Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest the sugar in milk, called lactose. It is a common problem that affects up to 68- 70 percent of people. If you have lactose intolerance which means your body (small intestine) doesn’t produce enough of this enzyme to effectively break down the milk sugar (in your dairy products) consumed by you.
Are There Long Term Effects Of Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is not a serious condition but causes discomfort in your stomach and bowel system. Depending on the amount of lactose consumed and the amount of lactase produced by your body, the symptoms will differ.
Lactose– is a sugar found only in milk and therefore present in all dairy products or any product made of milk, such as cheese, ice cream, etc.
Lactase– is an enzyme produced by the digestive system which is needed to break down the lactose molecules present in milk and all dairy products.
Lactose Intolerance Symptoms
The symptoms will differ based on the amount of lactose you consume, and the amount of lactase produced by your body. The Lactose Intolerance symptoms are gas, nausea, bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain, stomach rumbling, and vomiting.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance are like other digestive issues and maybe confused for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or possible milk allergy. However, a variety of foods can trigger IBS while lactose intolerance is specifically caused due to consuming dairy.
Whereas Milk allergies cause an immune response that may lead to more serious symptoms like shortness of breath, throat swelling and tingling around your mouth.
How long do symptoms of Lactose Intolerance last?
The symptoms of lactose intolerance usually begin within 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming any dairy and should go away once the dairy consumed is completely passed through your digestive system and flushed out. This may take about 48 hours or so and your symptoms should stop.
It is important to note that Lactose intolerance isn’t curable. The deficiency of the enzyme lactase is the main cause and there’s no way to increase your body’s production of this enzyme. However, some people may benefit from taking lactase tablets before a meal containing dairy, but it may not work for everybody. It is best to consult a doctor even though it is not a critical condition.
When to consult a doctor?
If you think you are lactose intolerant, you might as well visit a doctor to rule out any other digestive conditions. The doctor can conduct any of these 3 tests:
- Lactose tolerance test
The doctor will take a blood sample and check your fasting glucose levels. You will then drink a liquid containing lactose and for the next several hours, the doctor will compare your blood glucose levels to your baseline. If your glucose levels do not elevate, it means that your body is not able to break down the lactose into individual sugars. Thus, you are lactose intolerant.
- Hydrogen breath test
You are asked to drink a liquid with a high concentration of lactose. The doctor will then measure the amount of hydrogen in your breath and if you are lactose intolerant, there will be extra hydrogen released in your breath from the fermented lactose in your gut.
- Stool acidity test
The stool acidity test is usually done in the case of children who cannot be tested using other methods. The test looks at the acidity levels of a stool sample. The test detects undigested lactose in the form of lactic acid in the stool.
How to live with lactose intolerance
Depending on the amount of dairy consumption, the severity of your symptoms can be mild or severe.
Being lactose intolerant can make it difficult to acquire your daily required amount of calcium. You may incorporate more dairy-less sources of calcium into your diets, such as canned salmon, sardines, seeds, fortified non-dairy milk, spinach and kale, beans and lentils, broccoli, almonds, oranges, figs, tofu, and rhubarb.
There are ways you can manage your symptoms:
- Eat smaller portions of dairy products to see how your body reacts and gradually increase your portion sizes.
- Taking lactase enzyme tablets may help you consume dairy, but the tablets don’t work for all people.
- Consult and confirm with your doctor as research suggests that consuming probiotics may help reduce symptoms of lactose intolerance.
- Avoid dairy products, although hard cheeses, butter, and yogurt are naturally lower in lactose than other types of dairy.
- Try lactose-free products or dairy products with a significantly reduced amount of lactose.
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