Lactose intolerance affects millions of people in the U.S. alone, including many who are otherwise healthy. Since milk and dairy products are a staple in most diets, it can be difficult for those with lactose intolerance to avoid them. Despite being a common health issue, most people don’t know about lactose intolerance, how it affects the body, and what happens if you ignore it.
Now, the question is: What exactly happens when you choose to ignore the disorder and eat dairy products that contain lactose?
In this article, we’ll look at the meaning of lactose intolerance, the common symptoms associated with it, and most importantly, what happens when you ignore it and consume dairy products.
Table of Contents
What Is Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is something that affects a large portion of the population worldwide. It is a common digestive disorder that interferes with digesting lactose. Around 65 percent of the world population is lactose intolerant.
It’s not the same as a food allergy. Lactose intolerance is when your body cannot digest milk sugar, which causes gas and bloating after consuming dairy products like milk and cheese.
The sufferers of this digestive disorder have a lactase deficiency, an enzyme required to break down lactose (the sugar found in milk).
When a person who is lactose-intolerant consume lactose, it passes into their small intestine undigested. The bacteria cause the undigested lactose in the colon to ferment and produce gas.
The body recognizes this sugar as foreign and produces an immune response, causing symptoms of lactose intolerance. Moreover, this leads to numerous gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea, bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
Without enough lactase, a person will experience unpleasant side effects after consuming dairy products.
The specific symptoms of lactose intolerance vary widely among individuals. Some people develop symptoms soon after consuming dairy products, while others consume large quantities without experiencing problems.
It is usually felt 30-60 minutes after consuming any dairy product. It does, however, often subside within a few days without consuming diary products.
Lactose intolerance has two types: primary and secondary.
You have primary lactose intolerance when born with a lack of lactase. However, this is a rare disorder in infancy.
This digestive disorder is most common in Finland, where every 1 in 60,000 children is born with lactase deficiency. This prevalence has been linked to the Finns’ high consumption of dairy products, historically a large part of their diet. Many Finnish children outgrow this condition by the time they’re six years old.
Secondary lactose intolerance develops later in life when your body stops producing enough lactase.
Lactose intolerance usually develops after age two and becomes more common with increasing age. By age 20, its estimated that around 30 million Americans have a lactose intolerance.
What Happens When You Ignore Lactose Intolerance?
Your digestive system cannot break down the lactose in it, and it gets fermented by bacteria. The undigested lactose and bacteria in your colon produce gas and cause abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea.
Suppose you continue to consume dairy products even though you already have these symptoms. In that case, you might experience severe consequences like malnutrition or dehydration since you’ll probably be experiencing a lot of diarrhea and indigestion. Overall, this is not good for maintaining a healthy GI tract.
How Common Is Lactose Intolerance?
This condition is most common in many people of the following descents: East Asia, West Africa, Italian, Arab, Jewish, and Greek. Caucasians are not as susceptible to lactose intolerance as other Americans in the U.S.
It’s rare among people of northern European descent, with only 5 percent suffer from this disorder. The reason behind this is most likely because they have a history of using unfermented milk products.
Some individuals may consume limited amounts of dairy products without symptoms. Such a condition is known as lactose tolerance.
In many parts of the world—especially in Europe—it is pretty standard for children to consume milk products as they grow.
In other places, such as India and China, milk products are consumed by only a tiny percentage of the population.
Symptoms Of Lactose Intolerance
Some people have no symptoms when they consume dairy products, but others may experience the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
The severity of these symptoms depends on the amount of lactose consumed.
Pregnant women who suffer from lactose intolerance often have to deal with even more severe symptoms. Ironically, the cause of the symptoms is the hormones they take to manage their pregnancy.
Lactase drops are an alternative that allows women to continue taking their medication while avoiding the issues caused by lactose intolerance.
Testing For Lactose Intolerance
Lactose intolerance can be diagnosed with a breath hydrogen test, glucose blood sample test, or stool acidity test.
1. Hydrogen Test
In the Hydrogen Breath test, you’ll take a drink containing a small amount of lactose, and your doctor will measure your breath for hydrogen over the next two hours. If there’s excess hydrogen in your system (more than 20 ppm) after two hours, your body isn’t metabolizing lactose effectively. Therefore, you may have lactose intolerance.
2. Stool Test
For this test, low pH determines high acidity. If you have low pH, then the body isn’t absorbing carbohydrates. Doctors usually administer this test to babies instead of the hydrogen breath test.
3. Glucose Blood Sample Test
In this test, a patient drinks a sugar solution, and the physician collects a blood sample at 30 minutes,1 hour, and 2 hour intervals. If the blood glucose rises slowly or doesn’t rise at all, that means you aren’t digesting lactose.
Blood tests are more accurate than breath tests and urine tests. They can detect smaller amounts of glucose than the other two types.
Therefore, if you’re trying to determine if you have lactose intolerance, a blood test is the best option for you.
What Can You Do To Treat Lactose Intolerance?
You can manage lactose intolerance in three ways:
1. Avoid Dairy Altogether
The first method is to cut out all high-lactose foods from your diet and gradually add them to your diet every few weeks to see if you can tolerate them. This process can take months and patience is essential.
2. Find Lactose-Free Products That Contain Nutritional Value
Finding lactose-free products that contain nutritional value is the most common way to treat lactose intolerance. Moreover, many manufacturers have started producing lactose-free alternatives to traditional dairy products like milk and cheese.
3. Take Dietary Supplements
It involves an over-the-counter drug containing the lactase enzyme, which breaks down lactose similarly to ordinary people.
These can be either in capsules or liquid forms. You should note that it doesn’t work for everyone with lactose intolerance.
This supplement helps break down the enzyme normally responsible for digesting lactose, thus helping the body tolerate it better.
Some examples of these supplements are;
- Digestive Advantage Lactose Defense®
Milk and dairy products are an essential part of a healthy diet. However, if you have lactose intolerance, it’s necessary to avoid them. Lactose intolerance is a common condition that can have devastating effects when left untreated.
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms described in this article, make sure to consult your doctor for treatment advice. Treatment options will vary depending on the severity of the problem and what other health conditions you are experiencing.
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