What is Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose intolerance refers to the inability to adequately digest “lactose”, a sugar found in dairy products. People with lactose intolerance usually lack a sufficient amount of a digestive enzyme called “lactase” required to metablolise the lacotose. Lactase is made in cells lining the small intestine. The Lactase helps break down lactose into simpler forms so that it can be absorbed. Lactose intolerance is different from cow’s milk allergy, which is a condition whereby body’s immune system reacts to milk proteins. Lactose intolerance may also occur with small bowel damage.
Who gets Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose intolerance may occur at birth in babies who do not produce any lactase at all. However, the initial symptoms of lactose intolerance more commonly occur in adulthood. It can occur after an episode of gastroenteritis, which is usually temporary and improves once the cells lining the small intestine have recovered. Lactose intolerance is also more common in some people, including those from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and some Meditteranean countries. It is less common in Caucasians.
What are the symptoms of Lactose Intolerance?
Symptoms of lactose intolerance usually begin thirty minutes to two hours after ingestion of food containing lactose, and may include bloating, diarrhoea, abdominal discomfort or cramps, and nausea. The degree of lactose intolerance is different in each affected person. Some people may tolerate a small amount of lactose containing food without any symptoms.
How is Lactose Intolerance diagnosed?
Lactose intolerance can be definitively diagnosed on a hydrogen breath test which can be organised through your GastroNorth specialist. People with lactose intolerance produce more hydrogen. This is because lactose is not digested and absorbed in the small intestine, and instead is fermented by bacteria in the large intestine into hydrogen.
How is Lactose Intolerance managed?
The amount each person can tolerance is usually determined by trial and error. There are many alternative food products available (see Food Intolerances information sheet for alternative food sources). It is important to maintain Calcium intake on a low dairy diet and supplementation may be required in some people.
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