What Is Lactose Intolerance?
What is all the hullabaloo about?Nowadays, more than ever, we see words like gluten intolerance and lactose intolerance being thrown around like a game of beach volleyball. Whoopi Goldberg, Anne Hathaway, Randy Jackson, Star Jones, Toni Braxton, and more recently, Kylie Jenner, have all realised their lactose intolerance, and have decided to eliminate dairy from their diet entirely. But apart from the fact that today, if you throw a stone, it is most likely to hit a lactose-intolerant person, it’s true that we’ve all faced situations of indigestion, bloating, or hyperacidity after a tea binge, or endless milk chocolates.
Is it an epidemic? Is it a genetic disorder, or a lifestyle condition? When is this condition severe enough to be diagnosed as lactose intolerance? Can just a little queasiness, after a giant bowl of cereal, mean intolerance? Whoa. That’s a lot of questions.
Here’s everything you need to know about lactose intolerance:
- Definition – Lactose intolerance is a range of symptoms that occur when the body is unable to digest lactose, the sugar present in milk.
- Not to be confused with milk allergy – Lactose intolerance is different from milk allergy, in that milk allergy is triggered by the casein protein present in milk.
- Genetic and other factors at play – Lactose intolerance is common in adults. Native Americans and people of Asian, African, and South American descent are more susceptible to it than people of European descent. Some people who have lactose intolerance, face severe reactions to milk products, while others can consume small amounts of milk or certain types of milk products, without facing problems. This means that the condition can be either hereditary, or due to lifestyle factors or diseases.
4. What really happens – Lactose intolerance occurs when the small intestine fails to produce enough of an enzyme called lactase, which the body needs to break down, or digest, lactose.
5. Symptoms – The signs and symptoms usually begin 30 minutes to 2 hours after consumption of dairy, including diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, bloating, gas etc.
6. The vital enzyme, lactase – Humans are born with the enzyme lactase, and the ability to digest lactose without external help. But sometimes, diseases that destroy the lining of the intestine, which, in turn, destroy lactase, may hamper the body’s ability to digest lactose temporarily. Lactose intolerance that occurs after the age of 21 is rarely due to genetic lactase deficiency.
7. Diagnosis – The diagnosis of the condition is simply done by eliminating lactose from the diet, and observing if the symptoms disappear.
8. Testing – Tests that are useful for diagnosing genetically-influenced lactose intolerance or lactase deficiency include a lactose breath test, blood glucose test, stool acidity test, intestinal biopsy, and genetic tests that look for the gene that controls the production of lactase.
9. Treatment – There is no known cure for lactose intolerance yet. However, the condition can be managed by making lifestyle changes like avoiding large servings of milk or other dairy products, eating and drinking lactose-reduced ice cream and milk, drinking regular milk after you add a liquid or powder to it to break down the lactose, and staying away from foods that have lactose as an additive in them, such as packaged soups, powders, biscuits, cakes, dressings etc.
Yes, with dairy gone, a lot of calcium and vitamin D sources may seem to have gone out of the window, but there are a number of non-dairy foods rich in these nutrients that you can trust your nutrition with – namely, soy, almond, rice, and coconut milk; sardines; salmon; kale; broccoli; fatty fishes; fish liver oil; almonds etc. If you still feel sceptical, then the use of dietary supplements can also help ensure steady nourishment to you. Meanwhile, your doctor may also prescribe lactase tablets that help digest lactose in foods, and are easily available over the counter, without any known side-effects. So don’t be disheartened if you’re lactose intolerant; there’s plenty of other fish (rich in calcium and vitamin D) in the sea!