Lactose Intolerance & It’s Possible Treatment
The reaction in the digestive system to lactose, the sugar compound found in milk, is known as lactose intolerance. It causes symptoms which cause discomfort after you eat dairy products. Not everyone experiences noticeable symptoms from intolerance, although many people have difficulty digesting lactose. It occurs in people who lack the enzyme which breaks down lactose in their body.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance usually surface in the form of gas, diarrhoea and bloating after consumption of drinks or foods that contain lactose. Milk and its products, like cheese or ice cream, contain a natural sugar called lactose. About 68% of the world’s population has lactose malabsorption as per a recent estimate by experts and is more common in some parts of the world than in others. Most people suffer from lactose malabsorption in Asia and Africa.
What is Lactose Intolerance?
It is a condition in which you have digestive symptoms, like bloating, diarrhoea and gas after the consumption of drinks or foods which have lactose. Products such as ice cream, cheese, milk and milk products contain lactose, and are not suitable for people who are susceptible to lactose intolerance.
What causes Lactose Intolerance?
Gut sensitivity and lactose malabsorption are the two factors which contribute to lactose intolerance. The most important factor is lactose malabsorption. It is the inability to break down and absorb lactose in the small intestine which leads to the lactose entering your large intestine and triggering symptoms that cause discomfort later. Here are some of the causes that maybe the root cause for developing this intolerance.
Lactase is a specific enzyme that is needed by the small intestine to break down lactose into smaller molecules, which can be absorbed. During infancy, most people produce lactase naturally in their small intestines to digest breast milk. As people grow up, most people begin to make less of it.
You won’t be able to digest lactose if you don’t have enough of this enzyme. Some people produce less or more lactase than others. Worldwide, the majority of people have lactose malabsorption due to lactase deficiency. Lactase continues to be produced into adulthood only in certain populations.
Gut and You
Gut sensitivity is another important factor for lactose intolerance. We can’t fully digest some things which we consume from time to time. The bacteria living in our guts are fed by certain sugars and dietary fibres that go straight through our digestive systems. Without overwhelming symptoms to some extent, most of us tolerate a little of it.
However, all our bodies react differently to different things. Our diet, sensitivities, intestinal health and genes all play a role. The different types of bacteria living in your colon (your unique gut microbiome) may process lactose differently from someone else’s. The amount of lactose you can tolerate can be told by the kind of symptoms you experience.
In some cases, genes decide how likely you are to continue to produce lactase. The types of bacteria in your gut and gut sensitivity may also be partly affected by genes. Some bacteria convert lactose into gas and others convert it to lactic acid.
People with Asian genetic profiles are found to be more likely to be lactose intolerant and have lactose malabsorption. Some people are also born with congenital lactase deficiency, which is a genetic disorder that causes lactose intolerance from birth.
Also Read: Gas problem – Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
Some Other Rare Factors Responsible for Lactose Intolerance are due to:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Visceral hypersensitivity
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
- Disease or injury which damages your small intestine
- An underdeveloped small intestine caused by premature birth
- Radiation therapy
- Small bowel resection
- Cystic fibrosis
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Celiac disease
What Happens if You Ignore Lactose Intolerance?
You won’t be seriously harmed if you ignore lactose intolerance. The symptoms will eventually end if you can cope with them while the lactose passes through your digestive system. Lactose-free dairy products and lactase supplements can also help you easily avoid the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
In certain cases, like developmental lactose intolerance in babies who are born prematurely, they usually grow out of the intolerance. The damage to the small intestine which causes secondary lactose intolerance may be reversed after the small intestine recovers, depending on how permanent the damage is.
In the case of congenital or primary lactose intolerance, lactase production won’t ever start naturally, however, if your microbiome or intestinal health changes then your symptoms might change as well.
How to Cure Lactose Intolerance?
You need lactase in your gut if you want to be able to digest lactose. Natural lactase production is absent in most people with lactose intolerance. Lactase supplements can help provide the body with the required lactase it needs to break down lactose. You can take them as drops or tablets before consuming lactose.
Ingesting the lactic acid bacteria as probiotics may help as they convert lactose into lactic acid instead of gas. Consuming these bacteria with prebiotics that feed them might improve lactose tolerance.
You can also find lactose-free and lactose-reduced versions of most dairy products at the supermarket. Certain dairy foods when consumed in certain amounts or when combined with other foods help some people, so you can experiment with your diet to find out what your lactose threshold is.
Lactose intolerance can cause recurrent discomfort to those who like to consume dairy products but face difficulty in digesting lactose. It is always advisable to seek medical help from an experienced gastroenterologist doctor if the symptoms are hard to manage. Timely care and help can ensure the reduction or elimination of lactose intolerance symptoms.
At the CK Birla Hospital, we ensure patients get holistic medical support which includes treatment in a compassionate environment. This patient-centric approach not only helps patients heal better but also ensures they are aware of the preventive measures as well. In case you need to consult a gastroenterologist doctor, do reach out to us, or book a direct appointment with Dr. Mayank Madan at the CK Birla Hospital.
Can You Suddenly become Lactose Intolerant?
Damage to the small intestine can result in the sudden development of secondary lactose intolerance. Chronic diseases, infections, surgery or injury may damage the cells that produce lactase. This can cause sudden intolerance and lactose malabsorption, even if you could previously digest lactose.
How do I test for Lactose Intolerance?
There are several ways of testing for lactose intolerance by healthcare providers which have their respective indicators or signs for the intolerance, which include hydrogen breath test (high methane and hydrogen gas in breath is an indicator), blood sugar test (no rise in blood sugar after the test is an indicator) and stool acidity test (an acidic stool is an indicator).
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