Lactose Intolerance is when the body can’t produce enough amounts of the enzyme lactase in the small intestine and so it can’t digest foods containing lactose. Lactose intolerance is not the same as a milk allergy. People who are allergic to milk have an immune reaction to proteins found in cow’s milk. Some symptoms of a milk allergy are skin rashes, intestinal distress, respiratory symptoms and itchy and watery eyes. Anaphylatic shock can occur if the case is very severe. Lactose intolerance only affects the GI tract and include intestinal gas, bloating, cramping, nausea, diarrhea and discomfort. The symptoms only take a couple of hours to be resolved.
Some infants are born with lactose intolerance but it is more common to see the lactase enzyme activity decrease after 2 years of age. 70% of the world’s population will lose some ability to digest lactose as they age. Lactose intolerance is more common in Native Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and African American adults than in Caucasians.
Some people with lactose intolerance can digest small amounts of dairy products where as some can’t have any. It’s not necessary for all people with lactose intolerance to avoid all dairy products, they may simply need to eat smaller amounts or try different foods to see what does and what doesn’t cause intestinal distress.
A concern for people with lactose intolerance is getting enough calcium. It’s important to find these foods for normal growth, development, and maintenance of bones. Many people can tolerate formulated milk products that are low in lactose and others can take pills or use drops containing the lactase enzyme when they eat dairy products. Calcium fortified soy milk and orange juice are good sources in substitute for cow’s milk. A lot of people can also digest yogurt and aged cheese because the bacteria or molds used to ferment these products break down the lactose during processing.
Many people discover they have problems digesting dairy products by trial and error. Because intestinal gas, bloating, and diarrhea may relate to other health problems, it’s important to go to a physician to figure out the problem. Some tests include drinking a lactose liquid and testing glucose levels over a 2 hour period. If a normal amount of glucose isn’t produced, that means you were unable to digest the lactose. Another test is measuring hydrogen levels in the breath because more hydrogen will come out when a lactose intolerant person drinks a beverage containing lactose.