I Scream! You Scream! We All Scream in Gastro-Intestinal Pain!! Understanding Lactose Intolerance

September 9 2016

Jacqueline Rosenhek


If you ever have ice cream on a warm summer day, watching the drips of the delicious frozen treat slide down the cone while you enjoy every last bite and a couple of hours later you have diarrhea, cramps, bloating, nausea and flatulence, you may be lactose intolerant (not to be confused with milk allergies). Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose which is the sugar found in milk and other dairy products. This is caused by a deficiency in the enzyme called lactase which helps to break down dairy during the process of digestion. Typically, lactose is digested in the small intestine without releasing gas bubbles, when someone has lactose intolerance it goes directly to the colon where some of it gets broken down into hydrogen gas while the remaining lactose lures water into the colon causing diarrhea, bloating and cramps.

There are multiple types of lactose intolerance. The first type would be primary lactose intolerance or primary hypolactasia; this is the most common type. This type only affects adults and it is when the amount of lactase produced in the body lessens and is genetic. Next, there is secondary lactose intolerance or secondary hypolactasia. This is caused by an injury in the small intestine which can be caused by diseases like Crohn’s, celiac disease or intestinal parasites. Injuries can also be the end result of surgery or chemotherapy. This type of lactose intolerance can be treatable if the initial causes for the injury are treated. The third and rarest kind of lactose intolerance is developmental lactose intolerance. This is a genetic type of lactose intolerance and it is when someone is born without any lactase enzymes in their digestive system whatsoever, no dairy products can be digested, not even breast milk. Another type of lactose intolerance is developmental lactose intolerance. This typically happens when a child is born prematurely and has not had a chance to develop the lactase enzyme while in the womb.

The most successful method for avoiding the symptoms of lactose intolerance is to try to avoid dairy all together. This may raise some concerns due to the fact that dairy (namely milk) is a typically essential source of nutrients, especially calcium, vitamin D and probiotics, however there are ways to gain similar if not the same health benefits without consuming dairy! Foods like bok choy, almonds, oranges, sesame seeds, seaweed or kale are very rich in calcium as well as many other vitamins and minerals. For probiotics, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso and non-dairy based kefir (water kefir or coconut kefir are some options) are fantastic fermented sources. There are also many different milk replacements for those who are lactose intolerant or just want to avoid dairy such as almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk and cashew milk are just a few different options that you can replace dairy milk with.  Fish such as salmon and tuna as well as whole eggs are also an excellent source of vitamin D that contains absolutely no dairy. Another solution is to take a probiotic supplement which can not only help with digestive regularity but help to lessen some of the symptoms of lactose intolerance. For those who do suffer lactose intolerance, it is a bit aggravating that so many foods contain dairy, it feels like it is almost in every food item you can find! Thankfully, more and more dairy free options are being made so you do not have to worry on missing out on any vitamins, minerals or any delicious food items you normally would not be able to enjoy!


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