Lactose intolerance

What is lactose intolerance?

Lactose is the major sugar found in milk. The inability to digest significant amounts of lactose is called lactose intolerance.

Enzyme deficient

The enzyme lactase produced by the cells that line the small intestine is deficient. Lactase is responsible for the breakdown of the milk sugar into two simpler forms of sugar called glucose and galactose. This simple sugars are then absorbed into the bloodstream. If this enzyme is deficient lactose accumulates and thus leads to lactose intolerance.


Symptoms of lactose intolerance

Lactase deficient individuals are not able to digest the amount of lactose they consume and thus may feel very uncomfortable when they consume milk products. The common symptoms begin about 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming foods containing lactose. This includes

1. nausea
2. cramps
3. bloating
4. gas
5. diarrhea


Causes of lactose intolerance

1. Primary lactase deficiency

This condition develops slowly over time. The body begins to produce less lactase after about age 2. The symptoms at this stage are not prominent.

2. Secondary lactase deficiency

This occurs when there is an injury to the small intestine or due to certain digestive diseases in which the amount of lactase production decreases. Some of these diseases include celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and Crohn’s disease.

3. Inherited lactose intolerance

In some cases the lactase deficiency is due to an inborn error of metabolism, i.e., inherited from their parents.


Diagnosis of lactose intolerance

1. The Lactose Tolerance Test
2. The Hydrogen Breath Test
3. Stool Acidity Test


Treatment of lactose intolerance

There is no specific treatment for lactose intolerance. It cannot be treated but only controlled. Young children and infants with lactose intolerance should not consume milk and milk products like ice creams, cheeses, butter, curd, etc. Since milk is the richest source of calcium these people should consume vegetables which are rich in calcium in order to compensate the levels of calcium found in milk.

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