According to the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, between 30 and 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance, also known sometimes as lactase deficiency, is a condition that means an individual is unable to fully digest the lactose in dairy products. Understand the causes, symptoms and treatment options for this relatively common problem to minimize any disruption to your daily life.
Cause. Lactose intolerance is caused by a deficiency of the enzyme lactase, which is produced in the small intestine. Lactase normally breaks down the lactose found in dairy products into simpler sugars, which can then be absorbed into the bloodstream. According to the Mayo Clinic, when there is not enough lactase in the small intestine, lactose moves unprocessed into the colon, where it interacts with normal bacteria.
Types. There are principally three types of lactose intolerance. Primary lactose intolerance is a normal result of the aging process in many people. The human body normally produces large amounts of lactase at birth and throughout childhood, as milk is normally a staple part of the diet. Lactase production then decreases as you get older, which in some cases can lead to lactose intolerance. Secondary lactose intolerance occurs when the production of lactase is affected by an illness or injury or from surgery. Congenital lactose intolerance occurs from birth, and sufferers are affected throughout their lives.
Symptoms. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, people that suffer from lactose intolerance will normally experience symptoms 30 minutes to two hours after they have consumed milk or other dairy products. According to how much has been consumed, the symptoms can vary in severity and often include abdominal pain and bloating, gas, nausea and diarrhea.
Treatment. Lactose intolerance cannot be cured, as there is no way to boost the body's production of lactase. As such, sufferers must normally make adjustments to their diets. This will normally include a significant or complete reduction in the intake of dairy products. Because this can leave the individual short on essential nutrients and vitamins, such as calcium, sufferers may need to take supplements or focus on a calcium-rich diet. Consuming dairy products with other food can be a way to maintain calcium intake without suffering the symptoms of lactose intolerance.