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Understanding Lactose Intolerance

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Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest varying amounts of lactose. Lactose is the major sugar found in milk and other dairy products like cheese, sour cream and yogurt.

The Cause

The shortage of lactase, an enzyme found in the small intestine, is what causes the lactose intolerance.

Lactase is an enzyme that is made by the small intestines. 

It is the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose (the milk sugar molecule) into two forms of sugar, called galactose and glucose.

Once the sugar is broken down into two forms, they can be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Studies show there can be a genetic link passed down through the family line. So if your parents were lactose intolerant, you have a greater chance of developing the intolerance yourself.

Also, people with celiac disease can be more prone to being lactose intolerant.  This is because the lactase enzyme production is inhibited due the the inflammation of the small intestines. 

Once the offending irritant, in this case gluten, is removed and the mucosal lining heals, dairy can usually be added back into the diet, unless you're genetically lactose intolerant.

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance

The symptoms of lactose intolerance will vary from person to person but the biggest complaint is that people tend to feel uncomfortable after ingesting dairy products, especially milk.

lactose intolerance symptoms and enzymes that can help

They may experience cramping, gas, bloating, diarrhea and nausea.

This usually occurs anywhere from 30 minutes up to 2 hours after consuming a dairy product.

The amount of pain and discomfort varies and is dependent on each individual.

The digestion rate along with the amount of lactose that can be tolerated has a lot to do with it.

You could have other symptoms.  Especially if you have other food allergies or intolerances.

I seem to get severe skin problems when I am dealing with foods my body doesn't agree with.

Age, Culture & Ethnicity Are Factors

Studies are also finding that ethnicity and age play a major role as well. As a person ages, their body produces less of the lactase enzyme which means they have a harder time digesting dairy foods and beverages that they used to eat and drink with no problems.

Most people living in the U.S. are lactose intolerant. Your ethnicity plays a role and your tolerances were formed by the types of foods that your ancestors had available to sustain life.

Generally speaking:

  • 80% of American Indians are intolerant
  • 80% of African Americans are intolerant
  • 90% of Asian Americans are intolerant

The population least likely to suffer from lactose intolerance are descendants of Northern Europe whose ancestors consumed more dairy than other cultures.

Test Your Dairy Intolerance

If you suspect you have an allergy or intolerance to dairy products (or other foods) there are three things you can do.

1. This is a quick way to test if any food is a potential allergen. Take your pulse to get a beginning number. Then eat or drink a little bit of the food and then take your pulse again.

If your pulse is more than 6 beats per minute faster after eating or drinking that food, it's probably an allergen to your body.

2. Eliminate all dairy products for a few days, fasting on broth, juice or water, is best if you can do it. If your symptoms improve, drink some milk and see if your symptoms reoccur.

3. Go to your doctor and have them order the appropriate tests.

What Can You Do?

The easiest way to deal with this problems is to simply stop eating dairy products.

In reality, most dairy products that are available to us today are simply not healthy for us because of the ultra pasteurizing and additives used to improve shelf life.However, that's another subject for another day.

Everyone has to learn their own tolerance level. For some it's just milk that produces symptoms and others have to avoid cheese, butter, sour cream, etc. Even when you are trying to avoid or eliminate dairy it can be difficult, especially when eating out.

Fortunately, there are lactase enzyme supplements. They will help your body break down the sugar so that you can enjoy your milk and cheese, if you desire to do so.

There are also many dairy products in the store that now have lactose free versions.

I was one of those people who developed a gluten intolerance but didn't know it for close to a year.  Once I was tested, I found I was intolerant to about 40 different foods, dairy included. 

Now that I stopped eating gluten and have healed the inflammation, I can eat dairy and all of the other foods except gluten.

Trying an enzyme supplement that contains Lactase might just do the trick. It can't hurt to try it when you are consuming dairy products.

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