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What is Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is very common in the United States. Lactose is the main carbohydrate in milk and other dairy products. Your body can be “intolerant” of the lactose because it does not produce enough of the enzyme lactase to break down lactose.
Lactase is a digestive enzyme produced in your small intestine that helps you digest lactose. Lactose intolerance is a harmless condition but it can produce uncomfortable symptoms based on your body’s intolerance levels. Some people refer to lactose intolerance as a dairy allergy.
What Causes Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is due to your body’s inability or deficiency to produce lactase. Three main reasons why your body is not able to produce enough lactase to help break down the lactose include:
Primary Lactose Intolerance
Primary lactose intolerance is the most common type of lactose intolerance and is due to age. The older you get the less lactase your body produces. This type of lactose intolerance can partially be passed through family lines genetically and affects certain populations more than others. According to the food intolerance network, lactose intolerance affects 5-17% of Europeans, approximately 44% of Americans, approximately 50% of Latino/Hispanic people, and 60-80% of Africans and Asians.
Secondary Lactose Intolerance
Secondary lactose intolerance normally occurs when the small intestine is impaired due to an illness, injury, surgery, or more serious issue like Celiac disease or Crohn’s disease. This is because the production of lactase decreases when the small intestine becomes inflamed. Treatment of the disorder might restore the function of the small intestine and return lactase levels to normal.
What are the Symptoms of Being Lactose Intolerant?
Symptoms can vary for each person depending on the amount of lactase they are still able to produce.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance include:
What are the Treatments for Lactose Intolerance?
The best thing to do if you are lactose intolerant is to avoid dairy products altogether.
There is currently no way to boost lactase production in the body, so the focus of treatment is to avoid the discomfort associated with consuming lactose.
If you treat lactose intolerance as a dairy allergy that can help guide you in the decisions that you make.
Other treatments and solutions for lactose intolerance include:
- Lactase enzyme supplements
- Probiotics and prebiotics
- Include small servings of dairy products into your meals to build tolerance
- Consume lactose-reduced dairy products