Lactose is the complex, natural sugar found in milk and milk products. Some people have difficulty digesting lactose and are diagnosed as being "lactose intolerant." It may be caused by a lack of the amino acid lactase. The body can produce varying amounts of lactose - from sufficient supply to none at all. Depending on the level of deficiency the symptoms can mild or cause major discomfort. This deficiency may be naturally occurring or be caused by certain medications.
The symptoms worsen if the deficiency increases. Discomfort can begin as early as thirty minutes after eating something with lactose in it and as late as eight hours. Lactose intolerance can be treated with dietary changes and medications.
Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose- the complex, natural sugar found in milk and milk products. It can be caused by having an inadequate amount of lactase, a deficiency of lactose, or can be caused by taking certain medications.
Lactose intolerance affects up to 75% of the adult population. People who are of northern European descent are least likely to develop an intolerance to lactose. The severity of the symptoms depends also on the amount and type of food eaten. For instance, if you are lactase deficient, the more lactose you take in, the worse the symptoms will be. Symptoms occur after eating any lactose-laden food that cannot be digested well. Discomfort usually begins 30 minutes to two hours after eating, but may be delayed as long as eight hours after eating. Usually, the symptoms are gas, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
There are diet changes and medications that can help make lactose intolerance easier to deal with. One of the easiest ways to avoid discomfort is to read labels. A food label will always tell you how much calcium is in a particular food. The ingredients to look for are milk, milk by-products, milk solids, nonfat dry milk powder, whey, curds, caseinate, or lactoglobulin. Some of the most common foods lactose intolerant people need to avoid are milk and milk products such as ice cream, butter, and cheese. Less commonly known is the fact that about 20% of prescription drugs and 6% of over-the-counter drugs use lactose as a base ingredient. Be sure to ask your gastroenterologist about what medications you are currently taking and when in doubt, ask your pharmacist! Many times, there are hidden sources of lactose in foods such as:
- Dried mixes (cakes, pancakes, biscuits, cookies)
- Processed sandwich meats
- Bread & other baked goods
- Processed breakfast cereals
- Instant potatoes
- Breakfast drinks
- Salad dressings
There are over-the-counter products available that contain lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose, which allows people to slowly add lactose back into the diet. Your gastroenterologist can help determine whether these products would work for you and can help you make diet changes to ease the discomfort. Calcium is an important tool in keeping the body strong and bones strong so it’s important to talk with your gastroenterologist about other ways to get those nutrients and keep your body healthy.
While it may be easy to pinpoint lactose intolerance as the culprit of your pain, it is important to discuss any gastrointestinal problems with your gastroenterologist. There could be underlying problems that can create more problems if they are ignored. Many of these disorders have similar symptoms and the best way to diagnose and treat your gastrointestinal problems is knowing for certain what your problem is. There are specific tests that can be done to help determine if lactose intolerance is a problem for you, take the first step to relief and make an appointment with GI Associates today.