Lactose intolerance is a condition in which the body cannot easily digest lactose, a type of natural sugar found in milk and dairy products. This is usually caused by a deficiency of lactase — an enzyme produced in your small intestine. Since each person produces a different amount of lactase, the severity and extent of this condition can vary and will depend on their own personal tolerance threshold. Some people with lactose intolerance cannot digest any milk products, while others can eat or drink small amounts of milk products or certain types of milk products without problems. It’s important to note that lactose intolerance is not the same thing as a food allergy to milk or dairy products.
Lactose intolerance is largely diagnosed by its symptoms, which include abdominal pain or bloating, cramping, diarrhea, gas, nausea and vomiting. Other ways to confirm lactose intolerance are clinical tests such as a hydrogen breath test and a stool acidity test, both of which measure the amount of lactase present in the body. This condition is common in adults – affecting 30 million Americans by the time they turn 20 years old – however, it can develop at any age. It most commonly runs in families and occurs more often in Native Americans and people of Asian, African and South American descent.
If you think you have lactose intolerance, talk it over with your doctor. Your doctor can make sure that your symptoms are in fact caused by lactose intolerance and not by another underlying health condition such as irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s Disease.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with lactose intolerance, you can begin managing the condition by learning exactly how much lactose your body can tolerate to avoid uncomfortable symptoms. Follow these steps to make your life a little easier.
- Check the labels – Lactose intolerant individuals need to properly review food labels as many different food items can contain lactose. Manufacturers often add milk products to boxed, canned, frozen, packaged, and prepared foods.
- Discover your limit – As stated before, the extent of the condition will vary for each individual. It’s important to pay close attention to your symptoms and reactions to various milk and dairy products to get a good understanding of what your body can tolerate. While this experimental phase may cause some uncomfortable symptoms, it will help you identify exactly what to avoid in the future.
- Lactose-free and lactose-reduced milk and milk products – There are a wide range of these types of products available at most supermarkets and they are identical nutritionally to regular milk and milk products. See what kind of options are available at your local supermarkets and consider replacing some of the products you can no longer consume.
- Lactase products – If you cannot find a suitable replacement for milk or milk products or do not have the option to replace them in the moment, there are lactase tablets and drops that can be consumed with milk products to help digest the lactose therefore, reducing the chance of developing digestive symptoms.
- Don’t forget about essential nutrients – Lactose intolerance may prevent individuals from consuming enough essential nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D. It’s important to find other sources for these nutrients or take a dietary supplement to ensure this condition doesn’t affect your health in other ways.
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