Lactose intolerance is a condition that describes an individual’s lack of capacity to easily digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and some dairy products. The condition occurs when the small intestine does not produce enough lactase, which is the enzyme that can break down lactose. Because of this, too much lactose enters the large intestine, where it ferments.
This process of fermentation is the reason why some people experience symptoms like bloating, gas, pain, and diarrhea when they ingest lactose.
Lactose intolerance is not the same for everybody. For some people, this means they cannot ingest any dairy product at all. On the other hand, there are some who suffer from milder lactose intolerance, which means they can either consume small amounts of dairy or moderate amounts of some dairy products. This is because of the varying levels of lactase present in people.
What Causes Lactose Intolerance
Some people have the genetical predisposition to conditions such as lactose intolerance. This is especially true if the condition runs in the family. Ethnicity also plays a role. According to studies, the condition is more prevalent among Asians, Africans, and African Americans than among Northern Europeans. This is probably because Northern Europeans have had a dairy-rich diet for centuries.
At the same time, it can also just happen after years of not having the condition. It is possible to develop lactose intolerance in adulthood as lactase can begin to disappear.
Still, in some people, the condition can be triggered by another medical condition such as Crohn’s disease and cystic fibrosis. It can also be an effect of illnesses like stomach flu. In some cases, undergoing a surgery that removes part of the small intestine is the trigger.
Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance
The severity of lactose intolerance differs for every person, which means the severity of symptoms can also be different. In general, though, the symptoms of lactose intolerance often include the following:
- Abdominal cramps
- Vomiting and nausea
These symptoms also typically appear 30 minutes to 2 hours after ingesting lactose.
DNA Testing for Lactose Intolerance
Many people suspect that they are lactose intolerant but are not entirely sure. This is most probably because the symptoms of lactose intolerance can be similar to those of other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.
If you want to know for sure if you are lactose intolerant, undergoing DNA testing might be the answer. A DNA test for lactose intolerance tests for the LCT gene, which plays a big role in lactase production. Located on Chromosome 2, the gene contains the instructions for producing said enzyme.
However, some genetic factors can affect the LCT gene, resulting in the reduction of lactase production. Oftentimes,the culprit is the MCM6 gene, which regulates the activity of the LCT gene. If you happen to have unfavorable copies of this gene, you are likely to have lactose intolerance.
It is important to note that the result of DNA testing can indicate primary lactose intolerance, which is dictated by genetics. Secondary lactose intolerance, on the other hand, is, as stated above, a type of intolerance that can develop from sickness, infection, or other diseases. Because these triggers are not genetic, DNA testing cannot detect secondary lactose intolerance.
Then again, even with this limit, DNA testing for lactose intolerance is a highly accurate way to predict an individual’s lactase production, which correlates with primary lactose intolerance.
Treating Lactose Intolerance
There are still no ways to cure lactose intolerance, but the symptoms are fairly easy to manage. Even if you are proven to be lactose intolerant, it is highly likely that you will still be able to tolerate a certain amount of lactose. Highly sensitive people can tolerate 1 gram of lactose daily while most can safely consume 8-10 grams, even up to 50 grams, of lactose.
In order to determine your level of milk tolerance, it is helpful to carefully observe your body for symptoms. You can even keep a diary of your food intake to be sure.
The next thing you need to do is to limit your milk and dairy intake. There are many milk alternatives that don’t contain lactose, such as almond and soy milk. There are also lactose-free alternatives to most dairy products like cheese. If you happen to be highly sensitive to lactose, remember to check the labels of the food you buy because lactose can also be present in non-dairy foods.
If you need to increase your calcium intake, you might be pleased to know that milk and dairy are not the only sources of it. There are plenty of calcium-rich non-dairy foods such as fish, almonds, and vegetables like kale and broccoli.
Lactose intolerance might be an uncomfortable condition without any known cure or treatment, but it should not have to be a crippling state. By managing your symptoms through diet change, it is easy to enjoy life with lactose intolerance.
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