Many people have heard the phrase before and had an ideal of what it meant – an inability for a person to have milk – but do these people actually know exactly what lactose intolerance is?
Lactose intolerance is just as the name suggests: It is the very definition of the words, an intolerance to lactose in the body. Lactose is a certain type of sugar found most commonly in dairy products, meaning that a person with this condition can no consume dairy unless they are prepared to deal with the consequences.
Causes and Risk Factors
Lactose intolerance in a person occurs when the small intestine of the body does not produce enough the lactase enzyme. Remember that enzymes are what help to break down the food the body consumes in an effort to absorb it better. Not having enough lactase in the body is called a lactase deficiency, meaning the body does not have enough lactase to properly absorb the food it is consuming.
The body of an infant needs lactase in order to digest milk, including milk from a breast. Babies that are premature sometimes develop lactose intolerance. A child born of full term will typically not show signs of the condition until at least 3 years of age. Lactose intolerance can begin at different points in a person”s life. Typically the condition will manifest in a child older than 5 if Caucasian, and can manifest as young as the age of 2 in African Americans. The condition seems to be more common in people that have a heritage based in Asian, African, Mediterranean, or Native American ancestry.
Lactose intolerance is a very common condition in adults and is not dangerous to the body, even if the after effects of ingesting lactose are uncomfortable to deal with. There are approximately 30 million adults in America that have developed some level of lactose intolerance as of age 20.
The causes of this condition are varied, but some of the more common cases include the following. Bowel surgery: Sometimes when a young child has to go undergo this procedure, it can damage the cells of the small intestine leading to an infection from bacteria or a transmitted virus. Certain intestinal diseases can cause the intolerance as well, notable celiac sprue.
Symptoms of intolerance can occur as soon as 30 minutes after ingestion all the way to 2 hours post-eating. Often, the symptoms are as easy to combat as to ingest no more dairy products for a while. Those who continue to ingest lactose despite having symptoms are putting themselves at risk to be suffering the aftermath for days on end.
Some of the most common symptoms include abdominal cramps, a bloating feeling of the abdomen, persistent diarrhea, nausea, and persistent flatulence.
Treatment of the condition is as simple as limiting lactose intake or completely removing milk products from the diet. Most people with mild intolerance can handle between 2-4 ounces (1 half cup) of milk at a time with no real side effect. Larger servings (~8oz) can cause issues in someone with the condition.