Lactose intolerance – definition, symptoms and diet recommendations

First, let’s be clear that the term lactose intolerance does not include the condition of milk products allergy. When you have lactose intolerance, your digestive system is unable to properly digest the lactose, and because of its poor digestion, there are a number of symptoms. In addition, it is important to emphasize that the carbohydrate lactose is naturally found only in mammalian milk, but is now used in various processed food products as an additive in order to get a certain feature of the product.

What causes lactose intolerance?

For the digestion of non-monosaccharide carbohydrates, enzymes are needed, so in order to digest lactose and to use the monosaccharides from the lactose, you need an enzyme called lactose. This enzyme decomposes the lactose to glucose and galactose and these monosaccharides can then be easily absorbed and transported to the blood. People who have lactose intolerance do not produce enough from the enzyme lactase, so the lactose remains longer in the digestive system-where it undergoes fermentation by the gastrointestinal microflora. This leads to the production of gas which is the basis for all the symptoms associated with lactose intolerance. Lactase deficiency may occur due to different causes and this determines whether the lactose intolerance will be temporary or permanent. There are four different types of lactose intolerance: primary, secondary, cognitive and developmental.

Risks associated with lactose intolerance

If you have a poor diet and if the main source of calcium and vitamin D in your diet are dairy products then you may be at risk of having a deficiency of calcium and vitamin D. However, with a well-balanced diet, physical activity and adequate sunshine exposure, you can easily satisfy the calcium and vitamin D needs of your body and maintain musculoskeletal health.

Symptoms of lactose intolerance

Symptoms of lactose intolerance usually occur within hours after consuming lactose-containing foods. Symptoms commonly occur in the form of bloating, diarrhea, gas, cramps and abdominal pain, stinging, stomach and intestinal stinging. The severity of the symptoms depends on how much lactose you have ingested, and whether lactase is completely absent from your digestive system or is still produced in small amounts – that is why some people with lactose intolerance are able to consume small amounts of dairy products without developing symptoms.

What should you eat if you have lactose intolerance?

You need to know that there is no cure for cognitive lactose intolerance, i.e. the condition is permanent, and if you have this type of lactose intolerance you will always have a near complete absence of lactase, and you will need to avoid the intake of this sugar. Secondary lactose intolerance may be just temporary condition and normal lactase secretion will restore after the underlying cause is cured, but it clearly can become a permanent condition. Primary lactose intolerance is a permanent condition, and developmental lactose intolerance occurs in infants and is usually overcome. So, you need to know what type of lactose intolerance you have so that you can know what to eat. We won’t discuss developmental lactose intolerance as it occurs only in babies and they overcome it as they grow up. If you have cognitive lactose intolerance, then you need to avoid all milk products that contain lactose, you can consume only lactose – free milk and milk products. You should also watch for any added lactose in processed foods. If you have secondary lactose intolerance that can be “cured“ then you need to minimize or avoid lactose till normal lactase levels are produced in your intestines, but you should consult your doctor about your actual health condition. If you have primary lactose intolerance, you should find out how much lactose you can tolerate (consult your doctor.) If you can tolerate some amounts of lactose then some milk products that contain smaller amounts of lactose can be eaten, if you can’t tolerate even small amounts of lactose then you should follow the recommendations for the cognitive lactose intolerance. Lactase supplementation, probiotic use and other methods that are suggested to help in digesting lactose when lactose intolerance is present need to be further investigated.

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