If you find yourself complaining about abdominal cramps, gas, stomach pain or diarrhea every time you consume milk or milk products, then chances are that you might be suffering from lactose intolerance, a condition that is characterized by the body’s inability to digest the sugar called lactose present in milke related products.
What Is Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose Intolerance is said to affect a body that does not produce enough enzymes (called lactase) needed to break down the lactose present in milk products into smaller, simpler sugars (glucose and galactose) that are easily digestable.
People suffering from other kinds of gastrointestinal disorders and diseases are also known to be affected by lactose intolerance as well. In these cases, the intestines become damaged or too weak to digest the lactose, thereby causing lactose intolerance.
Lactose when indigested in the small intestine passes into the large intestine in its original form. The bacteria present in the large intestine ferment the undigested lactose to form acids and gases. This development is reflected in the body in the form of gas, cramps, pain and diarrhea etc. which usually affect the body about half an hour after consuming foods that contain lactose.
Mild Vs. Severe And Temporary Vs. Permanent Lactose Intolerance
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Lactose Intolerance can be classified into mild and severe categories depending on how your body reacts to the symptoms and effects. In the case of mild lactose intolerance, individuals can just limit the amount of dairy foods that they consume (or any other foods that contain lactose).
However, those suffering from severe lactose intolerance cannot tolerate even the slightest trace of lactose. And so, these individuals would need to refrain from foods that contain lactose at all costs.
Similarly, lactose intolerance can be a temporary problem in certain individuals who can control the issue with the help of antibiotics and treatments. Others though would have to deal with the issue and live with it throughout their life.
If you feel your body is lactose intolerant, opt for a medical checkup right away. The standard procedure for diagnosing lactose intolerance involves a hydrogen breath test wherein the individual in question is required to blow into a tube (breath sample is taken) both before and after consuming lactose containing foods or solutions.
Undigested lactose would lead to high levels of gas in the body which would reflect in the breath. This in turn would reveal comparatively higher amounts of hydrogen and methane in the breath.
The hydrogen blow test would usually be followed by a general physical check up to rule out other medical conditions that might cause these symptoms as well.
Managing Lactose Intolerance
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There is no standard treatment for lactose tolerance (apart from antibiotics) for the disorder and its related symptoms vary with every individual. Individuals who are lactose intolerant need to gauge the behavior of their body in par with the lactase it produces and act accordingly.
One of the best ways to manage lactose intolerance is to maintain a food diary that would help you keep a check on what foods and drinks you can opt for or avoid. Having a food diary would also enable you to balance your nutritional needs wisely and let you enjoy your favorite dairy products without falling ill.
For example, rather than drinking milk, you can opt for yogurt, cheeses etc. which are easier to digest than the former. Foods like broccoli, kale, salmon, dried fruits, almonds, tofu, and turnip greens can provide your body with the calcium it needs while keeping a check on the lactose levels. Alternatively, there are plenty of lactose free dairy products (including milk) you can opt for.
There are also plenty of supplements and digestive aids available in the market to treat lactose intolerance. These products would usually contain the lactase enzyme or stimulate the body to produce more of the same in order to effectively digest lactose.