Lactose intolerance is a common digestive disorder that affects many people worldwide. It occurs when the body has difficulty digesting lactose, which is a sugar found in milk and dairy products.
To understand lactose intolerance, it’s helpful to know that our bodies produce an enzyme called lactase, which is responsible for breaking down lactose into smaller, more easily digestible sugars. These sugars can then be absorbed into the bloodstream and used for energy.
However, in people with lactose intolerance, the body either doesn’t produce enough lactase or produces lactase that is less effective. This means that when lactose is consumed, it remains undigested in the digestive system.
Undigested lactose can cause various uncomfortable symptoms, such as bloating, gas, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. These symptoms typically occur within a few hours after consuming lactose-containing foods or beverages.
It’s important to note that lactose intolerance is different from a milk allergy. In a milk allergy, the immune system reacts to proteins in milk, whereas lactose intolerance is a problem with digesting the sugar lactose.
Lactose intolerance can vary in severity from person to person. Some individuals may be able to tolerate small amounts of lactose without experiencing symptoms, while others may need to avoid lactose entirely.
While lactose intolerance cannot be cured, there are ways to manage the condition and still enjoy a balanced diet. Some strategies include:
- Limiting or avoiding lactose-containing foods and beverages, such as milk, cheese, ice cream, and yogurt.
- Choosing lactose-free or lactose-reduced dairy products that have been treated with lactase to break down the lactose.
- Trying dairy alternatives made from soy, almond, rice, or other non-dairy sources.
- Using lactase supplements or lactase drops when consuming lactose-containing foods.
- Gradually introducing small amounts of lactose-containing foods to see how your body reacts and finding your own tolerance level.
It’s important to maintain a well-rounded diet that provides enough calcium and other nutrients found in dairy products. If you suspect you have lactose intolerance, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian to properly manage your diet and ensure you are getting adequate nutrition.