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Understanding Lactose Intolerance from Its Causes to Diet

Understanding Lactose Intolerance from Its Causes to Diet
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Do you have stomach pain, diarrhea, or a bloated stomach after eating dairy products or drinking milk? If yes, then you might have produced lactose intolerance!

What is Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance also known as milk intolerance is a common digestive disorder where the body is unable to digest lactose (a type of sugar) mainly found in milk and dairy products. When we drink a cup of milk, our small intestine produces lactase enzyme which is responsible to break down of lactose.

People who are lactose intolerant have low levels of lactase results in no breakdown of lactose in glucose and galactose. This lactose enters directly into the colon. The bacteria in the colon act upon the lactose, developed symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating, etc.

What Causes Lactose Intolerance?

Depending on the underlying cause, lactose intolerance may be temporary or permanent. Mostly it is developed in adults which are inherited and in young children are often caused by some infection.

Depending upon the cause, there are 3 types of lactose intolerance –

1: Primary lactose intolerance 

Primary lactose intolerance is the most common and inherent type. In this type of intolerance, a child’s body decreases the production of lactase with age which causes poor absorption of lactose in the gut. This generally occurs after the age of 2.

2: Secondary lactose intolerance 

Secondary lactose intolerance occurs when the lactase production decreases due to some diseases or after surgery of the small intestine. Reduced lactase levels can be restored by treating the causative factor. Diseases associated with this are –

  • Celiac disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Intestinal abnormalities, overgrowth

3: Congenital or developmental lactose intolerance 

This type of intolerance is rare and transfers genetically to the baby from the paternal or maternal side. In this type of intolerance, babies are born with a lack of lactase activity. Sometimes, this condition occurs in premature babies where the intolerance of lactose lasts for a shorter duration.

What Are The Sign And Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance shows signs and symptoms which begin within 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming dairy products. The sign and symptoms are as follows –

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Flatulence
  • Abdominal distention

What Are The Diagnostic Tests For Lactose Intolerance?

If you are repeatedly having these complaints after eating dairy products your doctor may advise you to go for lactose intolerance tests. This can be confirmed by the following tests –

1: Lactose intolerance test 

In this type of test, blood is collected after ingesting lactose-containing liquid to measure the glucose level in your blood. If your glucose levels don’t rise, it means your body isn’t properly digesting and absorbing lactose-containing products.

2: Hydrogen breath test 

A hydrogen breath test is a simple way to check lactose intolerance. In this test, two hours after drinking a lactose-containing liquid, they will measure the hydrogen in your breath by breath analyzer. If there is increased exhalation of hydrogen in your breath then it is considered as a lactase deficiency.

3: Stool test 

It is particularly carried out in infants where they cannot able to perform a breath test. The presence of high levels of acetate and other fatty acids in stool can be a sign of lactose intolerance.

Some other tests include –

  1. Genetic testing
  1. Intestinal biopsy

What Are The Treatment Options For Lactose Intolerance?

Unfortunately there no medicinal treatment available for this. However, lifestyle modification and low-lactose diet plans can be the options to manage the intolerance such as –

  • Start maintaining good nutrition
  • Avoid lactose-containing dairy products
  • Taking calcium, vitamin-rich foods in the diet like broccoli, almonds
  • Taking probiotic supportive
  • Drinking milk with lactase enzyme powder to break down the lactose

What Food Should You Avoid? 

Usually, lactose is present in dairy products and foods but that doesn’t mean you have to cut down all dairy products from your diet. Dairy products that commonly contain lactose includes –

  • Milk – cow, buffalo, goat
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Butter
  • Chocolates – candies
  • Ice-cream
  • Whipped cream
  • Desserts

Sometimes it may be present in prepared food such as –

  • Processed meat
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Instant coffee
  • Convenience meal
  • Cakes, biscuits, and bread
  • Creamed vegetables
  • Scrambled eggs
  • creamy soups

Keep in mind that checking the label of dairy or prepared products can help to determine whether it contains lactose or not. Also, certain medicines contain lactose such as birth control pills, over-the-counter drugs for stomach cramps. Hence, always consult your physician before using any medicine.

Which Food Should You Eat?

You may think that there must be limited options available for a lactose-free diet but that’s not true. You can enjoy many foods as a part of your lactose-free diet, including –

  • Milk alternatives – lactose-free milk, soy milk, coconut milk, almond milk, oat milk
  • Lactose-free yogurts – soy yogurt, coconut yogurt, almond milk yogurt
  • Fruits – Apples, oranges, plums, mangos
  • Vegetables – onion, garlic, broccoli, spinach, kale, zucchini
  • Meat – beef, lamb, pork
  • Seafood – tuna, salmon, lobsters, clams
  • Poultry products – chicken, turkey, duck
  • Soy products – tofu, miso
  • Nuts – almonds, cashew, walnuts, pistachio
  • Legumes – chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans
  • Whole grains – wheat, barley, quinoa, oats
  • Seeds – chia seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds
  • Beverages – water, tea, brewed coffee, green tea, coconut water

Lactose intolerance is the most common form of food sensitivity. But, cutting all dairy products from your diet may not be the best option. Dairy products are loaded with calcium, vitamins, minerals, proteins which helps you to stay fit from various diseases.

Luckily there are many options available for lactose-free foods which can reduce your cravings and gives you the required nutrients.

About the author

Riddhi Parmar

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