Many people feel unwell after eating or drinking dairy products. Many suspect they are lactose intolerant, but are not quite sure. And if you are not sure, it is difficult to act.
This article can help further!
We have written some interesting things together to clarify important points about lactose intolerance. It starts with a theory that helps you understand what exactly lactose intolerance is and who is susceptible to it.
Lactose intolerance – what exactly is it?
Lactose intolerance means that your body cannot easily digest lactose, a type of sugar found in milk and some dairy products.
Like most sugars, lactose is broken down by enzymes during digestion. This happens in your intestinal tract so that your body can absorb it as an energy source. The enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose is called lactase.
Lactose intolerance occurs when your small intestine does not produce enough lactase enzyme to break down all the lactose you ingest. This means that too much lactose enters the large intestine and ferments there.
Fermentation is the reason why lactose intolerance causes unpleasant symptoms such as gas, abdominal pain, diarrhea and flatulence.
There are different levels of lactose intolerance. Some people cannot digest dairy products at all, while others can consume a small amount without any problems. The variability occurs because lactose intolerance is not an “all or nothing” deal, but simply means you have lower than normal lactase enzyme levels.
It is also important to note that lactose intolerance is not the same as dairy or food allergy. Don’t confuse the two. If you suffer from a milk allergy, your body reacts as it does to the proteins in dairy products.
They are dangerous intruders. Because they release substances that cause allergy symptoms and this allergic reaction can be mild (skin rashes) to severe (breathing difficulties, unconsciousness).
Am I susceptible to lactose intolerance?
You may be genetically susceptible to lactose intolerance and it can occur under certain circumstances.
As you might expect, most babies and toddlers have the lactase enzyme so they can digest their mother’s milk. But over time, lactase can disappear in some people.
Lactase intolerance often occurs in families, but also depends strongly on the ethnic group. Some ethnic groups are more likely to develop lactose intolerance.
According to studies
- 60 to 80% of Asians (up to 95% in some parts of Asia),
- 60 to 80% of Africans and African Americans (up to 95% in some parts of Africa).
- and 50 to 80% of Hispanics are lactose intolerant.
On the other hand, only 2 to 10% of Northern Europeans have lactose intolerance, which can be linked to centuries of their dairy-rich diets.
Lactose intolerance can develop at any age. It can be triggered by another disease like Crohn’s disease, a short-term illness like the stomach flu, or as part of a lifelong disease like cystic fibrosis.
Sometimes it happens after surgery to remove part of the small intestine. Such cases of lactose intolerance can be temporary or permanent. Sometimes it can even occur without a specific trigger.
In rare cases, even newborns can be lactose intolerant. However, if the child is lactose intolerant, it usually means that he or she will not be able to eat or drink anything containing lactose for the rest of his or her life.
What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance?
As mentioned earlier, lactose intolerance is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Therefore, the symptoms vary in form and weighting.
Symptoms may include:
- Bloating of your intestine and stomach area
- Abdominal pain or cramps in this area
- Rumbling sounds in your belly
Symptoms usually begin 30 minutes to 2 hours after ingestion of lactose. Many people suspect that they may be lactose intolerant, but are not quite sure.
There are a few ways you can check to see if you are actually lactose intolerant. We’ll start with three simple methods you can use at home and then move on to more scientific and clinical tests.
Simple test No. 1: Replace milk with lactose-free milk
This is the easiest way to check if you are lactose intolerant. If you drink milk daily, replace it with a lactose-free alternative. Then see how you feel after a few weeks. You can do this even if you are not suffering from severe symptoms.
If your well-being improves significantly, you have your answer. You are lactose intolerant. But just removing regular cow’s milk from your diet can already help you a lot.
Simple test No. 2: Limit yourself to cheeses with low lactose content.
If you are a cheese lover, you should try this method. There are some cheeses that contain only traces of lactose, so you can still take your cheese during your “lactose fast”.
Here’s a list of 9 low-lactose cheeses:
- Munster (0-1.1% lactose range)
- Camembert (0-1.8% lactose range)
- Brie (0-2% lactose range)
- Cheddar – mild and sharp varieties (0-2.1% lactose range)
- Provolone (0-2.1% lactose range)
- Gouda (0-2.2% lactose range)
- Blue (0-2.5% lactose range)
- Parmesan cheese (0-3.2% lactose range)
- Swiss (0-3.4% lactose range)
On the other hand, the fresher, creamier cheeses tend to be higher in lactose because they have a higher sugar content than aged hard cheeses. You should avoid cottage cheese and ricotta if you have a sensitive stomach.
Stick to the 9 cheeses mentioned or add other aged hard varieties and see how you feel. If you feel better, it probably means you are lactose intolerant.
Simple test No. 3: Take a lactase enzyme pill with all dairy products for a few weeks
If you feel unwell after eating dairy products, you should take a lactase enzyme pill and see how you feel. You can get these pills at pharmacies and even grocery stores and you don’t need a prescription for them.
All this pill does is break down lactose in your stomach and can be a real gamechanger in the process.
Try taking the pills for a few weeks and see if you feel better (or just normal) after eating dairy.
If you do, you now have your cure when you’re in desperate need of a slice of delicious cheesecake or a scoop of ice cream.
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DNA analysis: Do your genes hinder your lactase production?
First, you need to know that DNA analysis is not a clinical test that would prove conclusively that you have lactose intolerance.
However, some people are genetically more prone to be lactose intolerant than others.
Lactase production depends on your LCT gene, which is located on chromosome 2. The LCT gene contains instructions for the production of the lactase enzyme. People with a normally functioning LCT gene produce lactase and can process dairy products without unpleasant symptoms.
