Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is a digestive condition described by an inability to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk. Those with lactose intolerance are also not able to digest milk-derived dairy products due to a deficiency of lactase digestive enzyme. People who are lactose intolerant have inadequate levels of an enzyme called lactase. This enzyme aids in catalyzing hydrolysis of lactose into glucose and galactose in the digestive system. In majority of cases, this results in symptoms such as abdominal bloating and cramps, flatulence, diarrhea, nausea, borborygmi or rumbling stomach, or vomiting within 30 minutes to two hours of consumption of considerable amounts of lactose. A few studies have also found that in people with lactose intolerance, milk consumption may be a major cause of inflammatory bowel disease.

Sometimes people think of lactose intolerance to be a milk allergy, however it is not true. A milk allergy is characterized by an anomalous immune response to one of the milk proteins, whey or casein, causing symptoms such as hives, rash, swelling of the face and in a few cases, throat constriction. Lactose intolerance does not lead to any grave damage or complications to the body, whereas a milk allergy can pose risk to life of those who are intensely allergic to one of the milk proteins. It is advised to immediately take medical help if any of the symptoms of an allergy are experienced after consuming milk.

Types of Lactose Intolerance

Primary lactose intolerance takes place owing to the normal aging process. In initial stages of life, small intestine generates large amounts of lactase as in this stage major source of nourishment is milk. And in the older stage, the less milk is needed so the small intestine naturally generates less lactase as a person age. Some people are not affected by this drop in lactase production; however, there are some people whose lactase production drastically declines and they can no longer digest lactose. These people then develop into lactose intolerant.

Secondary lactose intolerance arises when less lactase is produced by the small intestine owing to some kind of illness or injury. There are certain digestive diseases such as celiac disease, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis that damage the lining of the small intestine, thereby damaging the small intestine. Consequently, damaged intestine is not able to produce sufficient amounts of lactase. Physical damage to the small intestine or surgical elimination of part or all of the small intestine may also result in secondary lactose intolerance. If lactose intolerance is caused by an underlying medical condition then controlling the condition by medical treatments may help reinstate lactase levels and rectify lactose intolerance.

Congenital or the hereditary is the exceptional form of lactose intolerance. Congenital lactose intolerance is present in people right from their birth. It is illustrated by an infant's inability to produce lactase. The possibility of congenital lactose intolerance in infants exists only if both parents pass down the defective gene and this condition is classified as autosomal recessive.

Sources of Lactose in Diet
Although milk and dairy products derived from milk are the only natural sources of lactose, lactose may often be present as hidden ingredient in prepared foods. People who are highly tolerant to lactose should be aware of the food products that may have lactose even in minute amounts. Food products that may contain lactose are
Bread and other bakery products
Processed breakfast cereals
Instant soups, potatoes and breakfast drinks
Yogurt, frozen yogurt and kefir
Salad dressings
Candies and other snacks
Powdered coffee creamer and whipped toppings

Read food labels carefully and besides looking for milk and lactose in the contents also look for whey, curds, milk by-products, dry milk solids and nonfat dry milk powder. If any of these contents are present on a label, then it signifies that the item contains lactose. Besides foods, lactose is also used in medicines. It forms the base for over 20 percent of prescription medicines and about 6 percent of over-the-counter medicines. Lactose is present in small amounts in many types of birth control pills, tablets used for stomach acidity and gas.

Treatment of Lactose Intolerance

The most apparent treatment for lactose intolerance is to reduce the amount of lactose intake in the diet. For those are highly intolerant and cannot tolerate even small amounts of lactose, the dietary restrictions are strict for them. They should avoid any product containing milk especially prepared foods that contain milk and are purchased from the supermarket as well as the dishes containing sauces from restaurants.

On the other hand, majority of people who are lactose intolerant can still stand little or even moderate amounts of lactose and elimination of only the major milk-containing products from the diet is enough to attain relief from the symptoms. Thus, eliminating milk, cottage cheese and ice cream intake can do wonders. However, yogurt is sometimes well-tolerated by lactose intolerant people despite of having large amounts of lactose. It is possible because of the reason that bacteria used to prepare yogurt contains lactase. The lactase is capable of breaking down some of the lactose during storage of the yogurt and also when it is eaten.

Another way to decrease the intolerance is to only consume milk-containing foods during meals particularly meals that contain fat. These meals lower the rate at which the stomach passes the food to the small intestine and this further lowers the rate at which lactose comes into the small intestine. This delay permits additional time for the limited lactase to split the lactose without being plagued by the complete burden of lactose at once. Perhaps owing to this reason, it has been revealed that the absorption of lactose from whole milk containing fat is higher than from non-fat milk.

Supplements for Lactose Intolerance

Lactase enzyme – People with lactose intolerance can take caplets or tablets of lactase that are available in market along with milk-containing foods.

Lactobacillus Acidophilus – Lactobacillus acidophilus is typically a bacteria that naturally reside in the digestive tract of human digestive system. It is referred as a probiotic since it protects the body against bacteria that can cause disease. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the Lactobacillus acidophilus can recuperate the symptoms of lactose intolerance.

Cocoa - Studies indicate that cocoa may help the body digest lactose by slowing the rate of its absorbtion in the stomach.

Calcium and vitamin D supplements - Milk and milk-containing products are great sources of calcium, therefore calcium deficiency is frequent among lactose intolerant persons. Deficiency of calcium increases the risk and severity of osteoporosis and might result in bone fractures. Therefore, for lactose intolerant persons it is vital to add calcium to their diets. To know more about other sources of Calcium, please click here.
A deficiency of vitamin D also leads to weakening of the bones and thereby resulting in fractures. Milk is enriched with vitamin D, thus it is a major source of vitamin D for several people. Thus, it is important for lactose-intolerant persons to take vitamin D supplements to avoid vitamin D deficiency. To know more about Vitamin D and its sources, please click here.

Herbs for Lactose Intolerance

Saffron – It revitalizes the body as it helps to eliminate toxins from the blood. Saffron also aids in boosting digestive functions by promoting easy flow to the organs of the digestive system including the gallbladder, liver and spleen. Saffron helps in relieving digestive disorders by coating the membranes of the stomach, small intestine and large intestine and also reduces stomach gas, thus decreasing the symptoms caused by lactose intolerance.

St Mary’s Thistle - Used as a traditional medicine for more than 2,000 years, it protects the liver and is often used to support the body’s detoxification processes.

Triphala - The herbs that are combined to form triphala are haritaki, amalaki, and bibhitaki. These herbs aid in rejuvenating the digestive tract and treating digestive upsets such as constipation and diarrhea. It can be taken as a long-term digestive aid.