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What is Lactose Intolerance?


What is Lactose Intolerance?

If your body does not produce a sufficient level of lactase, the digestive enzyme needed to break down lactose, you may suffer symptoms of lactose intolerance. Your body does not make enough lactase to break down the sugar in milk products. The lactose is not digested in the small intestine, so it moves into the colon, undigested, which then causes uncomfortable symptoms.
This condition may be more common in adults. As we age, some of us naturally produce less lactase. Some ethnic groups are more prone to have low-to-no lactase production. Individuals who may have other digestive conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or infection may also show symptoms of lactose intolerance.

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance

The good news is that lactose intolerance does not harm your intestines, but its uncomfortable symptoms are anything but good. Depending on the type and amount of lactose consumed, you may experience some of these symptoms:

  • Painful gas
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Nausea or vomiting

4 Ways Lactose Intolerance Symptoms May Be Managed

Getting an accurate diagnosis of your condition is important. Often, individuals are not only lactose-intolerant but suffer with additional enzyme deficiencies. Testing for these deficiencies (disaccharidase deficiencies) may be necessary for accurate diagnosis and treatment. Seeing a gastroenterology specialist will ensure you are treating the right ailment and are implementing a complete and nutritionally adequate treatment plan for your condition.

Once a diagnosis is made, individuals with lactose intolerance may be able to control most symptoms with dietary changes.

1. Reduce Dairy

If your healthcare provider feels it’s appropriate, they might suggest eating smaller amounts of lactose-containing foods to determine whether smaller amounts may be well-tolerated.

2. Eliminate Dairy

If reducing lactose-containing foods does not work, a few common foods for those suffering from lactose intolerance to avoid are:

  • Milk
  • Ice Cream
  • Cheese
  • Sour Cream
  • Curds
  • Butter

*Watch for hidden sources of lactose including coffee creamers, bread and cereal, creamy salad dressings, pre-packaged mixes for making cookies, cake, or pancakes. There are brands now available that are safe for those who are lactose intolerant.

Continuing on a dairy-free diet may mean a lack of certain vitamins and minerals needed for adequate nutrition. Your gastroenterologist will provide a plan for you to get enough vitamin D, calcium and other minerals from your diet when you eliminate lactose-containing foods.

3. Use an Over-the-Counter Enzyme Supplement

For those who are significantly affected by even small amounts of lactose, over the counter medications such as Lactaid®, or generic versions of a lactase supplement may help. This medication is taken with or prior to eating lactose-containing food to ease and eliminate symptoms.

4. Lactose-Free Foods

Grocery stores have begun to regularly carry all sorts of food options for those with food allergies or specific eating styles. Affordable, lactose-free options are available in milk, cheese, and other dairy products. Lactose-free pre-packaged mixes and foods are also easy to fin. Watch the dairy-free label on the package.

Protect Your Calcium and Vitamin D Levels

If you are lactose intolerant, you may need to be more deliberate about your nutrition to maintain your calcium and vitamin D levels. Good food sources of calcium and vitamin D are:

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Broccoli
  • Oranges
  • Dried Figs
  • Products made using fortified flour – such as bread and cereals
  • Dried peas and beans
  • Calcium fortified juices
  • Almonds, Brazil nuts
  • Soy, oat, almond or rice milk

Check with your Granite Peaks gastroenterology specialist if you are considering supplements to support your calcium and vitamin levels to be sure you are taking an appropriate amount for your age and your good health. As with any health condition, don’t go it alone! Talk to a specialist who can help you feel your best while addressing your specific health issues.