Lactose intolerance is the inability to process dairy products. Lactose is a type of sugar used to make milk, yogurt, cheese, and other dairy products. Some people’s small intestine are unable to digest lactose, thus leading to lactose interolance. If their intestine doesn’t make enough of the enzyme lactase which is helped to absorb foods, the lactose can’t be absorbed.
Causes of Lactose Intolerance
Some children may be born with lactose intolerance though it won’t usually show up until they are 3 or older. Lactose intolerance is more common among adults, with approximately 30 million people over the age of 20 in the United States being lactose intolerant. While there is no single cause leading to someone to be lactose intolerance, there are risk factors. For example, with Caucasians, it is common in children over 5 while African Americans see it in children as young as 2. It is rare in people of European ancestry. Other risk factors including having bowel surgery, infections in the small intestines from parasites, bacteria, or viruses, or intestinal diseases.
Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance
There are a variety of symptoms of lactose intolerance, most of which occur between 30 minutes and 2 hours after eating or drinking milk or dairy products such as milk, ice cream, cheese, or similar food items. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include abdominal bloating or cramping, diarrhea, gas, and nausea.
Diagnosing Lactose Intolerance
To diagnose your lactose intolerance, your doctor will first perform a physical examination and ask you a series of questions. It helps to keep a food diary before visiting your doctor, including what you ate before having abdominal pain, cramping, gas, diarrhea, or nausea which are the common symptoms of lactose intolerance. They may also perform tests for diagnosing such as a lactose-hydrogen breath test, lactose tolerance test, or a stool pH.
Treating Lactose Intolerance
Your lactase levels will determine the proper treatment, which usually involves avoiding dairy products. If you have low lactase levels, you should be able to drink about 2-4 ounces of milk in one sitting (1/2 cup) without experience gas, nausea, or other symptoms. However drinking a cup or more can cause abdominal discomfort. Some products are easier to digest including buttermilk, yogurt, goat’s milk, ice cream, lactose-free milk, and hard cheeses. Depending on the severity of your lactose intolerance, you may need to avoid lactose food and drinks altogether, and stick to soy milk and cheese, almond milk, and rice milk.