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Lactose: All You Need to Know

Lactose: All You Need to Know

Published by Programme B

The human body is an extremely complex, organized structure of cells working together to sustain life. 

However, not all human bodies function the same all the time. For example, differences in the digestive system can make it possible for one person to safely eat certain foods while another cannot. 

Luckily, this does not mean doing away with one’s favorite foods as there are numerous safe options like lactose-free yogurt, bread without milk, and so on. 

Today, read about one such possibility: lactose and its intolerance. 

What is Lactose?

Lactose is a sugar present in milk produced by most mammals. You can get lactose from this milk as well as from food items prepared using the milk. 

What is a Lactose Intolerance?

People whose digestive systems cannot digest lactose properly are said to be lactose intolerant. 

The body uses an enzyme known as lactase to break down sugar into a form the body can absorb. Lactase is produced in the small intestine. People with lactose intolerance do not have enough of the enzyme to break down lactose sufficiently. 

This condition is, however, not to be confused with a milk allergy. 

A lactose intolerance stems from not having enough lactase to digest milk. On the flip side, a milk allergy is an allergic reaction to the protein in milk. 

What Happens When One Is Lactose Intolerant

To understand the problem, it’s best to understand the normal process that happens with people that are not lactose intolerant. 

For the latter, milk consumption is simple. The milk goes into the body, lactase breaks down the sugar in the milk, and it’s then absorbed into the body. 

When one is lactose intolerant, the process is different. Here, milk consumed does not get broken down. Instead, the milk goes to the colon mixing with bacteria. The milk then ferments. This is what brings about the symptoms synonymous with lactose intolerance. 

Symptoms of a Lactose Intolerance

There are many whose bodies produce inadequate lactase but who are asymptomatic. Some are not as lucky, however. 

For those with a severe deficiency of the enzyme, the symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting in some cases

People with symptoms experience these adverse outcomes within thirty minutes to two hours of consuming milk or products with milk as an ingredient. 

Do I Have a Lactose Intolerance?

There is a way to tell if you have a lactose intolerance at home. If you experience the above symptoms, go off milk for a few weeks. 

Then gradually introduce milk back into your diet and see if the symptoms resume. If they do, see your GP for further probing. 

Final Word

As mentioned earlier, lactose intolerance does not necessarily require you to cut foods you love from your diet. 

There are numerous substitutes to tantalize your taste buds, quell your cravings and ensure you meet dietary requirements.

Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom from Pexels