Dairy promoters tout milk as nature’s nearly perfect food based on the number of vitamins and minerals milk contains. However, a person who suffers from lactose intolerance finds that nature’s nearly perfect food attacks rather than nourishes their body. For anyone who suffers from this illness, the painful and embarrassing symptoms cause intense suffering and frustration. To understand the affects of dairy products on a lactose intolerant person, consider the body’s digestive system and treatments that eradicate lactose’s effects on those with lactose intolerance.
Causes of lactose intolerance
Milk contains sugar called lactose. When a human consumes milk or a lactose-laden food, the digestive system works to digest the lactose. In the small intestine, the enzyme lactase breaks down lactose into glucose and galactose, two simple sugars easily absorbed by the body.
A person who suffers from lactose intolerance produces little to no lactase. With limited or non-existent lactase interaction, unprocessed lactose proceeds from the small intestine to the large intestine. There, normal intestinal bacteria interact with the undigested lactose to produce uncomfortable symptoms.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance
Within 30 to 120 minutes of eating lactose, a person experiences lactose intolerance symptoms. As individuals vary, the symptoms may be mild to severe depending on the lactose intolerance level. Symptoms include gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and acid reflux.
Diagnosis of lactose intolerance
Adults primarily suffer from primary lactase deficiency, genetically caused by the absence of lactase in the body. Secondary lactase deficiency affects children and adults after an intestinal injury or due to an environmental cause such as gastroenteritis, chemotherapy or intestinal parasites. Rare, congenital lactase deficiency is a genetic disorder present at birth.
As other diseases manifest similar symptoms, doctors typically perform one or more of four tests to determine lactose intolerance. The hydrogen breath test measures hydrogen in one’s body after consuming a lactose rich liquid. Undigested lactose in the large intestine produces large amounts of exhaled hydrogen gas. As with the hydrogen breath test, blood work measures one’s glucose levels after the patient consumes a lactose rich liquid. Low levels of glucose indicate lactose intolerance. For young patients who cannot comfortably undergo the large lactose levels required for the above tests, stool acidity tests measure levels of lactic acid and undigested lactose in the colon.
Treatment of lactose intolerance
With no cure, lactose intolerance sufferers must observe dietary restrictions. Avoid dairy products that contain high levels of lactose such as milk, yogurt and ice cream. Individuals may indulge in cheese, butter and sour cream that contain smaller amounts of lactose. Lactose-free products allow one to eat and drink vitamin and nutrient-rich dairy products without suffering the affects of lactose.
Read food labels. Surprisingly, non-dairy foods such as processed meat, cereal, protein bars, and even potato chips contain lactose-laden commercial food additive that enhances flavor, texture and adhesion. When reading food labels, look for the ingredients lactoserum, whey, milk solids and modified milk ingredients to signal the presence of lactose.
Lactose causes painful and embarrassing symptoms in people who suffer from lactose intolerance. Remove the stigma, and seek medical help for symptoms. Following a relatively painless test, a doctor can determine the patient’s lactase level. With dietary changes, lactose intolerance sufferers enjoy life symptom-free despite a lactase deficiency.