Most people are aware of the signs of dairy or lactose intolerance – discomfort, gurgling and trips to the bathroom – but what else do you need to know?
Most people aren’t aware of just how common lactose intolerance is, particularly amongst those with Asian, African or Hispanic ancestry. Generally, the condition is when the body is unable to break down a natural type of sugar called lactose, which is usually found in dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese.
The process is when the small intestine stops making enough of the enzyme lactase, which is required to digest and breakdown the lactose consumed. When this happens, the undigested lactose moves back to the large intestine and causes symptoms such as:
- Stomach pain and cramps
Although not as common, other sufferers of lactose intolerance have reported symptoms that include headaches, fatigue, loss of concentration, muscle and joint pain, mouth ulcers, issues with urinating and even eczema.
Types Of Lactose Intolerances
Babies are usually born with high levels of the enzyme required to digest their mother’s milk. As we age, this has been shown to decrease as much as 70%. There are generally three types of lactose intolerances that are diagnosed including:
Primary Lactose Intolerance – Usually the most common in adults with no other medical conditions. This is a common part of the aging process and is caused by a gradual decline in the enzyme production.
Secondary Lactose Intolerance – Often associated with another underlying medical condition, the symptoms are usually more severe. Key factors that can contribute include surgery, an injury to your small intestine, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and celiac disease.
Congenital Or Developmental Lactose Intolerance – Although very rare, lactose intolerance can be inherited and children can be born with the defective gene. Babies will often have diarrhea as soon as human milk or formula is introduced, and needs to be diagnosed and treated quickly to avoid the condition becoming life threatening to a small child.
How Are Lactose Intolerances Diagnosed
While symptoms usually present themselves within 1-2 hours of lactose consumption, medical professionals have a number of ways to officially diagnose and confirm an intolerance. These methods can include:
- A lactose intolerance test, which measures the body’s response to a liquid containing a high lactose dosage.
- A hydrogen breath test, which measures the amount of hydrogen in your breath after consuming lactose.
- A stool acidity test, which is usually conducted more often with infants and children. It measures the amount of lactic acid in a stool sample.
How Are Lactose Intolerances Treated
While there is currently no way to make your body produce more lactose, an over-the-counter enzyme is available (usually via tablet) to take before consuming dairy products. Typically, the main treatment involves decreasing or completely removing milk and dairy products from your diet.
The good news is that there’s many lactose-free substitute milk products on the market these days, replacing the standard cow’s milk option. Some of these alternative milks include: almond, soy, coconut and even rice milk. Many people who have a lactose intolerance can still consume things like hard cheeses, which have a lower lactose dosage when compared to liquids like milk and yogurt.
Am I Lactose Intolerant?
If you suspect that the above may apply to you, then it might be time to speak to a doctor. If you naturally avoid milk-based products, you can become deficient in calcium, vitamin d, riboflavin and protein.
Thankfully, access to a medical professional has never been easier with the help of telehealth providers like 13 Doctor. Consultations are available seven days a week, and are conducted via video from the comfort of your own home.