Lactose Intolerance: What Is It, Symptoms, Causes, Types, & Treatment
Have you ever walked around the folks who enjoy every cuisine but the mere thought of milk or a dairy product scares them out of their wits? Are you acquainted with anyone whose digestive system can digest even a brick (pun intended), but won’t be able to enjoy milk? Well, such folks may be lactose intolerant.
Over the years, the issue of lactose intolerance has gained prominence all over the world, and it becomes vital to be aware of the condition.
What Is Lactose Intolerance?
In simple terms, folks with lactose intolerance are not able to completely digest the sugar (i.e. lactose) in milk. Thus, after consuming milk or any other dairy product, they face issues like gas, bloating, and/or diarrhea. Albeit harmless, the condition makes the person experience uncomfortable symptoms. Lactose intolerance is also known as lactose malabsorption.
Symptoms Of Lactose Intolerance
Lactose intolerance comes with a wide array of symptoms. These symptoms begin to manifest just around 30 minutes to 2 hours after the consumption of milk, dairy products, or any edible having lactose.
Common symptoms and signs of lactose intolerance include:
- Stomach Cramps
- Nausea, sometimes leading to vomiting
Why Does Lactose Intolerance Occur?
The root cause of the issue lies in the small intestines. The condition of lactose intolerance takes place when the small intestine fails to produce enough lactase (an enzyme) that is responsible for digesting milk sugar (lactose).
Usually, lactase converts the milk sugar into two simple sugars, namely, glucose and galactose. These two sugars are then absorbed into the bloodstream via the intestinal lining.
In case your body lacks enough lactase, lactose in the food runs into the colon instead of getting processed and absorbed. In this case, the normal bacteria in the colon will interact with the undigested lactose, resulting in uncomfortable signs and symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Types Of Lactose Intolerance
There are broadly three types of lactose intolerance. These are primary, secondary, and congenital or developmental lactose intolerance. Let’s begin understanding all of these, one by one.
Primary Lactose Intolerance
This is the most common type of Lactose intolerance. In this type of lactose intolerance, people begin their lives with their bodies producing enough lactase. As infants, when all they consumed was only milk, their bodies produce the right amount of lactase, enough for them to digest milk.
In normal conditions, when an infant grows and replaces milk with other foods, the production of lactase drops, but enough lactase is produced to digest lactose.
However, in some cases, the production of lactase drops significantly, thereby not being enough to digest lactose. This case results in the development of primary lactose intolerance.
Secondary Lactose Intolerance
Similar to the case of primary lactose intolerance, this type of condition also deals with a significant drop in the production of lactase, however, the reduction of lactase is the result of an injury or intestinal surgery in this case. Secondary lactose intolerance can occur after celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, intestinal infection, and bacterial overgrowth.
The good news is that the treatment of the underlying issue might restore the levels of lactase production, however, it may take time.
Congenital Or Developmental Lactose Intolerance
In some rare cases, lactase levels are low in an infant right from the very beginning. This disorder takes place if both the mother and father pass on the same gene variant for lactose intolerance to the child. Such a type of lactose intolerance is passed from generation to generation in the autosomal recessive pattern of inheritance.
Treatment For Lactose Intolerance
In order to avoid uncomfortable symptoms, a person with lactose intolerance may require to avoid milk or any other substance containing lactose.
Now, the tough job here is to recognize which substances may contain lactose and which may not. In such a case, one must check the food label before consumption. Any food label that says that the product has “milk” in it in any form must be avoided.
People may consume lactase enzyme supplements which contain the enzyme, lactase, to help break down lactose in milk products. However, every supplement must be taken with the consideration of a doctor.