Rina was very tensed that nowadays every time her son takes milk, he would get a stomach upset. She was worried as to how to take care of her six years old son’s nutritional needs without feeding him milk. It was when she finally approached her family doctor who suggested certain tests and finally diagnosed her son to have Lactose intolerance.
Milk which is considered as one of the best food; full of nutrition, can’t be digested easily by some of the individuals and here is when this term Lactose intolerance comes into the picture.
Lactose is a type of carbohydrate sugar which is chiefly present in milk. A person who has lactose intolerance is not able to digest this sugar on account of the partial or complete absence of an enzyme called as lactase. Lactose can’t be directly absorbed in small intestines without breaking it down further. Lactase is a chemical molecule required in the chemical process of digesting Lactose and breaking it down into further simple sugar molecules; glucose and galactose. As a result of absence or deficiency of lactase, Lactose remains unabsorbed and further gets processed by bacteria in the intestines resulting in various symptoms like diarrhea, flatulence etc. Most of the individuals having Lactose intolerance have deficient production of enzyme lactase rather than the total absence of this enzyme.
In human beings production of lactase stops after weaning i.e when feeding on mother’s milk is stopped.However, in some of the population groups, lactase production continues to be there and is called as Lactase persistence. Studies, however, show that in human beings and the animal group of mammals to which humans belong, shows the prevalence of lactose intolerance more than Lactase persistence.
Typically symptoms will start developing within half an hour to two hours after consumption of milk or milk products.
There is abdominal bloating, flatulence, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, borborygmi (sound heard as result of rumbling of gasses in abdomen)
Types of Lactose intolerance
Lactose intolerance is of two types.
1) Hypolactasia: It is characterized by deficient lactase production. It can be primary or secondary.
a) Primary hypolactasia is a genetic condition found only in adults.
b) Secondary Hypolactasia is an acquired condition caused by trauma or injury to intestines. It can be seen both in adults and infants.
2) Alactasia or Congenital Lactose intolerance (Congenital alactasia): This condition is particularly found in country Finland. It a genetic condition where there is a total absence of enzyme lactase and hence individuals having this condition are completely unable to digest Lactose right since birth, thus not even able to digest mother’s milk.
Which other conditions resemble Lactose intolerance?
- Inflammatory bowel disease also has symptoms similar to Lactose intolerance but so far a well-researched link hasn’t been established between these two conditions.
- Allergy to milk: Lactose intolerance is altogether different than allergy to milk where an immune response is built up against the milk.
Diagnosis of Lactose intolerance: Although the in-depth description of diagnostic tests for lactose intolerance is out of the scope of this blog, here are certain tests prescribed by doctors for lactose intolerance.
- Hydrogen breath test
- Lactose intolerance test
- Biopsy of small intestines
- Milk Tolerance Test
- Stool acidity test
- Stool Sugar chromatography test
- Genetic tests: Usually done when congenital ; lactose intolerance is suspected in patients
Read the case study on Complaints of IBS aggravated due to having junk food, milk, and soya in a 24-year-old with alternate diarrhea and constipation.
Lastly Lactose intolerance is a manageable condition and one who suffers with it doesn’t have to completely stop the intake of milk and dairy products. Following are the simple tips which can ease the discomfort after lactose consumption.
- Consuming milk and milk products in limited amounts is a good solution for those suffering with primary Hypolactasia.
- Milk contains various nutrients and minerals like calcium, vitamins, and proteins. Thus one should consult a doctor to start with the supplements to prevent the deficiency of these nutrients.
- A very natural solution for lactose intolerant individuals is either consuming medical probiotic supplements or consuming yogurts fortified with probiotic cultures or a natural curd which is a natural source of probiotic bacteria.
- Opting for food free from Lactose is another option
- Last option is to take medicinal lactase supplements by consulting a doctor.