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Got Lactose Intolerance?

Milk
Photo by striatic via Flickr

Some people enjoy a tall, cold glass of milk either alone or with an occasional cookie.  But the experience isn’t so pleasant for everyone.  If drinking a glass of milk makes you feel bloated, nauseous or gives you gas, stomach cramps or diarrhea, you might be lactose intolerant.  That is more common than you might think.  It is estimated that only 25% of all people worldwide retain their ability to digest lactose efficiently throughout adulthood.

What is lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, which is a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products.  The reason is that lactase, which is an enzyme in our intestines that breaks down lactose, is no longer produced or not produced at high enough quantities.

This isn’t a problem in infancy.  Almost all infants produce lactase, because they are dependent on milk for survival. Thus it is rare to find an infant who is lactose intolerant.  A few infants though, along with some adults, may be allergic to the protein in milk instead.  That is not the same as lactose intolerance. It is only when we reach early childhood that people start producing less lactase.

How do I know if I am lactose intolerant?
Having gastrointestinal discomfort may not always be caused by lactose intolerance.  Here is a simple test, given by the The New Wellness Encyclopedia, to help you find out if you are intolerant. (Do not attempt this if the symptoms you have are severe.  In that case, consult with a medical professional instead.)

  1. Drink 2 glasses of milk: Make sure you drink this on an empty stomach.
  2. Wait 2 to 4 hours: See if you get any of the typical symptoms associated with lactose intolerance: bloating, gas, stomach cramps, nausea or diarrhea. If you do, move on to step 3.
  3. Repeat the test using lactose reduced milk: If you have no symptoms when drinking the treated milk, then you probably are lactose intolerant.  However, if you continue to have gastrointestinal issues, you need to consult with your doctor.  Something else could be going on.

Do I have to give up regular milk?
Most people who are lactose intolerant do not have to give up milk if they follow a few precautions.  Of course, there are different degrees of lactose intolerance.  Here are a few things that you should consider to help you minimize your symptoms when consuming dairy products.

  1. Drink less milk: Instead of drinking a large (16 oz/473mL) glass of milk 2 to 3 times a day, sip a small glass of milk (4 oz/118mL) 1 to 2 times a day. You will be more likely to tolerate a smaller amount and be less likely to suffer from gastrointestinal discomfort.  And if you’re drinking the milk for the calcium, you can get it from other sources, such as broccoli, leafy greens, canned salmon and calcium fortified breads and juices.
  2. Have your milk with your meal: Research has shown that many people who are lactose intolerant can consume moderate amounts of milk if it is part their meal, without incurring any symptoms.
  3. Try other dairy products: Not all dairy products have the same amount of lactose.  Fermented milk products such as yogurt and cheese are easier to digest.  Yogurt contains a lactase enzyme produced by the bacterial cultures, which helps break down the lactose.  However, be aware that some yogurts actually have milk solids added back into them after fermentation, which eliminates much of the advantage the yogurt would have over milk.  As for cheese, it tends to have little lactose and should not be a problem, because most of the lactose is removed during the process used to make the cheese.
  4. Drink lactose reduced milk or buy lactose free products: You can normally find these products in the dairy aisle of most supermarkets.  They might be more expensive, but they have the same nutrients found in their counterparts without the lactose that gives you problems.  That’s worth the extra money, right there.
  5. Buy lactase tablets or liquids: This can help you eliminate most of the lactose.  You can add it to the milk and let it sit for twenty-four hours or more before drinking it.  The longer you let the treated milk stand, the more lactose is broken down.  Or you can take lactase tablets before you consume a milk product.  It is usually less effective then adding drops to the milk, but it does help many people who need the lactose to be broken down and don’t have time to wait for the drops to work.

So, the bottom line is that even if you are lactose intolerant, you can still can eat your milk products in moderation or by choosing the right products.  Just know your body and plan ahead and you’ll be able to enjoy your meals without the discomforts that lactose intolerance can bring.

Comments (4)

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  1. Mark says:

    This is fabulous Talli! So many people claim to be lactose intolerant…this is one for the printer. Thanks!

  2. Maria Isabel says:

    This is a good post. I have some friends who are lactose intolerant. I liked the way that you explained it. You made it easy to understand. Thanks!

  3. […] is a link to the lactose intolerance article that I promised […]

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