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Lactose Intolerance - Home Remedies, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Updated on June 4, 2013
Glass of milk
Glass of milk | Source

Lactose intolerance is not a disorder or a disease. It is an inability to digest milk and other dairy products which contain lactose. Lactose is a form of glucose. In order to digest lactose, an enzyme called lactase is produced by the small intestine. If there is deficiency of lactase, the small intestine is unable to digest the lactose and this condition is known as “Lactose Intolerance”. Our body’s digestive system needs a sufficient amount of lactase to completely breakdown the lactose. What causes lactose intolerance is the lack of lactase in the body’s digestive system.

In most cases, genetic problems are liable for lactase deficiency. Secondly, stomach or intestinal factors viz. parasites, worms, diarrhea, gastroenteritis, damage to intestine etc. could cause lactase deficiency. Sometimes, environmental factors can be a barrier for production of required lactase in the body.

Types Of Lactose Intolerance

1. Congenital Lactase Deficiency:

Congenital lactase deficiency is a rare genetic condition. Lactase enzyme production in the small intestine is low or nonexistent in congenital lactase deficiency. Symptoms of CLD may appear soon after birth. Newborn babies with CLD may suffer from severe diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, liver damage, renal failure and borborygmi.

2. Primary LactaseDeficiency:

Primary lactose intolerance affects half of the world population. Primary lactase deficiency is the late onset of lactase deficiency. Primary lactose deficiency is the most common genetic disorder among mammals, affecting over half of the human population. Enzyme levels are high during the first few years of birth and gradually decreases with ageing. All mammals including humans experiences a drop in the amount of lactase production in the body after several years from birth which leads to lactose intolerance.

3. SecondaryLactaseDeficiency:

Secondary lactase deficiency is caused by surgery, damage or diseases that affect the small intestine intestinal diseases like celiac disease, viral gastroenteritis, crohn’s disease, etc. Secondary lactase deficiency can be treated and may not lead to severe lactose intolerance symptoms.

Causes

Primary cause of lactose intolerance is deficiency of lactase enzyme in the body. Lactase is found in the lining of the duodenum and the small intestine. Surgery, damage or diseases that affect the small intestine can cause lactase deficiency.

Lactose from different food sources cannot be absorbed directly into the blood stream. Lactase enzyme breaks down the lactose into simple sugars which then pass through the colon. So, in the absence of lactase (enzyme), the lactose passes undigested into the colon. Bacteria in the colon are able to metabolize lactose and the resulting fermentation produces copious amounts of gas that causes the various abdominal symptoms.

Symptoms

Common Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance:

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Rumbling stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Nausea or vomiting

These symptoms may be mild or severe depending on how much lactase the body is producing.

Though most lactose intolerant people tend to stay away from dairy products, it is important to have a daily intake of milk and dairy products because milk contains calcium and other nutrients that are essential for the body. Nutritional expert suggests alternative ways such as consuming foods that contain high levels of calcium that are completely lactose free. Soya products, oat milk, almond milk, coconut milk, and rice milk contains high levels of calcium.

Diagnosis

The condition can be diagnosed by various tests such as:

• Lactose tolerance test

• Hydrogen breath test

• Milk tolerance test

• Stool acidity test

• Small intestinal biopsy

Chocolate Milk
Chocolate Milk | Source

Home Remedies For Lactose Intolerance

Signs of Lactose Intolerance often begin to appear approximately half an hour after having dairy products. Normally, it takes about 1-2 hours for the symptoms to show. Maintaining notes of symptoms for specific food groups can help prevent these symptoms in future.

Chocolate Milk

Some lactose intolerant people are tolerant to chocolate milk or other flavored milk. Try a small amount of flavored milk to see if you are tolerant to it.

Small Servings of Milk

While most lactose intolerant people cannot digest a big glass of milk, you may be able to have 6-10 ounces of milk without any symptoms.

Experiment with Different Dairy Products

You may not be intolerant to all dairy products, for example: Dairy products like yogurt, kefir, Swiss cheese, cheddar etc has low lactose content. You may be able to tolerate these products without any symptoms arising.

Use Soy Milk

Use soy milk instead of regular milk. Soy milk may taste a bit different than regular milk but once you get used to soy milk, its tastes just like regular milk. You can also try different soy milk recipes if you are having a hard time getting used to the taste of soy milk.

Lactase supplements

If you are a lactose intolerant person always keep a lactase enzyme supplement with you, as this can help you digest lactose without the symptoms arising.

Warning: Lactase enzyme supplements may not be of any use for some people. Be sure to take a test dose of lactase enzyme supplements before eating foods that contain lactose.

Take Calcium Supplements

Lactose intolerant people should resort to calcium supplements or foods high in calcium content since milk is one of the major sources of calcium in our diet. Green leafy vegetables, almonds, figs, beans, tofu, yogurt etc are good sources of calcium. Be sure to include them in your diet.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps you to absorb calcium better; the sun is a good source of vitamin D. You can get it with 5-10 minutes of sunshine every day.

Overcoming Lactose Intolerance

Prevention of the symptoms of lactose intolerance is primarily focused on avoidance of dietary milk and milk containing products.

Some individuals with lactose intolerance are able to slowly increase the amount of lactose intake in their diet without showing any symptoms. This adaptation is most likely due to changes in the metabolism of the bacteria in the colon and not because of production of more lactase enzymes. The bacteria, for example, may produce less gas in order to adapt to a more acidic colonic environment induced by slowly introducing more lactose over time.

Glass of Milk
Glass of Milk | Source

Treatment And Diet Changes

Dietary changes that minimize the use of food that contain lactose are the most common and primary treatment suggested for a lactose intolerant person. Replacing milk and milk products with substitutes like soya products, oat milk, almond milk, coconut milk, and rice milk is another option. Use of oral lactase enzyme supplements may give temporary relief from symptoms of lactose intolerance. Continued use of lactase enzyme supplements may help in digestion of lactose in the long run.

Lactose intolerance may have no cure but self-treatment but for a determined person, it is enough to make it through. Treatment includes consumption of a few spoonfuls high-quality yogurt and probiotics with each meal every day. This may increase the amount of lactase in the body and therefore, over time, will improve lactose digestion.

By consuming an increasingly amount of probiotics and yogurt, symptoms of lactose intolerance may decrease and so, one day, you can probably see yourself, eating ice cream without any doubt or hesitation.

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