Lactase is responsible for breaking down sugars contained in milk and milk product called lactose. Lactase is an enzyme created by the cells present within the small intestine. There has to be a sufficient amount of lactase present within the intestine for lactose to be properly digested. Lactase breaks down the complex lactose sugar molecules into more simpler sugar structures. These two structures are described as either being galactose or glucose. Due to the help of lactase, these two structures are now able to be easily absorbed into the bloodstream to be used for the body’s various functions.
While many individuals do not show signs or symptoms of suffering from low levels of lactase in their system, some individuals show symptoms. Those who do show symptoms are considered to be lactose intolerant. These individuals have so little of the lactase enzyme in their system that they cannot completely digest the lactose sugar. Most of the symptoms that occur after consuming milk or products that contain milk deal with the digestive tract and the creation of uncomfortable sensations and actions due to the consumption of milk.
Lactose Intolerance: The Causes and the Symptoms
Not all types of lactose intolerance are caused by one single factor. The reason for each person’s lactose intolerant may be caused by one or more factors. Most individuals suffer from lactose intolerance due to age. Over time, a person’s lactase supply becomes depleted from birth. This is because the main forms of nutrition during the childhood years are milk from their mother and other types of dairy products.
As children grow to learn to eat new kinds of foods, the body’s need for lactase will decrease. This decrease may cause the body to stop making lactase to such a degree that there is actually a shortage. This shortage or depleted stock of lactase is referred to as lactose intolerance.
Another possible cause for lactose intolerance is when a person undergoes injury or trauma. This includes having undergone surgical procedures, which can shock the body into not producing lactase within the small intestine. Other causes include diseases, which affect the intestinal regions such as IBD, or inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, gastroenteritis, or celiac disease.
The only other known cause of lactose intolerance is congenital lactose intolerance. This is a very rare cause of lactose intolerance since the two defective genes needed in order to cause this condition must be inherited with both of the genes needing to be passed from the mother and the father.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance will usually occur thirty to two hours after the consumption of a beverage or food that contains lactose. Symptoms include: diarrhea, nausea, gas, abdominal cramps, and bloating. While, thankfully, these symptoms usually prove mild in most individuals who have lactose intolerance, some individuals experience extreme versions of these symptoms.
Lactose Intolerance Treatments
Unfortunately, there is no cure or treatment for lactose intolerance. Those who are lactose intolerant must control their symptoms by either reducing or completely avoiding all dairy products. These products can luckily be substituted similar products that are made specifically for those who are lactose intolerant. These products are usually labeled as being “lactose free” or “lactose-reduced.”
While most people who are lactose intolerant are adults, if a child appears to be experiencing the symptoms of food intolerance you should consult a health care professional. Your doctor should be able to tell you if your son or daughter is lactose intolerant and if they need to undergo a special diet to deal with their symptoms.
A special diet is specifically tailored to minimize the chance that patient will encounter dairy in their daily diet. Usually, the diet will first minimize a person’s intake of lactose by limiting the amount of milk consumed or other milk-based products. Hard cheeses are also usually easier to digest for those who are lactose intolerant.
Some new products have recently become available to help those who are lactose intolerant be able to drink milk and add milk into their diet. Milk made specifically for those who are lactose intolerant is processed using other types of sweeteners besides lactase. They will prevent the person from experiencing the symptoms of lactose intolerance that would normally occur from drinking or consuming milk or milk products. Most supermarkets now carry lactose free milk. This milk tends to be a little on the sweet side compared to regular milk.
The key to dealing with lactose intolerance is making careful decisions and correct choices concerning one’s diet. It is just as important to understand how your body will react to milk if it is put into your system, as it is to avoid it once you do understand how it will react in your body. By knowing your limits, you can still enjoy milk and milk products to a degree without worrying about the side effects.
Awareness of lactose intolerance is key to dealing with the condition. By not only avoiding certain products but moderating them, you can ensure that you will live a healthy, comfortable lifestyle.