Lactose intolerance is a condition that causes people to become unable to fully digest milk or dairy products.
It is a fairly common condition in North America, however it often goes undiagnosed for many years. In the majority of cases, lactose intolerance is not life-threatening but the symptoms associated with it can be very uncomfortable.
Lactose intolerance is caused by a deficiency of a specific enzyme called lactase. This enzyme, which is produced in the small intestine, is essential for proper digestion of dairy products. In people with lactose intolerance, undigested dairy products move into the colon. This leads to the symptoms associated with this condition.
There are a few common causes of lactose intolerance, the first of which is normal aging. During the early years of life, the body produces large amounts of lactase as milk is often the primary source of nutrition. However, as we age and decrease the amount of milk products ingested, our bodies naturally decrease the amount of lactase production.
This decline in enzyme production may lead to lactose intolerance. Another common cause of this condition is the result of an underlying intestinal condition such as celiac disease, gastroenteritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
These conditions may lead to a decrease in lactase production. Lastly, some people are born without the ability to produce lactase entirely. This disorder is usually hereditary.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance vary from person to person. However, common symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, gas and bloating. In most cases, the severity of the symptoms ranges from mild to moderate.
The diagnosis of lactose intolerance is usually arrived at after conducting a detailed medical history and physical examination.
Your doctor can confirm their diagnosis by conducting certain lab tests. The most common test is called a lactose tolerance test. This test involves a patient drinking a liquid that is high in lactose and then checking the body’s reaction to it by testing the blood. Other tests include a stool acidity test and hydrogen breath test.
If a diagnosis of lactose intolerance is confirmed, your doctor will discuss possible treatments. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this condition.
However, most people are successful in controlling their symptoms by reducing the amount and frequency of dairy intake in their diet.
Due to the fact that there are many beneficial nutrients and vitamins contained in dairy products, it is important to discuss food substitution or supplementation with your health care professional to avoid the development of other nutritional deficiencies.
Probiotics are commonly recommended for people with gastrointestinal issues such as lactose intolerance. Probiotics are living organisms, which are present in our intestines.
These organisms help our bodies digest certain foods and nutrients. Probiotics are generally considered safe, but again, it is important to discuss it with your health care provider before taking any supplement. Until next month, drive safely.