Millions of people around the world are suffering from lactose intolerance. People who are most likely to suffer from this condition are those of South American, Asian and African descent. Studies have reveled that many Native Americans also suffer from this problem. Lactose intolerance can cause a great deal of physical discomfort including a bloated feeling, gas and severe stomach pain.
It is important to educate people on how to avoid foods which can cause lactose intolerance while still getting adequate amounts of calcium to maintain strong a healthy bones and teeth. Milk and other dairy products contain a natural sugar called lactose. When a person in unable to absorb and digest the lactose which is contained in dairy products he is said to be suffering from lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance can cause a variety of gastrointestinal disturbances.
The GI or gastrointestinal disturbances happen because lactose passes through the large intestine without being broken down or digested. This results in the formation of gas and stomach pain. Adults are more likely to suffer from this condition. The level of lactose intolerance varies from person to person. While some people are able to consume small amounts of milk and milk products, in others, the symptoms caused by lactose intolerance may be so severe that they are unable to eat any kind of dairy products.
Genetics plays an important role in determining whether a person will become lactose intolerant or not. Those with immediate family members who suffer from lactose intolerance are more likely to have this condition. So what causes lactose intolerance or in other words why are some individuals predisposed to suffer from this condition? The primary reason for some people suffering from lactose intolerance is due to the absence or reduced activity of the enzyme lactase that is responsible for splitting the lactose into its constituent sugars which are glucose and galactose.
There are three reasons for a person to suffer from lactose intolerance i.e. congenital, secondary and development reasons. In some people the enzyme lactase is absent from birth. This happens because the gene which is responsible for producing the enzyme lactase mutates. This is the congenital cause of lactose intolerance. Only very few people suffer from this type of lactose intolerance. People in whom the enzyme lactase is completely absent suffer from lactose intolerance right from birth.
In people who suffer from secondary lactose intolerance, the intolerance for lactose is not present from birth nor is it caused by the absence of the enzyme lactase. On the other hand these people suffer from lactose intolerance because the enzyme lactase and the lining of the small intestine are destroyed by the certain type of diseases like celiac sprue.
People with cystic fibrosis and those who have suffered stomach flu may also have lactose intolerance because the small intestine stops producing the enzyme lactase. Certain surgical procedure where a small section of the small intestine has been removed can also cause lactose intolerance. Infants who are born before term or premature babies suffer from lactose intolerance which gradually disappears with time once the baby’s system is fully developed and begins to produce the enzyme lactase.
If we talk of developmental cause of lactose intolerance we are basically describing ethnic groups who are predisposed to suffer from lactose intolerance right from childhood which generally worsens as the person grows older. People whose systems produce a reduced amount of the enzyme lactase need not necessarily suffer from lactose intolerance. A person is described as lactose intolerant if the lactase deficiency manifests itself in some form like stomach pain, cramps or a bloated feeling.
A person can determine whether he is lactose intolerant or not, by understanding the symptoms which are commonly associated with this condition. An individual may not be aware of the fact that he is suffering from lactose intolerance, as the symptoms exhibited by this condition are very similar to the ones seen in other health problems like irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.
People who have problems digesting foods containing sorbitol or fructose may also show symptoms which are very similar to the ones exhibited by people with lactose intolerance. People who use too many laxatives will also suffer from bloating, cramping and pain especially in the lower abdominal region.
Some of the common symptoms of lactose intolerance include, cramping in the lower abdomen followed by pain, bloating, rumbling or gurgling sounds emanating from the lower abdominal region, diarrhea or loose watery stools, gas buildup, nausea and vomiting. In infants who are lactose intolerant some of the frequently noticed symptoms include diaper rash, frothy watery stools, vomiting, dehydration, general irritability, extreme weakness and difficulty in weight gain.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance are not the same for every one. This is due to two factors. Lactase deficiency is not the same in everyone. Some people have very high levels of lactase deficiency, while in others it is very mild. The second reason for variability in the symptoms of lactose intolerance is due to the amount of lactose containing food that one incorporates into the daily diet.
If you suspect that you are lactose intolerant you can do several simple tests at home to diagnose your condition before approaching the doctor. One of the simplest ways to detect whether you are suffering from lactose intolerance is to go on an elimination diet. In this particular detection method all foods containing lactose, like milk and milk products are eliminated from the daily diet. The other self diagnostic method involves drinking a glass of milk on an empty stomach first thing in the morning and waiting for four to five hours to see whether the individual has any of the symptoms which are commonly associated with lactose intolerance.
Most doctors however use the hydrogen breath test to detect whether their patient is lactose intolerant or not. In this method, the breath of an individual suspected of having lactose intolerance is analyzed at regular intervals after he has consumed twenty five grams of pure lactose with water. Blood glucose test and stool acidity tests are the other ways of detecting whether a person is having lactose intolerance.
If you have been diagnosed as lactose intolerant, besides avoiding milk and milk products keep away from processed breakfast cereals, salad dressings, candies and other processed foods, bread, luncheon meats, pancakes, cookies and soups.