: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Lactose intolerance is not a disease. It is not a serious medical condition either.

But lactose intolerance can be tricky, and if it is not managed properly, it can lead to a range of very uncomfortable medical symptoms.

“Lactose is a type of sugar naturally found in milk.”

It’s a particular carbohydrate found in most mammalian milks, which has been part of human diet since prehistory. It’s also found in dairy and pharmaceutical products because of its chemical characteristics.

Infants with symptoms of lactose intolerance are not common, but they may become lactose intolerant gradually while growing up. Lactose is fairly important for infants’ health and their natural development. It provides around 40% of their energy needs and helps them absorb calcium and iron.

Lactose in milk has a low glycemic index, which is seen as a metabolic advantage. It can help in the shaping of the gut microbiota, support immune function and aid mineral absorption.

Lactose in milk or dairy products is not bad for human consumption. But it is not recommended for you, if you’re lactose intolerant.

But avoiding lactose may lead to a lower intake of important nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin B12 from dairy products. It may also lead to increased consumption of less beneficial carbohydrates. (source)

What is Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is a digestive disorder caused by your inability to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products. Around two-thirds of the world’s adult population are affected by lactose intolerance.

Lactose intolerance occurs when your body does not make enough of a digestive enzyme called lactase. The function of lactase is to break down lactose found in food so that your body can absorb it.

“If you’re lactose intolerant, you body can’t break down or digest lactose. This causes unpleasant symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea and gas.”

Causes of Lactose Intolerance

Lactose is a combination of glucose and galactose.

An enzyme called lactase breaks lactose down into glucose and galactose to be absorbed into your bloodstream for energy. When your body can’t produce enough lactase enzyme, lactose moves onto the colon undigested, where it gets mixed with normal bacteria. This is the reason why you develop digestive symptoms like gas, bloating and diarrhea.

There are types of lactose intolerance, each with its own causes.

Primary Lactose Intolerance

  • It is the most common cause of lactose intolerance around the world.
  • It may be caused by an inherited genetic trait that runs in families.
  • It is also caused when your lactase production decreases, as you become less reliant on milk and dairy products.

Secondary Lactose Intolerance

  • It is caused by inflammation in your gut wall, leading to a temporary shortage of lactase production.
  • It can occur as a result of surgery to your small intestine or taking particular medication.
  • It can also occur at any point of your life, at any age.

Congenital Lactose Intolerance

  • It affects newborn babies. It is a rare, inherited condition that runs in families. It occurs because of a particular gene mutation for congenital lactose intolerance found in both parents of the child. Both parents must have a copy of the faulty gene to pass on the condition to the child.
  • Babies with this condition cannot be breast-fed owing to lactose in breast milk. This condition may worsen or even be fatal for the child, if not detected early.
  • Side effects may include severe diarrhea and abnormally high concentration of calcium in the blood.

Developmental Lactose Intolerance

  • It is found in premature babies born before their digestive system is fully developed. This condition improves for the better once they get older.

Symptoms

Your symptoms may vary, and often start roughly around 30 minutes to 2 hours after your food or drink that contained lactose.

Your symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea

You can manage your symptoms by modifying your diet and restricting the amount of lactose you consume. You can also get rid of lactose altogether from your diet.

Having said that, solutions vary between individuals depending either on their genetic traits or existing medical conditions. These conditions include surgeries or injuries to your small intestine and medication.

Diagnosis

Visit your Physician or turn to a certified Nutritionist to know if you’re lactose intolerant. This is essential because the symptoms may be very similar to other medical conditions. It’s always better to be sure of your medical condition.

And, there are certain tests which can help diagnose lactose intolerance in you.

Hydrogen Breath Test

Hydrogen breath test is a simple way of knowing if you’re lactose intolerant. This test measures hydrogen in your breath after your lactose intake.

If your breath contains a large amount of hydrogen (20ppm above your baseline) after drinking the lactose solution, it’s probable that you’re lactose intolerant. This may be due to lactose intolerance causing the bacteria in the large intestine to produce more hydrogen than normal.

