What exactly is lactose intolerance? We hear about it all the time and see products in the grocery store for lactose free items. Lactose intolerance is when your body is unable to digest the sugar, lactose, that is found in dairy products and milk. Usually your small intestines produce and enzyme called lactase, which turns the lactose into fuel for your body. When you have this intolerance your body naturally doesn’t produce enough of the lactase. This causes the lactose to just stay in your stomach and not digest. This is when you start to see the symptoms that go along with lactose intolerance.
Lactose intolerance is very common. It can happen in all ages from infancy to the elderly. Sixty-five percent of people have reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy. About 30 million Americans have a lactose intolerance before age 20. Though it can happen to anyone of any age it is more common in adults than children. Other things that can add to the likelihood of getting lactose intolerant, can be your ethnic background. People of Asian, African, Native American and Hispanic background are more likely to develop lactose intolerance as a small child. Some places in Eastern Asia can have as much as ninety percent of people suffering from lactose intolerance. Why you can develop lactose intolerance at a later age is because your body can stop producing the lactase enzyme. Just in the US alone there are three million new cases of lactose intolerance a year.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance occur usually 30 minutes to 2 hours after you eat dairy products and how severe is dependant on how much you eat. There are a number of different symptoms that a person can experience. Each depends on the person and the amount of dairy eaten.
You could experience bloating, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and gas.
If you develop these symptoms shortly after eating dairy you may want to consult your doctor to make sure that this is what you truly have.
You want to be properly diagnosed so you can make sure you are treated appropriately. Treatment for this usually includes limiting how much dairy and lactose you take in daily. You can try and eat lactose free products. Sometimes if you develop an intolerance when you were a child you can grow out of the intolerance on your own.
Lactose intolerance can be frequently misdiagnosed. In infants it can be hard to distinguish between your child having lactose intolerance versus a milk allergy. Lactose intolerance as we said before is within the digestion.
Where a milk allergy is caused by the immune system. If you have this milk allergy your body will react with an allergic reaction such as a rash, mild or severe, difficulty breathing, or even in extreme severe cases loss of consciousness.
Approximately two in every hundred babies will have lactose intolerance. Which is about the same as the 2.5% of infants that can develop a milk allergy in infancy. Most of the time infants will develop a milk allergy within their first year of life.
Lactose Intolerance or IBS
Lactose intolerance can be hard to differentiate between that or IBS. IBS or irritable bowel syndrome is a disease that affects the large bowel. It can cause the same symptoms as lactose intolerance which can be why it is so hard to diagnose between the two.
IBS is a chronic condition that you will have to manage over time. Diet changes can help you manage your IBS. Your doctor will run some tests to see which condition you have. Only about five to seven percent of people have been diagnosed with IBS. Make sure that you get properly diagnosed by your doctor before you just self diagnose.
The difference between what can cause IBS versus just staying away from dairy can truly change how you live.
Living With Lactose Intolerance
The amount of people who have or are developing lactose intolerance is increasing every year. Make sure to discuss with your doctor before you diagnose yourself with lactose intolerance so they can make sure you are doing the correct treatment.
Limiting your amount of dairy can differ from person to person. Some people can handle a cup of milk a day or a small amount of cheese, while other people will not be able to handle any amount per day.
There are lactase supplements that you can take to help promote the increase of lactase enzyme in your body so that you can digest lactose normally.
Lactose intolerance is not a life threatening disease and can be managed when appropriately diagnosed.
A good way to see what is causing the worst of your symptoms is to keep a food diary. Writing down everything you eat and your symptoms after within thirty minutes to two hours after may help doctors evaluate what is causing your discomfort.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms consult your doctor so they can run the tests on you to make sure you are properly diagnosed and get the help you need in dealing with being lactose intolerant.
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