What are you doing with your extra day of February this year? We have a suggestion – learn more about lactose intolerance! February is National Lactose Intolerance Awareness Month, so we’re taking a closer look at this condition that affects about 50 million Americans.
Types of Lactose Intolerance
The most common form of lactose intolerance is called ‘primary’. This naturally occurs as a result of the body producing less lactase as it ages. Lactase is an enzyme that turns milk sugar into simple sugars to be absorbed into the bloodstream. As babies, humans consume their mother’s milk and need the lactase to digest it. As humans expand their diets with age (and consume less milk), the body naturally produces less lactase and can cause primary lactose intolerance.
Secondary lactose intolerance is less common than primary. It does not occur naturally, but rather, is caused by an illness. The small intestine can become injured from celiac disease or Crohn’s disease and produces less lactase.
Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance
Those that have an intolerance to lactose usually notice symptoms shortly after consuming dairy products, or items that contain lactose. Symptoms can range from mild to severe bloating, cramps, gas, nausea, diarrhea, and sometimes even vomiting.
The cause of lactose intolerance is a lack of lactase produced, but there is currently not a way of boosting lactase production. Instead, those that are lactose intolerant can treat their symptoms by avoiding large amounts of dairy products. If you suffer from secondary lactose intolerance and an injured small intestine, your doctor may be able to treat the small intestine which will, in turn, help you to be able to digest lactose properly.
Lactase is an enzyme that can be purchased and taken to supplement your diet which will help to break down the lactose and minimize symptoms. Talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.
What to Eat
To avoid the symptoms of lactose intolerance, avoid eating foods that are high in lactose. Lactose is found in dairy products such as cow milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. Depending on the ingredients, it can also be found in foods such as cookies, cereals, sauces, breads, and various desserts. Dairy products are also high in calcium, which lactose intolerant people still need to stay healthy. Some foods that are high in calcium but do not contain lactose include almond butter, broccoli, soybeans, fortified juices, and many other foods. If it is determined you are lactose intolerant, your doctor will help you to create a diet that will minimize your lactose intolerant symptoms without sacrificing your calcium intake.
If you have questions about lactose intolerance or suspect you are lactose intolerant, please see one of our gastroenterologists in Greeley, Loveland, or Fort Collins.