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What is Lactose Intolerance?

What Causes Lactose Intolerance?

It’s estimated that over 40 million Americans are lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance is a dietary condition that affects the way people digest dairy products. It varies in severity from person to person, and can mean that a bowl of cereal can either be a healthy start to the day, or a visit to the hospital.

What is Lactose?

stomach aches caused by milk productsLactose is a sugar that is found in most dairy products. As with all sugars, it is digested with an enzyme that is found in digestive acids called lactase. It is commonly found in many non-milk products as well, including:

  • Medications. Lactose has chemical properties that make it easy to form and compress, making it a popular choice to form tablets for pharmaceuticals
  • Baked Goods. Most baked goods are made with some sort of milk product (powdered milk, cream, butter) to give them a sweet, full taste.
  • Instant” Foods. Many instant potato, coffee, and soup mixes contain milk products for flavoring or as a sweetener.
  • Protein Powders. Many “bulk up” or “workout” protein powders are derived from whey protein, and often contain dehydrated milk products.

What Causes Lactose Intolerance?

Some people are born without lactase production, causing them to be unable to digest dairy products. Others develop it after a disease, and have to ease their way back into being able to digest lactose again. For some, it is a sudden change well into adulthood. Some studies show that it is caused by genetics, and that it runs in families.

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance

Depending on how severe the case of lactose intolerance is, symptoms can range and include the following:

  • Feelings of bloating and fatigue
  • Cramping
  • Gastro-Intestinal sounds
  • Flatulence or burping
  • Burning sensation in stomach
  • Mild to intense nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Blood in stool

Dealing with Lactose Intolerance

It is surprising that even though many adults suffer from some degree of lactose intolerance, there are relatively few options for living a dairy-free lifestyle. Depending on your personal preference and severity of condition, there are many options for dealing with lactose intolerance including:

  • Limiting Dairy Intake
    • Some people opt to eat limited amounts of dairy by replacing core parts of their diet with non-dairy versions. For example:
      • Don’t eat cereal for breakfast
      • Don’t drink milk by itself
      • Don’t drink ice cream
  • Cutting Dairy Out, Entirely
    • Living a dairy-free life is very difficult.
    • Most grocery chains will only have a few non-dairy versions of common products (such as soy milk, or lactose-free butter)
    • Many restaurants don’t have allergy information about their food
  • Use a Lactase Enzyme Product
    • Most grocery stores or pharmacies carry lactase, which can be used to digest dairy products for you comes in different forms such as:
      • Drippable, flavorless liquid
      • Small, easy to digest pills
      • Chewable tablets
    • These are not medication, so you cannot overdose, and often contain no other ingredients
    • You can pick up lactase products at your local Jewel-Osco or Kroger

Sometimes, lactose intolerance is a symptom of a bigger issue. If you’re concerned about dietary restrictions, schedule an appointment with Digestive Health Services, S.C. Call (630) 434-9312 today.

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Digestive Health Services, SC is a gastroenterology practice with four board certified and highly trained physicians.