Do you find that you have a rumble in your tummy after eating dairy products? You may suffer from lactose intolerance.
Our bodies use an enzyme called lactase to help break down the milk sugar, lactose, into its counterparts called glucose and galactose. All of us are born with this lactase enzyme, but sometimes the amount of lactase our bodies make decreases after we are weaned off of breast milk or formula.
When those with a lactase deficiency eat dairy products, their bodies are not able to fully digest the milk sugar. The undigested lactose will then pass through the intestines, causing abdominal pain, gas and bloating, or diarrhea. This happens because bacteria in your intestines starts to ferment the lactose.
All of this for a good ol’ glass of milk.
Luckily for you, there are ways to diagnose lactose intolerance:
- Your physician may have you fast and eat a standard serving of lactose. Thereafter, he will measure the amount of hydrogen that comes out of your breath. Elevated hydrogen levels will be caused by your intestinal bacteria fermenting the excess lactose.
- A biopsy of the intestine can measure lactase activity
- Genetic testing for the lactase deficiency
- Elimination diets with careful monitoring by a physician or dietitian.
Symptoms of the syndrome are based on the amount of lactose you can actually digest, the amount of lactase you have in your system, the ability of your intestine’s bacteria to ferment lactose, and your personal sensitivity to dairy products.
One person with lactose intolerance might not be able to eat any dairy products, while another person can have yogurt and cheese. This is because the amount of milk sugar varies in dairy products. Yogurt doesn’t have as much lactose as milk! Management of the syndrome, therefore, varies from person to person.
*Please note that lactose intolerance is not the same as a milk allergy. Allergies occur when a person has a reaction to a protein. Lactose intolerance is caused by a sugar.
It’s important to remember that dairy products contain calcium and Vitamin D, which are needed for growth, bone health, and metabolism. For those of you with lactose intolerance, the following lists may help you avoid a deficiency of those two important nutrients:
Foods with Vitamin D: Fish and mushrooms
Being out in the sunlight can also help you avoid Vitamin D deficiency. Our bodies can make Vitamin D when our skin is stimulated by sunshine!
Foods with calcium: Dark, leafy greens, fortified cereals, fortified orange juices, soybeans, enriched grains, sardines, almonds, Lactaid milk
Lactaid milk is still milk! However, the sugars are already digested for you. Have you ever tried Lactaid? It is sweeter than regular milk. This is because glucose and galactose are naturally sweeter than lactose!