Lactose intolerance is one of the most common food intolerances in the world. It can affect anyone but it's more likely to occur in adulthood and in those of Native American, Asian, Hispanic, or African American heritage. Lactose intolerance occurs when your body has difficulty digesting lactose, the natural sugar found in most milk-containing products. read more about lactose intolerance »
Lactase is an enzyme produced by your small intestine that breaks down lactose in dairy foods to a form your body can absorb. Individuals who are lactose intolerant do not make enough of this enzyme and as a result, lactose isn't completely broken down in the upper part of intestinal tract. Instead, it is rapidly passed into the colon where some of it is converted into gaseous compounds. Common symptoms of lactose intolerance include abdominal cramping, bloating, excess gas, nausea or diarrhea and typically occur 30 minutes to 2 hours after eating dairy foods. Symptoms are usually mild but can be severe depending on how much lactase your body makes. It is important to know that lactose may be added to some packaged and prepared foods such as cereals, instant soups, and salad dressings. Therefore, it is helpful to read the ingredient list on food labels to determine if the product contains a source of lactose.
Digestion and Nausea: Relieving the Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance
How can you avoid the bloating and cramping of lactose intolerance? One way is to avoid eating foods that contain lactose - but maybe you don't want to give up milk, ice cream and other dairy foods which are a good source of calcium that your body needs for healthy teeth and bones. One option that makes it possible to continue to eat your favorite dairy foods is to supplement with the lactase enzyme your body doesn't produce enough of. There are lactase enzyme supplements available for this purpose. In addition, there are other anti-gas products available that help to relieve the symptoms of excess gas.
How can you get the benefits of a lactase enzyme supplement? When you eat a food or drink a beverage that contains lactose, take a lactase enzyme supplement beforehand to supply your intestinal tract with the lactase enzyme it lacks. Lactase supplements are available as capsules, caplets and in a chewable form. When you take a lactase enzyme supplement before consuming dairy foods, it may help reduce the bloating, gas, cramping and other symptoms of lactose intolerance so you can enjoy dairy foods without discomfort.
Medicine and Health: Lactose Intolerance versus Milk Allergy
Milk allergy and lactose intolerance are very different conditions and should not be confused with one another. Lactose intolerance is an enzyme deficiency while milk allergy is where your immune system reacts against proteins in milk by launching an immune response. Milk allergy usually appears in infants under the age of one while lactose intolerance occurs more often in adulthood. Symptoms of milk allergy include facial swelling, wheezing, vomiting, itching, and/or watery eyes immediately after consuming milk. This may be followed by abdominal cramping and diarrhea. In rare cases, a milk allergy can cause an anaphylactic reaction which may cause difficulty breathing or a drop in blood pressure that can be life threatening. This is a medical emergency.
Another important difference between these conditions is that lactase enzyme supplements aren't effective in the treatment of a true milk allergy. The best prevention for those with a milk allergy is to avoid milk products. There are also homeopathic products formulated for relief of milk allergies. They expose your body to small doses of the proteins in milk so your body builds up tolerance and doesn't react as strongly to them. However, it's imperative to talk to your doctor first before trying any home remedy since it may not be a safe or effective treatment.
The Bottom Line
Lactose intolerance is a common digestive problem in adults. Fortunately, there are lactase enzyme supplements available so you can continue to enjoy some of your favorite dairy foods with minimal to no discomfort.
This summary is intended for general informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should read product labels. In addition, if you are taking medications, herbs, or other supplements you should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before taking any over-the-counter medication as they may interact with other medications, herbs, and nutritional products. If you have a medical condition, including if you are pregnant or nursing, you should speak to your physician before taking these products. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.