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Could you be Lactose Intolerant and not know it?

Sep 21, 2021

Could you be Lactose Intolerant and not know it?

Many of us have been raised drinking and/or using milk. Sometimes we only put milk on our cereal in the morning, other people drink milk as a beverage with their meals. It is interesting to note that we humans are the only mammals on earth that drink another mammal’s milk. We are also the only beings on earth that consume milk past infancy.

Believe it or not, most adults around the world can’t digest milk -- 40% of humans stop producing enough lactase to digest milk between the ages of 2 and 5.

These facts may be why approximately one of every three humans develop some form of lactose intolerance.

Millions of Americans can’t digest a certain sugar in milk and milk products called lactose. If you’re one of them, you have lactose intolerance.

The condition isn’t harmful, but it can be uncomfortable and may be embarrassing. There’s no cure, but we can manage it by watching how much milk or milk products we drink or eat.

Lactose is the sugar that’s in milk. Our bodies use an enzyme called lactase to break down that sugar so we can absorb it into our bodies. But people with lactose intolerance don’t have enough lactase. It’s produced in the small intestine.

Even with low levels of lactase, some people can digest milk products just fine. For people who are lactose intolerant, their low lactase levels give them symptoms after they eat dairy.

When we drink milk or have a milk-based product, lactase in our small intestines breaks down the milk sugar. It then gets absorbed into the body through the small intestines. But people who are lactose intolerant don’t have it so easy. In them, the lactose doesn’t get broken down. Instead, it goes on to the colon, where it mixes with normal bacteria and ferments. It can cause things like gas, bloating and diarrhea. This is the uncomfortable part of being lactose intolerant.

How can we determine if we are lactose intolerant? Let’s discuss some simple ways to help determine if we have an intolerance to lactose:

  • Go without milk or milk products for a couple of weeks. If symptoms disappear, bring dairy products back into our diet a little at a time to take note of how we react. If symptoms return after reintroducing milk products, then lactose intolerance is likely.
  • If milk products are an important part of our diet, try using non-dairy milk substitutes for a period of time. There are a wide range of milk substitutes available today including rice milk, oat milk, almond milk, and coconut milk just to name a few. Monitor how we feel when not consuming dairy products for this period. If symptoms go away, then lactose intolerance is likely.

More definitive tests to determine lactose intolerance are normally administered at our Doctor’s office:

  • Hydrogen Breath test (HBT) - this will show if we have high levels of hydrogen when we exhale after consuming dairy products. If we do, we might be lactose intolerant. That’s because hydrogen is given off when lactose is broken down in the colon. The hydrogen gets taken by the blood up to our lungs, where we exhale it.
  • Lactose tolerance test - like the hydrogen breath test, this test requires us to drink a liquid with lactose (any dairy product). After 2 hours, our doctor will take a blood sample to measure how much glucose is in our blood. If our blood glucose level doesn’t rise, this means that our body isn’t digesting or absorbing lactose.

If we determine a lactose intolerance, it is not the end of the world. We may still be able to eat or drink small amounts of milk. Some people do better if they have their dairy with a meal. And, some dairy products, like hard cheese or yogurt, may be easier to digest.

Keep in mind the many non-dairy substitutes that are available today and keep living life. Be Blessed.

Category: Dr. Sterling