Living With Lactose Intolerance

Many people suffer from different digestive problems like lactose intolerance. So, what exactly is lactose? It’s a sugar that is found in milk and other dairy products. When someone is lactose intolerant, they are unable to properly digest lactose because there is a deficiency of lactase.

Posted on | Jodi Sawyer, RN | Comments ()

Many people suffer from different digestive problems like lactose intolerance. So, what exactly is lactose? It’s a sugar that is found in milk and other dairy products. When someone is lactose intolerant, they are unable to properly digest lactose because there is a deficiency of lactase.

Lactase is an enzyme that metabolizes lactose in the digestive system. Lactase basically binds to lactose food molecules and turns them into glucose and galactose – simple sugars that are absorbed into the bloodstream. If there is a deficiency of lactase in the small intestine, it causes foods that contain lactose to move through the colon unprocessed. This in turn will also lead to a deficiency of the “good bacteria” that is needed for a healthy digestive system.

Common symptoms for lactose intolerance are gas, bloating, abdominal cramping, diarrhea and nausea. When you are lactose intolerant, the symptoms can range from mild to severe and can occur anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours after ingesting foods with lactose. The good news is that lactose intolerance does not lead to any serious or life-threatening conditions. Lactose intolerance is not considered a disease. It can, however, be quite a nuisance to anyone who has it.

What actually causes a lactase deficiency? There are actually three types of lactose intolerance: primary, secondary and congenital. Primary lactose intolerance is the most common type, because it’s caused by the aging process which can lead to a reduction of the lactase enzyme. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it will happen, but the chance of a lactose intolerance increases as we age. Secondary lactose intolerance is caused by illness or injury to the small intestine. Digestive issues such as Crohn’s disease and Celiac disease can be a factor in developing secondary lactose intolerance. Abdominal surgeries or trauma can also lead to this condition. The third cause of lactose intolerance occurs when someone is born with a lactase enzyme deficiency. Many infants are born with little or no lactase activity. This condition can be hereditary, and can be passed on through families, generation after generation. It is important to note that ethnicity can also play a part with lactose intolerance.

If you think may be lactose intolerant, your doctor can run a few tests that confirm or deny a diagnosis. However, there is currently no way to increase your level of the lactase enzyme, or is there a way to prevent a deficiency.

Most dairy products contain lactose, so it is best to steer clear of them if you are lactose intolerant. However, there are a few dairy products that are lower in lactose. These include buttermilk, yogurt, hard cheeses (cheddar, swiss, etc.) among some others. However it all depends on the severity of your lactase deficiency as to whether or not you can even tolerate any dairy in any amount.

With lactose intolerance, you need to be your own advocate. Start reading labels and try to eliminate all foods that contain lactose. Start keeping a journal of all foods that you eat, so you can keep track of when you react badly to a particular food/drink. You have to be aware of how foods make you feel. Controlling your symptoms is mostly up to you.

There are a variety of “lactose free” dairy products on the market. Probiotics and lactase enzyme tablets can also help manage symptoms. Just make sure you drink plenty of water to aid in proper digestion.

Because people with lactose intolerance do not get their share of calcium and Vitamin D, make sure to take supplements to ensure your body is getting the right nutrients. Remember, the more you stay on track with your diet, the less symptoms you will have. Watch your diet, and make sure to always take care of you.

Blog written by Jodi Sawyer, RN
Jodi Sawyer has worked as a registered nurse for over 14 years and was one of the first RNs in Southern California to work with...