Lactose is a natural sugar found in milk products. People who suffer from lactose intolerance do so because their bodies are unable to break down this lactose and absorb it into the blood. It is thought that around 5% of the western world’s population suffers from this condition and quite surprisingly it is thought to affect certain races more. For example people from an Asian ethnicity are thought to be 100% lactose intolerant and 80% of Hispanic and southern Indian people are thought to suffer too.
Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance
Lactose intolerance symptoms usually occur immediately after drinking or eating a substance that contains lactose. The severity of the lactose intolerance symptoms will depend on you individually and how much lactose you have taken in. For example some people may be able to drink a glass of milk and be fine whereas others will struggle if they have a little bit of milk in their coffee. The main symptoms of lactose intolerance include:
• Bloated stomach
• Stomach pain or cramps
If you have not been diagnosed as suffering from lactose intolerance yet have experienced these lactose intolerance signs after eating or drinking dairy products you might want to speak to your GP or nutritionist for further information.
Diagnosing Lactose Intolerance
Lactose intolerance is caused by a deficiency in lactase. There are a variety of different forms of lactose intolerance – some are hereditary whilst others can occur later on in life for example if you have any trouble with your small intestine. The most common form of lactose intolerance is primary lactose intolerance – this usually occurs in children over the age of two when their diet becomes less reliant on dairy products. This can take years to diagnose however and is almost always hereditary.
If you think you are suffering from lactose intolerance you should visit your GP. He or she will ask you to keep a record of your diet and may then ask you to partake in a lactose intolerance test. This will involve removing all lactose products from your diet to see if you notice any changes. If removing lactose from your diet helps with the symptoms of lactose intolerance your GP will likely refer you for further lactose intolerance tests to determine how much lactase your body is producing. These can include:
• A lactose intolerance test which involves drinking lactose solution and then having your blood taken to determine whether your body is breaking the lactose down and if so, how fast.
• A milk tolerance test
• A hydrogen breath test
• A small bowel biopsy – only normally performed when trying to rule out other conditions.
• A stool sample
Lactose Intolerance Treatment
The lactose intolerance treatment you receive will depend on how severe your symptoms are and how sensitive you are to foods that contain lactose. Most forms of treatment involve following a lactose intolerance diet which involves removing milk and other dairy products from your diet and replacing them with calcium and lactose substitutes. Generally you will be referred to a nutritionist who will ask you to test your tolerance to certain amounts of lactose and help you build a lactose intolerance diet around this. Dairy free products that contain added calcium are also recommended.