When you consume foods or drinks (like milk and dairy products) that contain lactose and your body cannot digest them, you’re said to be lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance is caused by a shortage of lactase in the body, an enzyme produced by the small intestine that is needed to digest lactose.
Lactose is a sugar that is naturally found in milk and milk products, like ice cream or cheese. Lactose intolerance is different from milk allergy, a milk allergy is an immune system disorder.
While lactose intolerance is not dangerous, its symptoms can be distressing. Digestive symptoms like bloating, diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, gas, and nausea, which are caused by lactose malabsorption, usually accompany this condition.
Lactose malabsorption is a condition in which your small intestine cannot break down or digest all the lactose you eat or drink. But not everyone with lactose malabsorption has digestive symptoms after they consume lactose.
Only people who have symptoms are lactose intolerant. Most people with lactose intolerance can consume some amount of lactose without having digestive symptoms. Different people can tolerate different amounts of lactose before having symptoms.
We’ve brought to you all you need to know about lactose intolerance. Read on.
Everything to know about lactose intolerance
While lactose malabsorption can cause lactose intolerance, not all people with lactose malabsorption have lactose intolerance. You are more likely to have lactose intolerance if you are from (or your family is from) a part of the world where lactose malabsorption is more common.
That said, there are three primary types of lactose. They are;
— Primary lactose intolerance (the normal result of ageing): This is the most common type of lactose intolerance. In this type, most people are born with enough lactase. Babies, for instance, need the enzyme to digest their mother’s milk.
But if the amount of lactase a person makes decreases over time, probably due to ageing, eating a more diverse diet, and relying less on milk, they may be lactose intolerant.
The decline in lactase is gradual. This type of lactose intolerance is more common in people with Hispanic, Asian, and African ancestry.
— Secondary lactose intolerance (due to illness or injury): Intestinal diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease(IBD) and celiac disease, an injury to your small intestine, or surgery, can also cause lactose intolerance. Though, lactase levels may be restored if the underlying disorder is treated.
— Congenital or developmental lactose intolerance (being born with the condition): lactose intolerance can be inherited, though in very rare cases. When a defective gene is transmitted from the parents to a child, resulting in the complete absence of lactase in the child, this is referred to as congenital lactose intolerance.
In this case, your baby is lactose intolerant because of the inability to digest breast milk. They will have diarrhoea as soon as human milk or a formula containing lactose is introduced. If it’s not recognized and treated early on, the condition can be life-threatening.
Treating lactose intolerance
The condition can easily be treated. The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms through dietary changes. People with lactose intolerance can usually find a level of lactose-containing foods that will not produce symptoms. You can learn through trial and error what amount and type of lactose-containing products you can tolerate.
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