Lactose is a carbohydrate (natural sugar) found in all kinds of milk, including human milk. Lactose intolerance means you aren't able to easily digest lactose. This is because you do not have enough lactase in your system an enzyme produced by your small intestine, which breaks down lactose in preparation for absorption into your bloodstream.
Signs and symptoms
The signs and symptoms of lactose intolerance usually begin 30 minutes after eating or drinking foods that contain lactose. Common signs and symptoms include:
- abdominal cramps
The symptoms vary from person to person and are usually mild however, they seem to be related to a range of factors, including ethnicity, age and digestion rates. It is rare for caucasians to develop lactose intolerance. However, it is quite common among people from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and some Mediterranean countries, as well as among Australian Aborigines.
What your doctor can do
If you have signs and symptoms of lactose intolerance, talk to your doctor; several tests can be done to identify if you have it or not. Too many people diagnose themselves, without considering that their symptoms could be a sign of something else, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Your doctor can help determine if you have lactose intolerance or a different condition.
What you can do
Lactose intolerance generally isn't serious and can be controlled by simply eliminating excessive amounts of lactose from your diet. If you have lactose intolerance you can still completely digest some lactose in fact you will probably be able to tolerate between 10 to 12 grams of lactose (the amount present in an average glass of regular milk) without developing symptoms. Additionally, many dairy foods actually have little or no lactose, which means you can still enjoy them. That's important because dairy foods are a rich source of nutrients, especially calcium which builds healthy bones and teeth.
How to manage lactose intolerance
- Drink less milk, more often. Sip small servings of milk. The smaller the serving, the less likely it is to cause digestive problems.
- Choose full-cream milk over fat-reduced milk. Fat slows the passage of lactose through your digestive system, giving it more time to digest it.
- Experiment with a variety of dairy products. Not all dairy products have the same amount of lactose. Most cheeses have almost no lactose. In small servings of a tablespoon or so, butter and cream have very little lactose and can probably be enjoyed without causing symptoms. Yogurt loses lactose while it sits in your fridge. Keeping it for a while before you eat it may reduce the chance that it could cause symptoms.
- Buy lactose-reduced or lactose-free products. You can find these products at most supermarkets.
- Talk to a dietitian.
- Lactase tablets or drops that help break down lactose, reducing the amount your body must digest on its own, or a calcium supplement, might also be useful ask your doctor or pharmacist.