However, some genetic variants can cause the LCT gene to slightly, moderately, or severely reduce lactase production, resulting in a lactase deficiency in your gut. The reason for the absence of the lactase enzyme is often the MCM6 gene, which is actually not functionally related to lactose metabolism but regulates the activity of the LCT gene.
If you have unfavorable copies of the MCM6 gene, eating dairy products can lead to symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Okay, if a DNA test can pretty much predict how much lactase enzyme you produce, why doesn’t it prove whether you are lactose intolerant (or not)?
Lactose intolerance – primary and secondary stage
Primary lactose intolerance is the most common cause of lactose intolerance worldwide, affecting up to 75% of people. Most people with primary lactose intolerance are genetically predisposed to significantly reduced lactase production, which further decreases with age.
The genetic result may indicate primary lactose intolerance.
However, as you know by now, intolerance can develop for a variety of reasons, including injury to the small intestine due to infection, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or other conditions. This is secondary lactose intolerance.
There are also other causes of lactose intolerance. We know developmental lactose intolerance can occur in premature infants and usually improves over a short period of time. Another type is congenital lactose intolerance, an extremely rare genetic disorder in which little or no lactase is produced from birth.
Several studies have shown that the DNA genetic test is an excellent match for the hydrogen breath test (more on that soon), which is commonly used in laboratories for lactose intolerance testing. It has been reported that the overall agreement between a DNA genetic test and the hydrogen test is above 90%.
While a DNA genetic test can’t definitively tell you if you have lactose intolerance, it pretty much predicts how much lactase enzyme you produce, which correlates with primary lactose intolerance.
However, the biggest advantage of a DNA test is that it usually analyzes not only lactase production, but also other genes that affect your metabolism. The MY INFINITY DNA ANALYSIS shows YOU what you can learn from a metabolic DNA analysis by MYBODY.
Find in the
your suitable solution.
Clinical Method No. 1: Hydrogen Breath Test
This is the most common of the three clinical tests that require you to see a doctor. Here is the procedure:
- After fasting, you breathe into a balloon-like device that measures the amount of hydrogen in your breath. This serves to determine your basic values for hydrogen.
- You drink a lactose-containing solution (usually just water and lactose).
- You breathe into the balloon-like device at regular intervals (usually every 15 minutes) for 2 to 3 hours. Your doctor measures how much hydrogen you exhale.
- If the test result shows an increase in hydrogen of more than 12 mg/l over your original fasting test, this indicates lactose intolerance.
Normally, we exhale very little hydrogen. Elevated levels of hydrogen in your breath are a clear sign that your body is not breaking down and digesting lactose properly.
Clinical method 2: Lactose tolerance test
This test requires your doctor to take a fasting blood sample to determine how much glucose is normally in your blood.
Then you drink a liquid that contains a lot of lactose. After two hours, your doctor will perform another blood test to determine how high your blood sugar level is after eating lactose.
When your body digests lactose normally, it breaks it down into a simpler sugar – glucose. Therefore, your glucose level should rise.
If your glucose level does not go below 1.11 mmol / l within two hours of drinking the lactose liquid, your body is not digesting lactose properly and you are lactose intolerant.
Clinical Method No. 3: Stool Acid Test
This is the least common test of the three clinical methods and is usually performed on infants or young children because they are not eligible for other tests.
Again, the infant or child must drink a liquid containing lactose. After a while, the doctor will take a stool sample.
Normally, the stool is not acidic. However, when the body is unable to break down lactose, it ferments in the intestines and forms lactic acid, which can be detected in the stool. This means that the child has lactose intolerance.
How to treat lactose intolerance?
Although there is no cure for lactose intolerance yet, you can safely control symptoms by adjusting your diet.
It is very likely that you tolerate a certain amount of lactose.
Most lactose intolerant people can consume 8 to 10 g of lactose daily without problems, some even 50 g, but highly sensitive people need to limit it to 1 g daily at most. Watch your reaction to consumed lactose for a while and determine how much lactose you can tolerate.
To reduce the amount of lactose in your diet, you should limit the amount of milk and other dairy products or replace them with lactose-free alternatives. If you tolerate some lactose and want to eat a small amount of dairy, it is best to do so in small portions.
If you are very sensitive to lactose, look for processed meats, margarine, bread, cereals, instant soups and gravies, cake mixes, and cookies on food labels, as lactose may also be present in non-dairy products.
Lactose intolerance – trick 17
You can also add a lactase enzyme pill to the dairy products you consume to help your body break down the lactose.
Studies have shown that some probiotic yogurts can relieve symptoms of lactose intolerance by altering the metabolic activity of microbiota in the colon.
In addition to the reduced lactose content, their bacterial content also affects the balance in the intestinal flora, which can lead to the relief of lactose intolerance. These bacteria can even produce their own lactase enzyme , and consumption of lactose from dairy products can promote the growth of these bacteria in the colon.
Over time, these effects can lead to higher levels of lactase in the gut, improved lactose digestion, and eventual elimination of intolerance symptoms.
One of the main concerns of people with lactose intolerance is making sure they get enough calcium, as dairy products are often the main source of it. Calcium is especially important for children, adolescents, pregnant women and post-menopausal women. Fortunately, there are many non-dairy products that contain calcium, such as:
- Broccoli, okra, kale, cabbage and turnips,
- Canned fish with bones (e.g. sardines and salmon),
- Products enriched with calcium,
That’s it. Now you know exactly what lactose intolerance is, why it occurs, how to check if you have lactose intolerance and what to do about it. Hopefully you will find that you are not really lactose intolerant. In that case, we suggest you celebrate with a big cheese plate.