What Is Lactose Intolerance And Can You Self-Diagnose?
When our bodies don’t produce enough of the right enzymes to break down a food we can develop a sensitivity or a full blown intolerance to a food, food ingredient, or an entire food group. While inconvenient, then chances of you feeling better by recognizing these sensitivities and/or intolerances can greatly improve how you feel as well as your overall health. Lactose intolerance is no exception to this and can greatly impact the way someone feels after they eat certain lactose-containing foods, like milk, ice cream, and cheese. Let’s dig into what lactose intolerance is, what the symptoms are, and what you can do if you feel like you have a sensitivity or intolerance to lactose in your diet.
The Inability To Digest Lactose
Lactose intolerance is the term that refers to when the body doesn’t product sufficient or appropriate amounts of the enzyme lactase in the small intestine. When the body doesn’t produce lactase, it isn’t able to digest foods that contain lactose. Lactose is a type of sugar, specifically a disaccharide, which is composed of galactose and glucose.
Lactose typically makes up about 2-8% of milk and is found in different types of whey based protein powders. If you’re looking to minimize the lactose in milk or protein powders, we recommend opting for lactose free, 1% milk, or whey protein isolate which has less than 1% lactose.
Lactose Intolerance vs Milk Allergy
Lactose intolerance is not the same as a milk allergy. A milk allergy is different in that when someone has a milk allergy they are actually allergic to the proteins found in the milk from cows. Symptoms of a milk allergy differ from a lactose intolerance in that someone will experience skin reactions, intestinal distress, and respiratory symptoms. Sometimes in really severe situations and allergies, someone might experience something called phylactic shock, which does require immediate medical attention. [R]
Symptoms Of Lactose Intolerance
The symptoms experienced by someone who has a lactose sensitivity or an intolerance vary from person to person depending on their ability or inability to digest the lactose enzyme.
Common lactose intolerance symptoms include [R]:
- Intestinal Gas
While some people are born with a lactose intolerance it is more common to see lactose sensitive and intolerances become present in toddlers over the age of two years old. There’s some evidence that hypothesizes 65-70% of the worlds population experiences lactose malabsorption. A lot of this can be derived to whether or not a baby was breast fed, formula fed, or food fed when a baby or infant. [R]
Who Is More Likely To Have Lactose Intolerance
Here in the United States it is found that different ethnic and racial groups are at a higher risk of experiencing lactose intolerances or sensitive, exhibiting symptoms after they eat lactose containing foods. Individuals who are Asian, Hispanic, African American or American Indian are more likely to have lactose intolerance or experience lactose sensitivity. [R]
Lactose Intolerance Severity
Not everyone who is lactose intolerant will experience the same severity of symptoms. However, anyone who is lactose intolerant will indeed exhibit symptoms similar to those listed previously. While some people who are sensitive can actually digest small amounts of dairy products, those who are fully intolerant will experience those severe symptoms causing great discomfort from an inability to breakdown the enzyme. [R]
This is an important consideration because lactose intolerance often keeps the body from absorbing key nutrients from milk and dairy based products like calcium and vitamin d, as well as other nutrients.
If individuals can tolerate small amounts of lactose containing products it is advised that they don’t cut the food group out altogether so that they retain those crucial nutrients, while others may need to supplement daily to meet their required intakes of vitamins like vitamin D and calcium.
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Calcium And Lactose Intolerance
It is important to note that if you are avoiding or cutting out lactose containing foods, which are typically dairy based foods, that you should, regardless of age, find foods and supplements that supply your body with enough calcium to support growth, development, maintenance and injury prevention from bone degradation. It is possible to use specially formulated milk products that are low or don’t have lactose, while other times you may want to opt for calcium-fortified milks, juices, and foods.
How To Tell If You Are Lactose Intolerant
It is not possible to diagnose yourself with lactose intolerance. Aside from the symptoms, most people will figure out or find out that they are lactose sensitive/intolerant by mostly trial and error and by getting 1 of 2 tests done performed by a doctor in a clinical setting.
If you experience any of the symptoms associated with a lactose allergy, or experience declines in your health or overall feeling after eating foods that contain lactose, it is important to speak to your primary care physician before just eliminating entire food groups from your dietary lifestyle.
Your primary care physician or family doctor, if a lactose intolerance is suspected, will give you a test where you drink a lactose-rich liquid. They will then test your blood glucose levels over a 2-hour period, and if you don’t produce enough glucose, you’ll be unable to digest the lactose in the formula you were given.
Another lactose intolerance test involves a breath test where you’ll breathe into a tube and your breath will be tested based on the hydrogen levels present. If you have more hydrogen in your expended air, after drinking the lactose-rich beverage, then the test can rule that you have an intolerance. The higher the level, of course, the higher the sensitivity.
What Is Lactose Intolerance: Takeaway
Lactose intolerance occurs when the body is unable to digest an absorb lactose from specific foods because of insufficient amounts of lactase. Individuals who have an intolerance will experience regular discomfort after eating a lactose which can prove to be quite uncomfortable. These symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, cramping, gas, and nausea. While lactose intolerance occurs the least in Caucasian populations, intolerance is common around the world and can range from mild to severe.
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