When a person has a lactose intolerance it means their body is unable to digest lactose. Lactose is the sugar found in milk and milk products. A person that has lactose intolerance will suffer from gastrointestinal discomfort after consuming lactose.
Not everyone suffers from this condition. The people who suffer from lactose intolerance lack the proper amount of lactase in their body. Lactase comes from the surface of the cells in the small intestine. The job of the lactase is to split lactose into its two parts called glucose and galactose. If the lactose is not split properly the cells in the small intestine are not able to absorb and digest the lactose.
There are different reasons why a person may not have the right amount of the important enzyme called lactase. Some people have been born without the enzyme. When this occurs it is referred to as being congenital. Although this is rare, it is caused by a mutation in the gene that produces lactase. When a baby is born with the condition, symptoms become obvious not long after birth.
The next cause for lactose intolerance is referred to as being secondary. This happens when the person has another disease that is responsible for destroying the lactase enzymes that live in the small intestine. Celiac Sprue is a perfect example of such a disease that destroys the lining of the small intestine.
Lastly, a developmental cause of lactose intolerance is the most common. Lactase deficiency can occur as a person grows into adulthood. This is known as adult-type hypolactasia. Having a lactase deficiency does not necessarily mean you will have a symptoms of lactose intolerance. The severity of the lactase deficiency will determine how mild or strong the response symptoms to lactose will be. A mild case of lactase deficiency may not cause any symptoms at all whereas lacking the lactase enzyme completely will result in a much different outcome.
The most common symptoms of lactose intolerance are gastrointestinal. After consuming lactose in milk products, a person may begin to experience stomach cramping, gas, diarrhea, bloating, abdominal distention or nausea. This can make a person very uncomfortable and can come on rather suddenly.
Unfortunately, eliminating all milk products from the diet can be challenging. A lot of pre-packaged foods contain milk in the ingredients which makes reading labels very important for those suffering from a severe case of lactose intolerance. Luckily there are more and more milk replacement foods becoming available for those who cannot tolerate milk products. Soy and rice based products can be used in place of many foods made from milk. Also, lactose free milk is a good choice for many. For many people, eliminating the milk, cheese, ice cream and cottage cheese may be enough to control the lactose intolerance symptoms. Often yogurt does not bother people as negatively as other milk foods. For those who have a milder case of lactose intolerance the small amounts of milk in pre-packaged foods do not bother them.
There are also lactase containing tablets and capsules that are available for those who would still like to enjoy the occasional milk product. By taking these tablets along with the foods, it provides the intestine with the lactase it needs to digest the lactose.
For those who cannot tolerate any form of lactose due to severe lactase deficiency it is important to find other ways to get enough vitamin D and calcium. A lot of people who are unable to consume milk products end up being deficient in both vitamin D and calcium. It may be necessary to take supplements in order to ensure you are getting enough of the appropriate nutrients that are so commonly found in milk.
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