Understanding What is Lactose Intolerance

Understanding What is Lactose Intolerance

Lactose Intolerance

A guide to Lactose Intolerance

Ever wondered what exactly lactose intolerance is? A word now rather common, still leaves plenty uncertain of what the condition is and how to cope with it. Lactose intolerance, or hypolactasia, is a disorder where the body is unable to digest a particular type of sugar called lactose, which is generally present in any food material that has milk. This inability is caused because the body has low amounts of lactase enzyme that aids the breakdown of lactose into the two compounds of glucose and galactose.

The site of the conversion of lactose into its two compounds occurs in the large intestine. The results of the consumption of milk products by anyone who is lactose intolerant include a digestive system dysfunction. It can range from minor cramps to serious diarrhoea.

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance:

Lactose intolerance can manifest in several ways. Here are some of the most common ones.

1. Bloating

2. Pain in the lower abdomen

3. Rumbling noises in the lower abdomen

4. Gas and flatulence

5. Diarrhoea

6. Nausea

However, there exists a common misconception among several people that they are lactose intolerant if they have had some bad experience with dairy products once or twice in the past. Rest assured that if you really did have lactose intolerance, it would be consistent and highly uncomfortable. You probably had a tryst with expired milk or already had a stomach issue that got compounded by the dairy.

How to Test for Lactose Intolerance:

There are two main tests that are widely used to test for lactose intolerance. They are:

1. Lactose Intolerance Blood test:

You will be asked to consume a drink that has some amount of lactose in it. Then, a simple blood test will be administered to measure the amount glucose present in your body. Depending on the levels of glucose found, the status of your intolerance is measured.

2. Hydrogen Breath Test:

This test is more popular than the previous one as it is less invasive and takes less time for the results to be processed. Again, you are asked to consume a drink that contains some lactose in it. The hydrogen levels in your breath are monitored before and after the consumption of this drink. An individual who does not have hypolactasia will not have a wide difference in the level of hydrogen. However, if the person is intolerant, then the hydrogen levels in the breath after consumption will be much higher, indicating a difficulty in digestion.

Remember that you need to take both the tests on an empty stomach and should not have participated in any heavy exercise at least eight hours prior to the time of the test.

Diet for the Lactose Intolerant:

Being lactose intolerance is in no means a debilitating health issue. With proper care and monitoring, it can be completely controlled.

1. Exclusion of Dairy:

As is most obvious, the consumption of dairy should be kept to an absolute minimum. After referring with your doctor and finding out the severity of your intolerance, your doctor can then help you measure just how much dairy you can consume in a day or in a week. For example, one cup of milk has twelve grams of lactose and two scoops of ice cream have three grams. By carefully calculating the amount of lactose present in each food and comparing it with your threshold, you can avoid any sort of dietary discomfort.

2. Dairy Substitutes:

That one cup of milk has two hundred and eighty five grams of calcium and those two scoops of ice cream have fifty five grams. Calcium deficiency could be one of the main problems associated with lactose intolerance. But fear not, dairy substitutes do exist in the market. There are certain brands of soy milk and ice cream that are lactose free.

3. Enzyme Supplements:

Enzyme supplements are generally available in the form of drops and can be bought over the counter with or without a prescription. However, it is important that you consult with your doctor to know which brand to buy and what dosages to consume, to reap the benefit of these enzyme supplements. Simply buy and add these drops to your food or dairy intake like milk or cup of curd before consumption to aid digestion. These drops are available at most chemists at rather affordable rates.

Lactose intolerance in no way is detrimental to your general health. By following a few dietary changes and including supplements, you too can lead an absolutely normal and active life. Now that you know what is lactose tolerance and the diet that you need to follow, make sure you exercise it. It goes without saying that health is wealth!Now that you know what is lactose tolerance and the diet that you need to follow, make sure you exercise it. It goes without saying that health is wealth!

Reviewed By:

Dr. Kaushal M. Bhavsar (MBBS, MD)

Assistant Professor in Pulmonary Medicine, GMERS Medical College, Ahmedabad