It can be hard to believe that one glass of something as innocent as milk can cause so much damage to some people’s bodies. And yet, lactose intolerance is as real as it gets and, for many people, it is a condition they have to handle very carefully if they want to leave a comfortable and pain-free life.
What is lactose intolerance, what causes it, why it is that only some people get it, how does one diagnose it and how does one treat it? There are, of course, many questions when it comes to this medical condition – and this article will try to answer at least part of them.
Lactose Intolerance: The Basic Things to Know
The human body is a very odd and intricate mechanism and trying to understand it can take years and years of study. In one way or another, every cell in our body is connected with every other cell and every system in our bodies communicates with at least 1 or 2 other systems.
Lactose intolerance seems very mysterious and intriguing to many people precisely because lactose is one of the commonest foods people put into their bodies on a daily basis.
Lactose intolerance is a condition that can be defined by the body’s inability to digest milk and other dairy products, especially if the quantity is quite large. This kind of intolerance is not present for everyone and there will be people who will be more than just able to eat anything containing lactose.
The main issue lies in the way in which the body produces lactase, the natural enzyme used to disintegrate milk into the human stomach. Generally speaking, mammals stop producing lactase once they wean and therefore they become lactose intolerant.
The explanation people have given to why some patients develop lactose intolerance and others do not is related to genetics. Apparently, how your body produces lactase is determined at birth so the inability to produce lactase can be considered to be a congenital medical condition.
Believe it or not, there are many more people than not whose lactase production is decreased in adulthood (to be more precise, about 75% of the world population shows this kind of behavior).
The main symptoms of lactose intolerance include cramps in the lower part of the abdomen, gas, vomiting, diarrhea, gurgling sounds and so on. These symptoms are not necessarily absolutely revealing when it comes to whether or not one is lactose intolerant.
For instance, if you feel bad once after having a glass of milk, the chances are that you don’t suffer from this particular intolerance. However, if this happens on a more frequent basis, you will most likely be diagnosed as lactose intolerant.
How Does One Diagnose Lactose Intolerance?
Diagnosing lactose intolerance is possible nowadays, especially with the great advances made in the medical world. There are several tests that can be performed to find out if you have an intolerance to lactose and here are some of the best ones:
1- The hydrogen breath test. This test is performed on an empty stomach and a 25 mg dose lactose will be administered to the patient. The symptoms can appear at anything between a few minutes and a few hours, so do make sure you have plenty of time to wait for this to happen.
At the end of the test, if the lactose has been transformed into hydrogen, the patient is most likely lactose intolerant. Among all the tests there are to put this diagnosis, this is one of the most accurate ones.
2- Stool acidity test. If a child has to be tested for lactose intolerance, there is no point in doing it with other means than by taking a stool sample and having it tested. For babies who are lactose intolerant, the examination will most likely show a lot of acidity in the stomach/stool.
3- Blood test. Ever since the breath test was invented, the blood test has not been used as much, especially since it requires a lot of blood. The blood test for lactose intolerance is to be made after a lactose intake.
People with lactose intolerance will show an almost straight line in the examination, while people who are not lactose intolerant will show a curb. Same as in the case of the breath test, the person getting the examinations should fast overnight and not eat anything.
4- Intestinal biopsy. When the breath test is rather inconclusive or when a doctor wants to double-check his/her diagnosis, he/she may perform an intestinal biopsy as well. Basically, this test is meant just to confirm the breath test.
There are some other methods in which lactose intolerance can be treated, but these are among the most efficient and commonly encountered ones. Keep in mind the fact that it is important that you receive your diagnosis from an actual professional because judging your condition only by its symptoms can be misleading.
Treating Lactose Intolerance
Since it is a medical condition we are born with, lactose intolerance cannot be cured. However, the same as with many other chronic illnesses and long-term/lifetime medical conditions, lactose intolerance can be managed quite well.
One of the most important things you should do is remove all lactose-based products from your diet. Some people may be able to stand eating cheese or various dairy products, but if you notice that your body cannot cope with these either, then remove everything completely.
There are many delicious and healthy alternatives to milk, cheese and butter (such as soy milk, tofu and coconut milk, for example) and they can all be very successfully incorporated into one’s diet.
Lactose intolerance may not be dangerous, but it is something you will want to keep under control because it can grow into a painful and uncomfortable condition.
A lifetime commitment to eating healthy and to avoiding milk and milk-related products is one of the many things you could do and you should also know that there is the option of supplementing the body with lactase as well – but make sure to inform yourself properly on this topic!