But high quantity of hydrogen also imply that your digestive problems could be due to other medical issues.

Lactose Tolerance Test

In this test, your blood sugar levels are tested after you consume lactose solution. If you’re lactose intolerant, your blood sugar levels will either rise gradually or they will not rise.

This is because your body cannot break down the lactose into glucose.

Genetic Test

This genetic test can help you in the proper diagnosis of your primary lactose intolerance, but it does not help you diagnose secondary non-genetic causes of lactose intolerance arising from gastroenteritis or other disorders of your small intestine.

Stool Acidity Test

This test is meant for babies and young children. It checks for acid levels in the stool. Babies and young children with lactose intolerance will generally have a lower pH (potential of hydrogen).

Treatment

“There is no cure for lactose intolerance, but don’t worry. You can still manage the symptoms by making changes to your diet.”

Lactose intolerance caused by gastroenteritis, for example, is just temporary and your condition will gradually improve in a matter of days or weeks.

Lactose intolerance caused by your inherited trait or by some other long underlying condition is likely to be long-lasting.

Enzyme Supplements

While enzyme supplements may favourably help your body digest lactose, their effectiveness might vary, from no tangible effect to reduced symptoms of lactose intolerance. But do consult your general physician before taking these digestive enzyme supplements.

Consuming Lactose Regularly

Consuming lactose regularly might help your gut microbiota to produce enough lactase and improve your ability to digest lactose. But research on this is still limited, though initial studies show encouraging signs.

Change Your Diet

Avoiding food containing lactose and replacing them with lactose-free food items can help you. You still need vitamins and minerals in your diet to lower the risk of complications, so it’s important to find them in other dietary sources.

Add Probiotics and Prebiotics to Your Diet

Probiotics are loaded with good bacteria for your gut health, and prebiotics are fibers that are not digestible by your body but they can help these good bacteria grow in your gut. Adding them to your diet may greatly help reduce your symptoms of lactose intolerance.

Avoid Medicines that Contain Lactose

A small amount of lactose may be present in prescription as well as over-the-counter medicines that might trigger symptoms of lactose intolerance in you. Always consult your physician before taking these medicines.

Try Lactose-free foods

Foods and drinks that contain vitamins and minerals as standard dairy products with added enzyme called lactase normally do not trigger symptoms of lactose intolerance. You can always try lactose-free milk and other dairy products that might help you lower these symptoms.

Get Enough Calcium

If you can’t eat dairy products, you may not get enough calcium, which is essential for your teeth and bone. Calcium also helps in regulating your muscle contractions and making sure your blood clots normally. Calcium is found in leafy green vegetables, soya beans, tofu, nuts and other food items made with fortified flour.

Read Your Food Labels Properly

Always read your food labels properly and check for lactose content in them. Lactose is often added to bread, cereal, cake, cookies, coffee creamers etc. Also, look for words that may mean lactose in the products, like butter, cheese, cream, milk solids, dried milk, powdered milk and whey.

 

Can DNA-based Nutritional Interventions Help

Yes, most certainly.

But first you must understand the role of nutrigenomics in your health and lifestyle.

The primary goal of nutrigenomics is to prevent the onset and progression of chronic diseases through proper dietary advice. This being the core objective, once you’re diagnosed for lactose intolerance among other traits, a DNA-based dietary intervention becomes highly important.

Based on your blood and genomic data, your lifestyle and medical history, a fully personal, tailor-made nutritional intervention swings into action. This approach goes a long way to help you manage your lactose intolerance effectively and lead you to better-informed health decisions.

“Your present and future health can be optimally managed through your genomic data and DNA-based dietary interventions and lifestyle changes.”

 

If you have a question related to this blog post, write to us here and we will update this post with a response. 

Sources: WebMD,WebMD(1), Healthline, Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins Medicine, NHS, Medscape and PubMed.

If you have any more questions, please feel free to write to us at support@nugenomics.in or call us directly at +91 9176655912

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