Lactose Intolerance: Do You Need to Cut Out Dairy?

Around 65 percent of the human population have some form of lactose intolerance. Dear Doctor has put together the ultimate guide to help you understand what lactose intolerance is, why it happens and how to manage it

Lactose intolerance is a digestive problem where the body is unable to digest lactose, a sugar found in dairy products. In serious cases, those with lactose intolerance need to cut a whole range of foods out of their diet, including milk, cheese, cream, and butter.

People with lactose intolerance do not produce enough lactase, an enzyme produced in the gut which breaks down the sweet sugar lactose found naturally in the milk of most mammals. Without sufficient lactase, lactose stays in the digestive system, producing symptoms such as stomach pains, bloating, and diarrhoea.

See Also: Common Digestive Disorders 

How do you know if you have it?

Lactose intolerance can develop at any age, although is most commonly experienced between the ages of 20 and 40. It can, however, affect babies and young children.

There are several symptoms to watch out for which are linked to lactose intolerance:

  • Flatulence
  • Diarrhoea
  • A bloated stomach
  • Stomach cramps
  • Stomach rumbling
  • Nausea
  • Constipation

The severity of the symptoms usually depends on the amount of lactose you have consumed and the overall sensitivity of the intolerance.

Medical Advice

The symptoms of lactose intolerance can be uncomfortable and have an effect on your quality of life if unresolved. Certain symptoms can also be similar to other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome and milk protein intolerance, which is a reaction to the protein in cow milk. Because of this, it is important to see your GP for a diagnosis before proceeding to remove any dairy from your diet.

It is important to remember that lactose intolerance is not the same as a milk or dairy allergy. This is because food allergies are caused by an immune system reaction to a certain type of food, usually causing symptoms involving a rash, itching or breathing problems.

The main difference is that if you have consumed something you are allergic to, even the smallest bit will be enough to trigger a reaction, while lactose intolerance usually allows a small amount of lactose without triggering any problems. This does, however, vary from person to person.

Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no cure for lactose intolerance–however, cutting down on food and drink that contains lactose can help control the symptoms.

You can switch these foods with lactose-free alternatives such as lactose-free cows’ milk and soya milks, yoghurt and cheeses. You can also incorporate naturally dairy-free foods into your diet, such as rice, oats, almond, hazelnut, coconut, quinoa and potato milks. You may also find it helpful to take calcium and vitamin D supplements. There are also lactase substitutes, which are drops or tablets that you can take with meals to improve your lactose digestion.

See Also: Choosing Free-From Foods 

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