Lactose intolerance simply means that the body is unable to properly digest the lactose in milk and products derived from milk. Lactose is responsible for giving milk a slight sweetness. The symptoms can be mild in some and more aggressive in others, depending on the level of deficiency the person is experiencing in an enzyme called lactase. Produced by the body in the small intestine, lactase is an enzyme that helps in the digestion of milk by breaking down lactose into simple, easy to digest sugars. The two most common types of lactose intolerance are referred to as “primary” and “secondary”.
Primary lactose intolerance is a genetic condition in which a person begins life creating plenty of lactase to support the high level of milk consumed as a child. Once the diet beings to expand to other foods, however, the level of lactase starts to decrease and falls off sharply as they age. Typically those with primary lactose intolerance will start to experience symptoms as they approach adulthood.
In the instance of secondary lactose intolerance, the production of lactase begins to decrease after an illness or injury to the small intestine, where the enzyme is created. Typically those will Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or other bacterial diseases will begin to develop symptoms of lactose intolerance. Many times in these cases, levels of lactase can start to be restored once the condition has been treated.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance will typically begin to occur in the first couple of hours after consuming anything containing lactose. There are several common symptoms associated with the condition, including diarrhea, gas and bloating, cramps, and nausea that may lead to vomiting.
There are many foods that one can avoid to ease the symptoms of lactose intolerance, most of which are those that are milk based. Things like milk, cheese, butter, coffee creamer, ice cream, milk shakes, and yogurt all should be avoided. Lactose is sometimes added to other non-dairy based foods such as candy, salad dressings, and bread. So it’s important to read labels and ask questions before consuming products that might contain lactose.
If you feel that you might have the condition, you might want to avoid foods with lactose for a few days to see if your symptoms decrease. This should give you some clues to take along with you for a conversation with your doctor. There are Dietary Supplements that you can try such as Lactaid or other generic alternatives. They can decrease your discomfort when eating dairy. Their ingredients include a natural lactase enzyme that can break down the lactose when eating foods containing dairy.