Lactose intolerance is a condition whereby the body’s digestive system is not able to cope with the lactose component of milk. Lactose is a type of sugar which is found in milk and other dairy products. In normal conditions, it is usually digested into glucose and galactose but in people with lactose intolerance problems, it is left undigested.
What causes lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is caused by the body’s failure to secrete enough lactase. Lactase is the enzyme that is required to break down lactose into simple sugars glucose and galactose. In the absence of enough lactase, lactose remains undigested when you consume milk or dairy products. It stays in the intestines where it is fermented by bacteria thereby leading to digestive problems.
There are various conditions which can interfere with lactase secretion. These include illnesses such as stomach flu and surgical operations to remove a part of the small intestine.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance
Symptoms of lactose intolerance are quite similar to that of most digestive problems. They include gas, stomach pains and cramps, stomach rumbling, diarrhoea, bloating and vomiting. These symptoms usually occur within 30 minutes to 2 hours of consuming milk or milk products.
It is important to seek medical attention whenever you experience any of the above symptoms as they could be indicating a different condition altogether and not necessarily lactose intolerance.
Occurrence of lactose intolerance
The condition is mostly common in people of American, Asian, and African descent. It is not very common in Europeans.
Secondly, lactose intolerance mainly affects adults. It first develops in those between 20 and 40 years of age. The problem is not very common in babies and small children.
Treatment of lactose intolerance
There is no defined treatment for lactose intolerance. Doctors usually just recommend abstaining from a milk diet. You may need to see a dietician to recommend a meal plan for you if you are going to avoid milk and milk products altogether. This is because you will now need to get nutrients such as calcium and Vitamin D which are normally gotten from milk from other sources.
Lactose intolerance is different from milk allergy
Lactose intolerance shouldn’t be confused with milk allergy. The two are different cases altogether. Lactose intolerance is related to digestive enzyme while milk allergy is caused by immune reactions. Milk allergy occurs when the body forms antibodies to fight a certain protein found in milk.